By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS–Attorney Ted Smith is an Army transplant like so many Central Texas community leaders, but he wants to make sure the city he now helps shape remembers its roots. So when he takes the gavel from Randy Sutton as board chair of the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce at its 20th annual banquet Oct. 20, he wants to turn the spotlight on a presentation about local history.
Smith, with a long record of community service that includes 10 years as a Heights city councilman, seems to want to make sure the city grows as a comprehensive, well-rounded culture, because another concern is the prominence and health of so-called "mom-and-pop" businesses, small operations that will have to operate in the shadow of the big stores opening in Market Heights and some other places.
He said the importance of the new, big businesses can't be overstated, but he'd like to make sure small entrepreneurship isn't left in the dust.
Smith has lived in the area since he left the Army in 1976, already an attorney, and fell in love with stories of the rural culture of the 19th Century–and Heights has a few structures still in use that date from that time.
But the incorporated city is not much older than his tenure here, dating only from the 1960s. So Smith enlisted the aid of Dorothy Aldrich, daughter of pioneer leader P.R. Cox, to create a chronicle of the city's growth to be put on a DVD.
"It's easy for a rapidly growing town to forget where it came from," he said, "and I think it's important to remember."
He and other chamber leaders have talked with incoming Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce board chair Jerry Haisler and Central Texas Business Resource Center director Marcus Carr, whose entire job is about creating and nurturing new businesses, about future collaboration on the "mom-and-pop" issue.
Heights doesn't have any saddle-and-tack shops handed down generation to generation, but it has a rapidly increasing population of small stores and shops, many of them franchises, along Farm Road 2410, in the Shops at Modoc and elsewhere.
Developers expect 2410 from U.S. 190 to Harker Heights High School and possibly beyond to be built up with such stores in the next couple of years.
"A small independent store trying to get established suddenly competing with a chain store can be at a terrible disadvantage," he said. "Obviously we can't offer material aid, like a government program, but we want to be ready with consultation on marketing and promotion, and I hope to see more community mixers and events where all our people can get to know each other so that we know we're all growing together–not just annual events that people attend and scatter, but gatherings that foster community."
Outgoing board chair Randy Sutton, president of First State Bank Central Texas, added that a lot of small entrepreneurs need continuing financial education.
Another concern is the social and economic health of the area along Veterans Memorial Boulevard, which is Business 190, once the breeding ground of Harker Heights' earlier reputation for rough-and-tumble nightlife.
The chamber still doesn't have much representation in that area, but it's much tamer than it once was through community efforts and attrition. Smith counts on further attrition in the area but sees a need for plans to re-create the area in a more family-friendly mode.
"Possibly we can assist with landscaping upgrades," he said. "The problem there, and elsewhere, is beauty versus dollars. A landowner has a parcel of land all paid for, fully amortized, and can make $3,000 or $4,000 a month in clear profit. Why dedicate part of it that could be producing income to grass and trees, even if it will attract a higher class of business? This town was built on turning a dollar. The emphasis on the environmental aspect is new. But the nicer all parts of the city can be made to look, the better off it will be in the long run."
One of the first items on the chamber's agenda on Smith's watch will be a November planning retreat with senior vice president Art Roberts of the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives to work on a future vision based on what Heights has already become.
The city has really been growing by leaps and bounds since Wal-Mart opened in 2005, raising tax revenues by about 50 percent. Market Heights and other new businesses are on the verge of repeating that boost and compounding it; this month's sales tax rebate was almost 40 percent larger than the check for the same period last year, and the big shopping center was still in the early stages of opening in July, the month September's check reflected.
Some of the chain stores in the center reported sales that broke all records for grand openings. Southern Heights now is one of the most affluent areas in Central Texas, largely due to retired senior military personnel who buy homes around $200,000 in the scenic areas, but Market Heights is intended as a regional center. It landed in Heights because the city had a tract of land big enough for it.
Sutton, looking back on the achievements of the city and the chamber in the past year, said, "Our median income is far enough above the average that it's a real draw for new stores. Restaurants of the caliber we're getting now are going to be a big asset. We've always been short of hotels and motels, but several are going in now.
"All the new business is going to provide taxes that will make major expansion and improvements in infrastructure possible. And this hasn't been anything I did alone, or the chamber did alone, but all the city pulling together. We're on the right track."
Reflecting on the talks with Killeen leaders about small business encouragement, Smith said, "This chamber started as a committee of the Killeen chamber, and we're all in this together. Most members of one chamber are also members of the other." But he said Heights hasn't done anything yet with the Central Texas Economic Corridor, an alliance between the economic development corporations of Temple, Killeen and Copperas Cove and the Killeen chamber.
He said he wants to start a chamber membership drive focusing on the advantages of chamber membership, noting that the same 100 or so people are serving in public office and on civic boards and committees, and the city's increasing size and complexity is wearing them thin.
"We're going to have traffic problems for a while on 190, until road construction can catch up to the development, but at least now we have enough people to create traffic problems.
"This journey hasn't always been easy, but it's always been fun."
Contact Don Bolding at email@example.com or (254) 501-7557.