Governments Work Together to Improve Heart of Texas Region
In the Heart of Texas region, cities and counties are teaming up in the name of progress. This unified approach, nurtured by the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, has achieved impressive successes. Not only did it help convince federal officials to preserve Waco’s medical center for veterans, but it also brought improvements to the region’s homeland security communications network.
HOTCOG also supported efforts to attract a new-generation, near-zero-emissions power plant to a neighboring county. Even in the vital arena of economic development, which inevitably pits communities against one another, Heart of Texas leaders communicate regularly to stay focused on the greater regional good, says Kenneth L. Simons, executive director of Waco-based HOTCOG. So while one city may win new business, the entire region reaps the benefits of more jobs, heightened real estate demand, greater tax revenue, and increased service and retail activity.
“I think our region of the state just has a lot to offer when it comes to economic development for new businesses coming in,” Simons says.
Advantages include equal travel distance between Austin and Dallas (about a two-hour drive), proximity to Interstates 35 and 45, educational opportunities, a small-town quality of life, and ample industrial and commercial development space.
Keeping It in the Family
Regionalism came into play recently when the Waco Regional Landfill agreed to supply the Mars SnackFood U.S. plant in Waco with methane gas for fuel. A pipeline built by Cromeco Inc. of San Antonio will carry the methane gas, which is naturally emitted by landfills and much less expensive than natural gas.
“The decreased amount of methane in the air benefits the entire community as it provides better air quality for the region,” says Jenny Parker, HOTCOG’s community and economic development planner.
In McLennan County, the city of McGregor boasts a large industrial park and “is more than willing to bend over backwards for any company to get them in here and keep them here,” says Leo Connor, executive director of the McGregor Economic Development Corp., which manages the park and works to attract and retain businesses for the city. But that doesn’t mean McGregor won’t support neighboring areas should a project make sense elsewhere. “If somebody moves to Hewitt or Waco or Woodway, they didn’t come to McGregor,” he says, “but we didn’t necessarily lose, because they’re going to be hiring people from McGregor. And we all understand that.”
Like other regional employers, Double B Foods Inc., a Meridian-based frozen foods producer, is challenged to attract and keep its employees, who are mostly unskilled workers. When the company expanded its Bosque County plant by 40,000 square feet in 2003 to accommodate a newly acquired line of wraps, dips and appetizers, a ready workforce was a necessary ingredient.
Ron Bowlin, Double B’s chief financial officer, says the company got a boost when the Texas Workforce Commission gave the company’s 225 employees greater access to resources such as child care, housing allowances and insurance, “That’s one thing they work with us on,” Bowlin says.”
While regionalism is certainly not uncommon in other areas of the nation, “I don’t think it honestly caught hold” in many places, McGregor’s Connor says. “Texas is different. It’s really an incredibly friendly state.”