By Michael Meek
President & CEO
Economies Grow or Retract, Don’t Stay the Same
My thanks to the Herald-Zeitung for asking me to provide a monthly column on our local economy. Economic Development has been a large part of my professional life. I have been honored to be able to participate in job and wealth creation activities here for 29 years.
Let’s start with a definition of what economic development is and is not. It is by definition the importation of new dollars into an area from outside the area. It is not population growth activities, although that is often times what most people think of with economic development. While many communities in our country would like to have more population, that is not an issue here.
How does a community create this new wealth? Three ways primarily. Either via tourism, primary employers, or transfer payments, i.e. social security and pension payments. Again, most communities have at least one of these going for it, but New Braunfels does very well in all three. The City’s NBIDC (4B Board) is by state law focused on the primary employer part of wealth creation. Primary employers are those that provide a good or service and sell it outside the trade area.
Each year, the Chamber of Commerce provides the NBIDC with a report card of sorts on how the local economy did that year. This December will be the 14th such year this “benchmark survey” will be created. One part of the analysis has to do with the 50+ primary employers in the city that outlines their job growth statistics from the previous years. Since we live in a capitalist, free market society, some companies grow and some retract in size or worse, leave or go out of business. Thus, helping local primary employers grow and bringing in new primary employers like CGT is a necessary strategy.
Another strategy of local wealth creation is to sustain and grow key business corridors in the community like our downtown. Planned improvements to sustain and grow our downtown have been occurring since 2010 via the Downtown Implementation Plan. This was supplemented in 2012 with a citizen-created City Economic Development Strategy which recommended a catalytic project to help the civic convention center and downtown. That plan also called for a hotel to serve downtown and other amenity development as did the Downtown Implementation Plan.
That led in late 2015 to the NBIDC retaining Douglas Architects with the task of a pre-development plan for the old city hall property on S. Castell Ave. Douglas was chosen due to their reputation to listening to public input vs creating a “off the shelf” plan. After nearly two years of public input, the plan is still in process. The specifics of the plan in this early stage of the process is not as important as the recognition of factors that will sustain and grow our downtown in the future. The demographics of the marketplace are changing, with present and future citizens desiring to live, work, and play in urban areas. That means the product mix needs to evolve in our downtown and different amenities need to be added to sustain its success. I look forward to seeing how this plan unfolds over the next few years.