Editor’s Note: This is part two of a “State of the City” speech Wednesday to the Victoria Chamber of Commerce:
One of the first entities I met with after taking office was the Victoria Economic Development Corp. Even though I have been a contributing, dues-paying member for many years and regularly attend the Tuesday morning Partnership meeting that they facilitate at 700 Main, I now find myself on the board as the result of being elected mayor. VEDC’s primary function is to bring industry and businesses to Victoria that provide primary jobs. Retail development, which is also vital to us in terms of increasing sales tax revenue, is not what they do. The city itself through the efforts of Assistant City Manager John Kaminski and Retail Coach, a consulting firm hired by the city, work on retail development.
Once City Manager Jesus Garza’s administrative staff reorganization takes place, assuming council approves in our budget the funding for a second assistant city manager, that second assistant city manager will take on the primary staff role in promoting strong retail growth, enhancing marketing through our Convention and Visitors Bureau and, as mentioned earlier, head up the Main Street program as well. As Mr. Garza pointed out to council in a recent meeting, the Victoria Sales Tax Development Corp. is the true economic development corporation for Victoria. It was created by a vote of our citizens in the 1990s and allowed to collect a half cent sales tax that can be used to fund certain infrastructure projects and promote economic development.
VEDC is a nonprofit organization which was actually in place before the Sales Tax Development Corp. was created and receives a large portion of its funding from the city of Victoria basically in a consulting role to the Sales Tax Development Corp. Part of the second assistant city manager’s role will be to also serve in a consulting role to the Sales Tax Development Corp., hence Mr. Garza’s recommendation that a portion of the second assistant city manager’s salary be paid using sales tax development dollars.
So people can understand, it is vital that VEDC and this new assistant city manager are available in consulting roles to the Sales Tax Development Corp. because in the way it was set up by the voters, it cannot hire a staff. It also can not use sales tax money to service debt, which is a whole other story.
In my first meeting with them, one of the main topics of conversation was the need to have additional shovel-ready sites available to offer prospective businesses. Having a readily available site was arguably the most important factor in bringing Caterpillar to Victoria. In these initial conversations, I was shown various potential areas for development on numerous maps. I asked if we had an overall comprehensive map showing all of these potential sites to be used when working with potential clients of VEDC, and the answer was we did not. Working with Mr. Garza and Mr. Kaminski, we have been able to create such a map using existing data already contained within our mapping systems. This map not only shows potential and desirable areas for development but also shows available utilities and other infrastructure important to site development. We have also mentioned to the county that we would like to include potential sites at the airport and port on this map.
We need to look at this map and proactively create “reinvestment zones” which must be in place before tax abatements can be offered to prospective businesses. These reinvestment zones are registered with the state comptroller’s office and therefore are available to see for those researching potential sites in texas which more than likely will come with tax abatement incentives.
Let’s get serious
Now, if you haven’t listened to a single word I have said up to this point, please, please listen to what I am about to say. We must get serious about economic development. So much so that I want to, this very day, challenge us as a community to become the leader of economic development in our region. But to do so, I can assure you that I, as mayor, and we, as a city, cannot do it alone. We must work to make economic development a regional effort or we will more often than not come in second in a very competitive marketplace. We can no longer accept being the bridesmaid and never the bride, and we can no longer accept no as an answer in our economic development efforts without figuring out the reason why and fixing the problems that hold us back.
We can immediately start by opening up formal and frequent lines of communication with all of the local governmental taxing entities in Victoria, including but not totally limited to the city, the county, visd and victoria college. This is important folks, because all of these entities and a few others to a lesser extent drink from the same “tax base pool” and economic development is vital to our common good.
The airport commission, the port commission and UHV, to name a few others, must also be at the table. UHV recent projects have pumped $152 million of combined state and local resources into our economy and once future projects now under discussion become a reality the potential impact reaches an astounding $417 million.
Leaders from the south side need to be at the table as well because strong and successful economic development will help begin to solve many issues critical to that community.
Once we get our local act together, we then must look beyond our city’s boundaries and our county line and engage regional neighbors in our economic development discussions.
In recent weeks I have had personal conversations either at lunch, in meetings or on the phone with Judge Zeller, David Hinds, Bob Glenn, Quinton Shepherd, Dale Fowler, VEDC members, airport commissioners, port commissioners, various engaged community leaders and I have made comments at Rotary Club meetings and in other public settings about this regional concept for economic development and our becoming the leader in that effort. I am sure council members have heard my remarks, and to date I have not heard any negative feedback. That may change, after I finish this speech, but so far so good.
Just look around you, look across your table. Look at the amount of “brain power” and “evidence of success” assembled in this room. If we all agree that we need to get serious about economic development, if we all agree that we must partner in our economic growth planning and if we can all agree that it is our duty to become the leader of this region’s economic development efforts, then you will never convince me that we as Victorians will not succeed and prosper beyond our wildest expectations; just like that 16-year-old boy who stepped in that architect’s office 53 years ago managed to do.