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2015-09-24

Bandera - to develop or not, Part 1

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles on attempts to develop a plan to attract new businesses to the city and county of Bandera.)

To jumpstart the local economy, six years ago a quartet of businessmen banded together to establish what became known as the Bandera County Economic Development Partnership. Businessmen behind this partnership include Chairman Sully Woodland and directors, Roy Thompson, Johnny Boyle and Gary Johnston.
On Wednesday, Sept. 16, the group sponsored a four-hour workshop at the Bandera Electric Cooperative Community Room to which were invited the county's so-called "movers and shakers."
Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes, who recently secured a first step for offering tax abatements to industries opening for business in Bandera County, designed the workshop.
Jeremy Zaborowski, who serves as senior account manager for the Lower Colorado River Authority, acted as facilitator. The workshop itself was provided gratis by the LCRA.
Offering his curriculum vitae, Zaborowski joined the LCRA in 2011 as a senior economic development specialist. Since then, he has worked in such diverse environments as towns and communities impacted by the Eagle Ford shale play and those dealing with an aging population.
"I grew up in a farming community of 300 people in northwestern Pennsylvania," he said, "so I know about small communities." According to Zaborowski, people in that community "liked what they were," but were hit with "innovations and technology."
As an example, he said a lumber mill in town employed 25 people, who made decent wages. Later, the mill purchased an automatic saw blade, which reduced the number of employees to 15. Other innovations further cut the number of people needed to do the same amount of work. "Now the saw mill is out of business," Zaborowski said.
"These are the facts of life for a small town. You used to be able to stick with your roots and raise a family on a livable wage, but no more. Now you must commute or take a pay cut. That's the reality of it," Zaborowski said.
In his opening remarks, Grimes noted that of the 37 people invited to what was essentially a closed meeting, about 66 percent had attended. He spoke of the challenges Bandera faces in its attempt to re-ignite a stagnant economy to include dealing with a declining population that is not attracting young families, being saddled with one of the highest tax rates in the State of Texas and facing at least a 40-minute commute for employment that offers viable wages.
"We have no sustainable work in this county for people to live," Grimes said. "This meeting is about the future and there are leaders in this room whose function it is to plan for the future."
However, he also ceded, "Not everyone in the Bandera community wants to see change and growth, but Bandera will change whether we want it to or not."
Discussing the tax abatement program recently authorized by a 3-2 decision of the Bandera County Commissioners Court, Grimes described the program as a way to attract new business investment. The abatement will go into effect after the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
According to Grimes, initially, the tax abatement program would identify re-investment zones in the county that are contiguous, which, he said "... would require public hearings."
For the record, Judge Richard Evans and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jordan "Jody" Rutherford voted against offering tax abatements. Grimes, Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris and Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Wilkerson gave the project their blessing.
After noting, "The path to economic development is complex," Grimes explained that the workshop would attempt to identify:
• the definition of economic development,
• kinds of data needed,
• infrastructure needs, especially in the re-investment zones and
• industries and business suitable for this locale
"We also must talk about the structure needed to make economic development work," Grimes said. "Neither the city nor the county has funds (to pay the salary) of a development (director or personnel). That will be down the road."
Noting that Bandera is bolstered by being next to "the fastest growing part of the country," Zaborowski said he would offer his ideas on economic development than ask for the participants' input. "The BBA (Bandera Business Association) has asked me to build a consensus to move forward," he said. He intended to take a draft document to the BBA and have it signed off by the first quarter of the new fiscal year.
It should be noted, however, that no representative of the BBA was present at the economic development workshop.
(Next week's article will cover the thwarted attempt of the Bandera County Economic Development Partnership to develop an economic development strategy for the City of Bandera, as well as a history of other development projects that are stalled or simply abandoned in the city.)