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Bandera - to develop or not, Part Fini

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Photo by Judith Pannebaker
Bandera County Commissioner Bob Grimes and Jeremy Zaborowski, of the Lower Colorado River Authority

(Editor's note: This is the final installment of a seemingly interminable series about attempts to develop a coherent development plan 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.
New vs. old EDC
Zaborowski asked the question: Is there a viable existing economic development organization or would there have to be a new organization? Obligingly workshop participants dissected current economic development organizations.
County resident Martha Shoemaker, who serves as chairman of the City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation, noted that her corporation must report directly to city council. "The city council would have to approve the EDC's inclusion in a regional EDC," she explained.
Since its incorporation six years ago, the Bandera County EDC, Woodland said, is "under no one's authority except our own." The county EDC has never solicited funds from Bandera County.
Giles felt that the county EDC might require "retooling," and, "as a private corporation with nothing to do with county government," it is still in a developmental stage.
Grimes envisioned creating a partnership with the City of Bandera and its EDC as well as county government. "(This organization) must be funded but not through sales tax revenue," he said.
On the other hand, opting for a different approach, Hooter McMullan of McMullan Insurance, said, "We need something fresh."
"We might need a new organization but one that partners with other entities," Grimes said. "We would have to create a new ID membership as well as a 501c6 or 501c4." Both designations grant nonprofit status to not-for-profit entities."
Other representation
Woodland added, "As a private corporation, we want to work with businesses as well as the city. However, we don't want to restrict it to just the city. How can we pull this together?"
"By forming a regional economic development corporation with representatives from throughout the county," Shoemaker said.
Jumping on that bandwagon, Grimes said, "That's exactly what exists in my vision. If the county will fund it, they must have a seat at the table."
Genie Strickland, owner of Growth Resources, a firm that produces events, suggested electing a new board of directors with liaisons from other organizations and communities.
According to Shoemaker, the Texas Attorney General has imposed restraints regarding the disposition of funding from the city EDC. Nevertheless, she noted the necessity of including representatives from all groups on a proposed board.
"Set aside the EDC language and just call it the Bandera Regional Partnership," said Patricia Moore, executive director of the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Concurring, Fidel Ramirez noted that economic leaders in Webb County had formed what became the Greater Laredo Development Foundation.
funding, funding
When Woodland asked about funding restrictions, Zaborowski said, "Maybe the city has restrictions on how money can be spent, but the state places no such restrictions on money as long as it is spent to benefit the community."
Funding sources might come from government and membership buy-ins at different levels. Another source might be grants, but a grant writer dedicated to that would be needed. Under some circumstances, special districts could be created using funds generated by increasing sales tax.
However, Mayor John Hegemier said the city is taxed to the max already. Zaborowski characterized the use of increased sales tax to fund an economic development corporation as "not a strong opportunity."
Hired staff, most agreed, must have a three- or five-year contracts, especially an experienced coordinator because a "competent individual could not be attracted or retained with a one-year contract."
'Funding is lynchpin'
To Woodland's question, "How much money would we need to operate an EDC office?" Giles replied, "To solicit funds without knowing what our needs are is upside down. Needs are based on a pro forma structure. We need some goal amounts in mind."
According to Zaborowski, a realistic number for fundraising is a necessity. "Funding is a lynchpin and you must decide how much money you will need for a five-year commitment," he noted.
Organizations, agencies and entities that might support viable economic development could include city and county government, the Bandera Business Association and the Bandera Regional Foundation, as well as community home owners associations.
What's next?
Zaborowski said he would create a draft document of the workshop session for Grimes to review. "The next half day meeting will be devoted to 'wordsmithing' the document," Grimes said, predicting the meeting would be "painful." He anticipated a second meeting would be held in January.
He suggested establishing an executive committee to initiate discussions about what a new regional organization should look like. No more than nine members should comprise the executive board with no more than one participant from any private or governmental organization.
"The goal is to have broad representation organizationally and geographically. This will be a working group," Grimes said. He asked interested parties to submit their names to him for selection by workshop participants. Grimes offered to serve as a coordinating point and participant.
Meanwhile William Hetherington, Bandera Electric Cooperative general manager, offered to provide space, as well as lunch and drinks, for the next meeting. That, at least, should relieve some directors of the need to personally fund culinary aspects of economic development.