Economic development offers hope for new year

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Dec. 31, 2016 at midnight

The oil bust staggered the Crossroads economy in 2016, but the blow was nowhere as bad as what we suffered through in the 1980s.

Because of our successful efforts at diversifying our economy and much more, Crossroads residents can look back at 2016 with a feeling of accomplishment and look ahead to a rosy 2017, if a few cards come our way.

At the top of our wish list is the world's largest ethylene cracker plant. Victoria is one of four sites chosen as finalists by Exxon and Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corp.

The nearby city of Portland appears to be the front-runner for the site, but a strong opposition group has formed there because of the proposed site's location so near the high school. Victoria's site at the Port of Victoria has no such conflict.

Development of the plant would take about five years, creating 11,000 construction jobs. Once operational, the plant would employ 600 workers earning an average of $90,000 a year.

A decision regarding the site selection could come early next year. In the meantime, let's look back at some of the highlights of 2016:• The city of Victoria opened its new wastewater treatment plant, providing sufficient capacity for decades to come.

• Victoria began its test on an aquifer storage recovery project. If aquifer storage proves successful, the city could have a long-term solution to future droughts.

• The Port of Victoria has continued to improve its roads and increased its rail car handling capacity, making the site ready for more development.

• Formosa continued its multimillion-dollar expansion, softening the blow from other Crossroads' plants closures or cutbacks.

• Victoria's standing as a regional medical center grew as Citizens Medical Center and DeTar Healthcare System both enhanced their positions. Citizens received national recognition under its new chief executive officer, and DeTar opened a new residency program and a new emergency room.

• The University of Houston-Victoria made plans for an aggressive construction schedule starting this year. On the list: another academic building, a library, a student center, a residential hall and a modernized campus entryway for Ben Wilson Street.

• The city had success attracting new retail businesses, most notably Aldi grocery store, which is expected to open this summer.

• The Victoria school district improved again on its accountability ratings, having 25 of 27 campuses meet standards. The superintendent projected all would meet standards this year.

• A new museum, Five Points, opened, offering another fascinating reason for visitors to stop in Victoria. Across town, the Children's Discovery Museum secured funding to start construction on its new location with a plan for opening this spring.

• Victoria lured Texas Mile, a race that attracts thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants from across the country. The first event will be at the Victoria Airport in March, and organizers have exciting plans to grow the weekend race and festival.

If you drive around Victoria, you won't immediately notice the economic downturn that has produced a double-digit drop in sales tax revenue. That's a serious concern, but Crossroads leaders appear to have taken the right steps toward diversifying our economy. Renewed growth appears right around the corner.

Even if Exxon doesn't choose Victoria, other projects are sure to follow. To keep the prosperity coming, our community needs to keep investing in itself, ranging from more support for downtown redevelopment and greater backing of its school system and higher education institutions.

These investments yield high returns in the long run, as do dollars spent on quality-of-life issues, such as better parks and a comprehensive hike-and-bike trail system.

Victoria and the Crossroads are on the right course for a happy New Year. A few more good decisions and smart investments could brighten new years for decades to come.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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