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2016-02-25

Economic Partnership takes another step

Special to the Courier

Five months to the day after an initial meeting in September, the proposed Bandera Regional Partnership held its second meeting at the Bandera Electric Cooperative Community Room.
As Precinct 1 County Commissioner Bob Grimes, who coordinated and organized the meeting, commented, “Five months seems like a long time, but a lot has been accomplished. We’re here, and those are positive steps!”
Jeremy Zaborowski of the Lower Colorado River Authority again served as facilitator. Zaborowski’s background and expertise in facilitating organizational efforts – such as the Bandera Regional Partnership – comes from working with other smaller, rural communities with the same interests in spurring measured and desired economic growth.
Setting the stage for this meeting, Zaborowski reviewed the findings and agreements reached in the first meeting. These included the “look” and function of a new economic development organization; perceived obstacles to the creation of such an organization; creating vs. “tweaking” an existing organization; funding mechanisms; and support to ensure success.
Regarding the function(s) of a new economic development organization, simply stated, it would be new business attraction. It would require buy-in from local governments and businesses; support but not compete with existing business; provide a supporting role for local tourism which must be protected; engage all areas of Bandera County to include Lakehills, Medina, Pipe Creek and Vanderpool; explore access to state economic development resources; identify and pursue appropriate industry; and set realistic expectations.
Identified obstacles to the creation of a successful organization included a paucity of credible current funding and organizational staff; dependence on volunteer manpower; securing funding support from local governments, business and nonprofits; limited local expertise; opposition based on cultural factors, including the “keeping-Bandera-the-way-it-is” mantra; physical constraints such as topography; limited natural resources – most importantly, water; and distance from main transportation lines.
It became clear that, without a current organization with a focus solely on business attraction, this would have to be a new organization.
And, in the area of funding, funds would be sourced from local, state and federal coffers, as well as charter (founding) members or large supporters and contributors, who would take leadership roles. The funding horizon would be a three- to five-year commitment, if possible. A business plan and pro-forma would have to be established to back-up funding requests. Additionally, broad community support is crucial.
The goal from this initial meeting was to establish a resolution incorporating all of these factors that each member could and would support individually, and-or take to their business or place of employment for support and possible funding participation. It is also imperative to create an action plan and timeline for establishing such an economic development organization.
A resolution was presented and discussed by the participants. The resolution focused on the need for collaboration; a requirement for broad buy-in by stakeholders in this region; inclusion of all geographic areas in Bandera County, as well as all types of existing organizations; and a need to focus on a regional basis. Participants indicated their support by signing-off on the resolution.
The timeline and action plan set out a substantial number of items to be accomplished, spanning a 12- to 14-month period. To guide this effort, forming a steering committee was discussed and conceptually approved. Membership would include major local business and government stakeholders with representation requested from all geographic areas of the county and from across a number of business and volunteer organizations, as well.
The steering committed would potentially have up to 15 members with some members also serving in other committee roles such as business plan development, funding, organizational bylaws and creating a new tax-exempt organization, among other functions.
The stakeholders present agreed to formalize and finalize steering committee membership in the next two weeks. Once formalized, the responsibility for carrying the process forward will rest with the steering committee.
Grimes noted that while there is a long lead time to reach the end goal of a new funded organization, with a dedicated director charged with Bandera-appropriate business attraction, those present agreed that taking the steps as outlined will afford the best opportunity for success.
“Structured, planned economic growth does not happen single handedly. Success will require the ongoing efforts and expertise of our experienced local business and community leaders and volunteers,” Grimes said.
He also stated that having Zaborowski as a facilitator has enabled a diverse group of countywide community and business leaders to come together on an important issue addressing future generations in Bandera County – with no hidden agendas.