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Working to develop Victoria

By ALLISON MILES
Jan. 5, 2011 at midnight
Updated Jan. 14, 2011 at 7:15 p.m.


"All experiences are good. It's just that, sometimes they teach you what you want to do, and sometimes they teach you what you don't want to do."

Dale Fowler has worked a variety of jobs throughout his life, from helping at his mother's grocery store to construction work and corporate roles. He said every job is a chance to learn something new.

DID YOU KNOW ... ?Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp., counts a number of victories in his 10 years with the organization. His earliest came within his first year there.

When Fowler joined up with the development corporation, it was working on a strategic planning project. Part of that was finding suitable land for a business park.

Fowler wrote up a grant proposal and obtained a $1.6 million matching grant for infrastructure. Thus, the Lone Tree Business Center got its start.

The center is the future home for a Caterpillar hydraulic excavator site that is on its way.

You might find him behind his desk, boarding a plane to meet potential clients or at a high school volleyball game. That is, if you can catch him.

He's Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp. And, between work and his personal life, the Victoria County native keeps busy.

Getting his start

Fowler, 48, grew up helping at his mother's grocery store, the Coleto Creek Country Store.

"I got up at 5:30 a.m and serviced the customers, fixing the coffee and selling sandwiches," he said. "My mom started work at 7:30 a.m., and I went to school."

After graduating Stroman High School, he moved on to Texas State Technical Institute, where he worked in a co-op with Union Carbide Corp. Later, he took a marketing position with CPL's district office.

"They encouraged training, education and community involvement. It helped me with everything from my public speaking to my hard skills and academic studies," he said.

Fowler earned his bachelor's degree in business management from the University of Houston-Victoria during his time with the company.

His start in economic development also came from CPL, albeit after it changed its name to AEP.

He moved into a development role with the company, and during his last years with them, took courses with Oklahoma University to become a certified economic developer.

When first approached by the Victoria Economic Development Corp. to consider a job, he said he had doubts.

"I'd had a long career with the utilities company, and I was happy," he said. "Meanwhile, as I read more, I got more excited about the mechanics and ... what you can achieve. I sat with the board and ultimately decided this was where I wanted to be."

Developing Victoria

Fowler has now been with the economic development corporation for 10 years, taking part in the secretive process of searching for potential businesses and drawing them in.

The corporation's recent accomplishments include the expansion of a downtown power plant, Exelon Nuclear's announcement that might build a Victoria County plant, StarTek's renovation of the old Albertson's building and Caterpillar's incoming manufacturing plant.

Adrian Cannady, the development corporation's vice president of marketing, described Fowler as a process-oriented "details guy."

"I really think that's what's made him successful in all that he's done in his career," Cannady said. "You want somebody leading from the front that takes care of people the right way. When you do that, you're going to have successes like he's talked about."

Economic development is about building and maintaining relationships with potential clients, Fowler said. He and his staff must also find patience for projects that take a while and those that don't work out.

"We get a lot of 'No's' in this business," he said.

Fowler and the development corporation aren't without their critics.

Matt Ocker, president of Boss Oil field Service Inc., said he has nothing against Fowler, but questioned the corporation's practices.

It isn't fair to offer incentives such as tax abatements to some industries and not others, he said.

Another issue is that taxpayer money goes to fund trips, incentives and more. Ocker said he would understand if the money went for things such as roads, buildings and schools.

"But I can't go enjoy the 320 acres of land Caterpillar was given, even though I was taxed to purchase it," Ocker said.

Fowler said he's no stranger to the criticism.

"It's frustrating, but I recognize that economic development, and the way it works, is not very intuitive to many people," he said. "Most businesses have quicker sales cycles."

Fighting crime in his spare time

It isn't always business attire for Fowler. As a member of the sheriff's office's SWAT team, he sometimes trades suits and ties for bullet-proof vests.

Fowler's crime-fighting days began in the '80s, when his boss at CPL suggested he look into a reserve sheriff's deputy program. He went through the police academy, and after about 120 hours of courses and training, was commissioned as a reserve deputy.

He continued through complete peace officer training, and today, is a master peace officer. The voluntary position doesn't come with pay.

"I'll volunteer a lot of times in the patrol car," he said. "It's whenever they need me."

About four years ago, Fowler bumped his law enforcement skills up a level further and went out for the SWAT team.

"I tried out and won a spot," he said, adding that the role is a part-time position.

Fowler's economic development job means he might not always be able to respond to calls, he said, but he makes call-outs and training sessions whenever possible and said he's missed very few over the years.

"Luckily, in Victoria, we spend more time training than responding to call-outs," he said of the team.

Balancing act

Fowler admits it isn't easy balancing everything on his plate.

Aside from work and SWAT team time, he remains active with the Blyth Road Church of Christ. He said he also enjoys family time with his wife of 26 years, Dana, and his two daughters, Karyl, a junior at Southwestern University, and Kelly, a junior at Victoria West High School.

"My family suffers more than is fair, since I'm so busy," Fowler said, adding he makes time to attend Kelly's volleyball games and to be with the family when he can.

All in all, he said he might be busy, but he enjoys what he does.

"This is a fun job," Fowler said. "It's also intriguing to do this job in your hometown. My family is here, my wife's family is here, I have a stake in this community."

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