An electric power plant at the Port of Victoria is days away from going on the grid, said Ryan Castleman, Agilon Energy’s chief operating officer.
Castleman gave an update on the company’s $125 million project in Victoria on Wednesday afternoon at the semiannual Victoria Economic Development Corporation meeting.
The company announced two natural gas plant projects in May 2018 that will provide power during peak demand. Construction began in April 2018 on the plants, which are located at 2100 Old Bloomington Road and at the city’s former water treatment plant, on Willow and Senecio streets.
Both plants are mechanically complete but still need to undergo testing before being considered fully complete, Castleman said.
“We are, at the Port, a few days from putting power onto the grid, and at the city site on Willow Street, AEP has some work to do to connect the wires, but construction is (also) complete there,” he said.
Once the plants are running, the company will be one of the top five taxpayers in the county, said Dale Fowler, Victoria Economic Development Corporation president.
The company is looking at starting several other projects in Texas and would like to build another plant in Victoria, though none are in the works, Castleman said.
Fowler also presented a summary of VEDC’s recent endeavors at the meeting. VEDC has developed about 15 possible projects during the past six months.
“The potential clients represent about $70 billion of investment if they were all to come here,” he said. “The list of interested industries are varied in scope and size, but the staff has initiated projects through either formal presentation proposals or these companies visiting our community.”
Those industries include metal production facilities, manufacturing facilities, aerospace, vessel manufacturing, metalworking, chemical process and aviation, he said. Of those 15 projects, about 12 have made site visits.
Tony Schum, the vice president of Duff & Phelps’ site selection and incentives advisory practice, was the keynote speaker at the VEDC meeting. He talked about trends in economic development and recruiting business to Victoria.
Schum first came to Victoria about eight years ago for a site visit. He specializes in identifying, negotiating and implementing economic development incentives for companies that are relocating.
“The dive that I’ve taken into Victoria is very deep,” he said. “There is a lot of promise here and a lot of things to like.”
Corporations know that the gravity of economic development is flowing south and as larger Texas metros decrease or weaken incentive policies, smaller markets like Victoria become more desirable, Schum said.
“As they restrict and pull back on some of the incentive opportunities they’re willing to consider for whatever reason, as long as we have good, flexible economic development policies in areas that are willing to grow, that is a major plus,” he said.
The energy, manufacturing and petrochemical industries have a lot of opportunity in Victoria, he said.
Focusing on STEM curriculum is in high schools and local colleges is critically important because companies looking to invest in Victoria need employees skilled in science, technology, engineering and math, he said.
“It is very difficult right now to hire a highly experienced person to run a shop floor anywhere in Texas, regardless of what they’re making,” he said. “We need partners like Victoria College and University of Houston-Victoria to help fill that pipeline as quickly as possible.”
Duff & Phelps evaluated Victoria on a recent site visit against more than 12 major metros in six states and two international locations to determine Victoria’s rank for general assembly and manufacturing projects. The evaluation reflected excellent, good and fair rankings overall.
Rankings are scored on population, public health, education and labor components; transportation costs; real estate; and taxes. The lowest-scoring category was for real estate and infrastructure, which received the ranking of poor because a lack of sites and infrastructure readiness, Schum said.
“We came here, we saw a beautiful site ... but it was one, and so there wasn’t a ton of opportunity to drive around and see other sites (ready) in the community,” he said. “And other metros that you were being compared to at the time had more.”