As we are two months into another new year, we continue to try to forecast where our community will be in one year or five years or even ten years. We look at where we have been along with where we are, to see if we can predict and lead us into where we want to be. Our diversity continues to be one of the strongest points we have. Our manufacturing base is doing fair, as some are doing well and some are affected by the slow housing starts in the US. Our energy sector has expanded beyond just oil and gas to include renewable and a potential new generation coal plant. The oil and gas side is currently doing quite well as troubles in the Mid-East and Egypt are driving the price of oil up. Natural Gas is a different situation and it is at a lower price level because of all the new finds (Barnett Shale, south Texas find, etc.) Renewables (wind in this region) have a good foot hold due to our volumes and being the center of the CREZ transmission line expansion. Many new transmission towers have already been installed with continued plans for more. As we continue to lead Texas and the US in developed wind power, service companies and parts and tools suppliers have made Sweetwater and Roscoe their home. Our hospitality industry benefits from the 20,000 pieces of daily traffic on I-20 through events, retail shopping, hotel stays, and our restaurants. Not forgotten is our agriculture sector that continues to be a mainstay in our economy. From the crops to the cattle to the oil, gas and wind leases, agriculture is a big part of this diverse economy. Lastly, but not the least important, is our service sector, professional services, medical professionals, teachers, mom and pop shops, and retired folks that add to the economy every day!
In the economic development business, we realize we are in a place where we are told “Great Job” when we bring in something new but what have you done for me lately! Lately has been more like normal times. During the wind rush, it took every minute we had to keep up. Now that we are back to somewhat normal times, we continue to work projects, catch up from what we couldn’t get done, and plan and prepare for the future. Here are a few things that fit into those categories:
1) SEED Website; we are in the process of developing a new interactive website. As is with most websites, you hire someone to get the design, the graphics, and add any special tools needed to make the site as user friendly as possible. What you don’t hire is someone to do all the data collection and verification that needs to happen. We have found that when an economic development site selector or a corporate real estate agent is looking for communities to serve the needs of their customer’s expansion, they use an ED’s website as a way to exclude them from the list. Yes, that is correct, exclude and not include! We are excluded from information and projects we never knew about because of something they couldn’t find on our website.
2) Industrial Park; we are starting Phase II on our 88 acre Industrial Park on I-20. Phase II includes building a 750 foot road that is curbed and guttered. We will also be installing lighting in the park. Our board, through their great wisdom, charged us to develop just the western 1/3 of the park. Many communities have developed the whole park and then had to tear out what was put in to address the needs of a potential customer. We will develop 1/3 of the park and leave 60+ acres to be custom built for any future customers. We will also be developing a marketing sign on the property that will be able to be seen from both east and west bound traffic.
3) Sweetwater and Roscoe ISDs; we have been working with both ISDs and the business community in both Sweetwater and Roscoe to bring business knowledge to the students. Through the Speakers Bureau, we have business men and women tell their educational, work stories and history to the students. They also highlight the different opportunities that are available in Nolan County that the students may not have known about. The Senior Interview Day includes business men and women providing mock interviews for all seniors at Sweetwater and Roscoe High Schools. We also work with the students by requiring them to develop a resume and a job application. This would not happen without the support of both ISD’s administration and key ISD volunteers.
4) Business Retention Expansion; new businesses are not our only concern. We are also involved in working with existing companies as they look to expand. We have developed a program that every year we visit 1-2 corporate headquarters of a company located in Sweetwater. This year we are working to visit the headquarters of USG and Buzzi Unicem USA. We take this opportunity to visit their corporate location and to let them know how much we appreciate their presence in Sweetwater. We let them know that if they need our assistance or are looking to expand, we are here to assist. We want to put a local name and a face with our community and not just a number on a financial spreadsheet.
These are just a few of the ways we work every day to better prepare our community for opportunities we may have today and in the future. We may not have a new project every day or year, but we are prepared should we develop one.
Our jobs at SEED are much easier because of living and working in a community that embraces change. Too many communities say “We tried that before and it didn’t work, what makes you think it will work this time”, or “I like things the way they are, don’t change a thing”. In the technology driven world we live in, we are either going forwards or backwards. The days of status quo are long since past. Thank you for allowing us to learn from the past, build on our present, and embrace the positive changes the future might bring us.
SEED is charged as the Economic Development agent for our community. We cannot do it alone. It takes key volunteers that are willing to assist in the process. If you have an idea, comments, or a contact of someone that is looking to locate or relocate a business, give us a call at 325.235.0555.
As our slogan at SEED says, we are “the sweetest place in Texas for business”.
See you next month!
Ken Becker is the Executive Director of Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development (SEED). Comments about this column may be e-mailed to email@example.com .