By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE – Jerry Conner, executive director of the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corp. for the past three years, attributes the energy and success that has brought his organization statewide praises to "a lot of homework that community leaders have done in the past 10 years."
At its spring conference in 2008, the Texas Economic Development Council listed the Cove organization among 22 of 500 similar organizations in Texas recognized for "economic excellence" after a string of achievements.
They included construction of a speculative building in 2001, soon to become part of an entertainment complex including the new Cinergy Cinemas; attraction of a call center of GC Services that now employs more than 1,000 people; and securing a $5 million grant for business park infrastructure in 2003.
The EDC was also instrumental in three land swaps between the city and Fort Hood, the latest to be the site of a million-square-foot shopping center as soon as paperwork is completed, probably in April.
The corporation also won an Economic Development Award from the International Economic Development Council for its retail recruitment brochure and has earned an Investment Policy Certificate of Distinction for the past several years.
Through it all, Conner is emphatic in crediting teamwork between the EDC, the Chamber of Commerce, the city, the school district, the Copperas Cove Industrial Foundation and Fort Hood. The foundation donated the land for the speculative building.
Conner also enthusiastically celebrates the advances of other cities in the area, saying, "We compete to land individual businesses, but any victory for one is a victory for us all. When a big plant comes to Killeen or Temple, it's going to employ some Cove residents.
"In many ways, we're all an economic unit, from Temple down U.S. 190 as far as Lampasas, and anything that helps one of us helps us all. If Austin were out of the economic picture tomorrow, I think we would still be strong."
He also said the willingness of Fort Hood to engage in "land swaps" with Cove is very unusual in the whole defense system.
"In each case, the city and the fort each had land the other wanted. In the case of the land for the shopping center, the fort wanted land for a buffer between its operations and future development," Conner said.
But he said the ease of cooperation has been remarkable. The Department of Defense can only trade land with the city, but the EDC and other organizations can help with negotiations.
The first exchange provided land for the business park that includes the Super Wal-Mart and neighboring businesses, and "every retailer wants to be close to Wal-Mart," Conner said.
The second provided 100 acres for the current industrial park, and the third provides land for the million-square-foot Shops at Five Hills.
Nonetheless, the CCEDC is high-profile through its investment and involvement in area-wide business fairs and its financial and morale support of Cove businesses.
Support of small business startups is part of the stated mission of the EDC, along with new industry recruitment and business expansion and retention according to a comprehensive economic development program.
"We have several disadvantages to overcome," Conner said. "For one thing, we're 30 miles from an interstate highway, and a lot of big businesses are turned off by that at the outset. For another, we've suffered from a lack of developable land. We've alleviated that to an extent with the land swaps with Fort Hood. Also, we have fewer than 50,000 households, and that's a drawback where chain stores are concerned.
"But our board and the city are very aggressive. When you're aggressive, you're going to make mistakes, but very hard work and close adherence to our long-range plan over the past few years has been paying off."
The only other people on the staff are marketing director Monica Hull and office manager Linda Hight.
"We've had to prove what Fort Hood has to offer to retailers," Hull said. "On civilian maps, the fort is just a big grayed-out area, but counting families, it represents 90,000 households, however many Cove has. It's a factory that pays on the first and 15th of every month, and it will never shut down."
EDC board chair Dan Yancey, a senior vice president and commercial loan officer with First National Bank Texas, said, "I think we recognize that Cove is on the cusp of some great development, the kind that Killeen has seen and Harker Heights is going through now. The highway bypass is about to come to fruition, for one thing.
"We've got disagreements, but the whole city has moved from an attitude of 'we can't, because' to 'we can, because,' and we're learning to rise above self-interest to work together. Our board has people with many different areas of expertise, and the way they work together makes them more than the sum of their parts."
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.