By Matt Goodman
The Cove Herald
The Oct. 13 resolution requesting that the Texas Workforce Commission analyze unemployment obstacles within Coryell County reads like an economic call to arms.
The Coryell County Commissioners Court document begins by pointing out that the county's unemployment rate is higher than the state average: 8.7 percent countywide compared to 8.2 percent statewide.
It's also higher than neighboring counties: Lampasas County trails with 6.2 percent unemployment and Bell County has 6.7 percent unemployment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Factor out Copperas Cove, Coryell County's largest city, and the unemployment rate is "much higher than the national unemployment rate." That is currently about 9.5 percent.
The final smoke signal shoots upward at the mention of the departures of Cove Ford and the Copperas Cove Connell Chevrolet, resolving that in order to battle increasing unemployment, the county must team with the Texas Workforce Commission to develop a strategy to overcome the problem.
"There looks to be a real structural change as we have entered and are attempting to pull out of this recession," said County Judge John Firth.
"Because of our proximity to Killeen, Temple and Waco, we're going to have to make an asserted effort to encourage businesses to come to the county and remain in the county," he said.
Firth uses the auto industry as an example.
Because of how close Killeen is, dealerships decided to consolidate sister locations to save money. They reason that customers would still travel into a nearby market - such as Killeen, for example - to buy a new vehicle.
But this takes jobs away from the county.
"We're going to find that locations in close proximity to the larger cities are losing businesses at a higher rate than either the larger cities themselves … or the more rural counties like Lampasas and Hamilton, where it's more difficult for the larger urban areas to be able to support them," Firth said.
The judge enlisted Susan Kamas, executive director of the Texas Workforce Board, to help find a way out.
Because of the high-soldier population and opportunities for higher learning in the area, Kamas and Firth have decided to target industry and manufacturing to instill permanent employment.
"Unfortunately, the Fort Hood economy is a retail business economy and service economy," Firth said. "So we haven't been able to generate the types of jobs that soldiers would deem good opportunities as they're leaving the service."
The county plans to offer tax abatements to companies that wish to relocate to Coryell County. It has taken out an ad in Central Texas Image Magazine playing up Coryell's strengths: Low cost of living, highly trained workforce, easy access to major highways and a transportation system with a regional airport and rail lines.
"If they want to attract industry type jobs, as opposed to retail or other type of jobs … this is what businesses look at when looking for a new site," said Paul Stock, assistant professor of economics at Mary Hardin-Baylor University in Belton.
A business park, waste disposal, natural gas resources, low tax rates and strong leadership and community interest are also factors that companies consider when choosing to relocate, Stock said .
"I think the time is right for this," Kamas said. "But of course, a lot depends on infrastructure and access."
To boost Copperas Cove's infrastructure, the city is planning two projects that would install bypasses in the north and south parts of town to alleviate traffic.
The south bypass will be installed near Constitution Drive, the location of the future 1,000,000-square-foot retail development The Shops at Five Hills. The north bypass will be an extension of Tank Destroyer Blvd.
"I could see expansion at the various exit points, which could be the places available for development," said Monica Hull, marketing coordinator with the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation.
Contact Matt Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7550.