Larger cities have perceived economic needs similar to their smaller counterparts, according to preliminary responses to a survey distributed by the Central Texas Council of Governments.
Every three to five years, the council asks its members to update the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy by explaining what their communities need in order to expand economically. Officials are asked to rate a list of perceived needs for economic development from most to least important.
“We want to know what type of development opportunities these communities are looking for,” said Jim Reed, executive director of the council. “The big knock, in my opinion, on federal grants is sometimes they solve problems state and federal government think communities have without really knowing what challenges local communities are facing.”
Filling out the survey does not guarantee a city or county any kind of funding, but it can help them when applying for specific project grants in the future, Reed said.
Responses from different agencies in Lampasas and Gatesville each consider business retention and expansion and job retention their top two concerns.
“I think the common thread is going to be what can we do to increase the tax base and assist businesses to be successful,” said Finley deGraffenried, Lampasas city manager, of the responses he’s received from council members since Nov. 24. “The emphasis we’re seeing from elected officials is trying to strengthen the base of local businesses in terms of retaining employees and possibly expanding businesses.”
In Gatesville, from the chamber of commerce’s perspective, small businesses and jobs are just as important.
“If we can’t keep our existing businesses going, what are we going to do?” said Susie Gunnels, executive director of the Gatesville chamber. “Each community is a little different. “We have some industry in Gatesville. Not a lot, but each plant has 200-plus employees, so it’s critical we keep those plants open and those jobs filled.”
Gunnels also considered community development and revitalization important to the city.
“Gatesville has formed an (economic development) board, now we’re at a point where we’ve got some people in the community that are looking at the future,” she said.
Even in the larger community of Killeen, the importance of keeping small businesses healthy is not undervalued, but it does rank second on the list.
Mayor Dan Corbin said, from his perspective, community development and revitalization projects should be the future focus for the city.
“I’ve had an emphasis on cleaning up the town and improving our image,” Corbin said. “I want to make downtown a viable business district, with an emphasis on entertainment and recreation for soldiers and college students.”
Small-business retention and expansion is important to Corbin, who said the future of the city, he believes, lies with small businesses, not heavy industry.
“Not having a north-south rail and not being on I-35 is a serious detriment to us not getting heavy manufacturing or industry,” he said. “To continue to grow as a home for retired military and as colleges continue to grow ... we need small businesses to be successful.”
Third on Corbin’s list is tax abatements and other incentive strategies.
While there are a number of large retail chains in Killeen, ways of encouraging more to set up in the city is important, he said.
“I think in order to get some of the kinds of businesses we want, we’re going to have to provide some economic incentives,” Corbin said. “We’re going to have to look at some sort of enticements to get some of the areas of town to redevelop the way we want them redeveloped.”