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Bandera - to develop or not, Part 4

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of articles about attempts to develop a coherent development plan designed to attract new businesses to the city and county of Bandera.)

To jumpstart the local economy, a quartet of businessmen banded together six years ago to establish what is now known as the Bandera County Economic Development Corporation. Prime mover of this partnership, Gary Johnston, has been joined by Chairman Sully Woodland and principles, Roy Thompson, Johnny Boyle, Gary Johnston and Don Giles. Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes joined the group after his election.
In September, the group sponsored a four-hour planning workshop on economic development, held in the Bandera Electric Cooperative Community Room. The workshop was titled "The Bandera County Economic Development Partnership."
Grimes recently secured a first step for offering tax abatements to industries opening for business in unincorporated parts of the County. Jeremy Zaborowski, with the Lower Colorado River Authority, acted as facilitator. Grimes coordinated the workshop, which was provided gratis by the LCRA.
Regional approach to development
One question posed by Zaborowski was: Do you believe a regional economic development approach is right for Bandera and Bandera County? Taking a politically correct stance, Woodland said he felt the "city EDC (economic development corporation) and county EDC must both work together."
(Editor's note: To see how the City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation, led by county resident Martha Shoemaker, successfully shut down a development strategy proposed by Woodland and the Bandera County Economic Development Corporation, refer to "Part 2 of "Bandera - to develop or not," published in the Oct. 1 edition of the Courier.)
Taking a more pragmatic approach, Grimes noted, "The city is just a square mile and new business investment in the city is limited by the available land. In my opinion, business investment will occur in the county." He added, however, "New businesses must include the city as a component, such as for housing."
Realtor Karen Ripley commented that residents living in the southeastern end of the county focus more on Helotes and San Antonio for their needs (rather than Bandera). "I don't feel a great deal of support for businesses (in the Lakehills area). They come and go with the lake levels."
To Grimes' contention that residents of higher income demographics live around Medina Lake, Ripley replied, "They pay 75 percent of property taxes in Bandera County and they are in unincorporated parts of the county. Businesses need water and sewage utilities."
No plan & different agendas
Toni Kunz, a city resident and member of the City of Bandera Economic Developement Corporation noted frankly, "We don't have a plan and people fight about certain things because they have their own agendas." Noting that many city properties have been purchased by "people who don't necessarily live in them," Kunz said, "The city is the heart (of the county), but we can't do (economic development) by ourselves." She called on the county to partner with the city for economic development because "the city relies a lot on the county."
Woodland called Bandera County unique because it's comprised of several diverse communities that include Lakehills, Pipe Creek, Medina, Utopia and Bandera proper.
Patricia Moore, executive director of the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted that Vanderpool includes Lost Maples Natural Area, one of three in the county. The others are the Hill Country and Albert and Bessie Kronkosky state natural areas. Moore considered these pristine areas as natural draws for tourists.
Hooter McMullan of McMullan Insurance Agency suggested "... looking for common needs throughout the county," which would enable the various factions to pull together. "Focus on the common good rather on what pulls us apart," she said.
Driving force behind economy
Zaborowski's next queried: What do you see as the primary functions of a regional economic development corporation?
Overwhelmingly, workshop participants considered water to be an important component of any development plan. Bruce Hanks, executive director of the Arthur Nagel Community Clinic, said an inability to extinguish fires (using professional firefighters) precludes many businesses from locating in this area. "Insurance would be prohibitive," he said.
David Mauk, manager of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District, revealed, "The city has a water availability problem. This serious issue is a reality of where we live. As a result, we have to balance user rights."
According to Mauk, water is the driving force behind development and there is a problem with water quality in this area. "Some areas are using water that's 20,000 years old," he said. "Conservation is one answer and striking a balance between what (development) comes in and what we already have here."
"Water is a big constraint," Grimes agreed.
"Then there must be a policy in place regarding the use of water," Zaborowski said. "We won't be able to go after businesses that use a lot of water."
In response, Woodland noted that the EDC must develop a plan or be responsible for having a plan developed. However, he failed to specify which EDC - city or county - would develop the plan.
According to Giles, plans are formulated rather easily, but the struggle is to "... execute those plans. Good plans are collecting dust."
Zaborowski suggested that the EDC establish priorities in any plan.
Who has authority?
Regarding authority, Kunz asked, "Do we have the authority to enforce water conservation? People are supposed to use commonsense, but there doesn't appear to be much commonsense anymore. Where does the authority to enforce come from?"
Although Zaborowski said that code enforcement is not traditionally a function of an EDC, verbiage to that effect could be included in an incentive package for prospective businesses.
"The city and county don't work together, but a regional plan would be a binding force. We must work in concert to be successful," Shoemaker said.
Zaborowski said that successful development depends on someone with "skin in the game" and who is accountable. "That person must take ideas back to the various organizations that will then buy in to those ideas," he said.
Continuing, he noted that water regulation is not a component of an EDC, but water clearly shapes the policies of an EDC.
Grimes said, "Tens of millions of dollars go outside of this county. Our residents spend money in other counties purchasing goods and services."
"So in addition to attracting new businesses, we must have a plan to help existing businesses to thrive and be successful," Woodland commented.
"That's the idea," Zaborowski said, "help the 'homies'."