The economic development landscape may be competitive, but it is possible for even smaller counties and communities to be successful.
One of the keys to be most effective in luring new business or industry is for officials and entities to be cooperative and collaborative on a local, regional and statewide basis.
Those were among the messages relayed Monday morning during an economic development workshop attended by more that 30 public officials and business leaders at Panola College. The workshop is the first of three being hosted by the Panola County Chamber of Commerce and the Panola County Development Foundation.
The workshop featured state officials from agencies like the Governor’s Economic Development and Tourism Office, Texas Department of Agriculture, SWEPCO’s economic development office and the Sabine River Authority. Betty Russo, regional representative for the Gulf Coast and East Texas offices of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Economic Development and Tourism office, served as facilitator.
Among those speaking was Manuel Martinez, who serves a 20-county area of East Texas for the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Trade and Business Development. The two main initiatives his office focuses on are rural development and marketing.
“If you’re a business or a community, utilize your resources and make partnerships,” Martinez said. “I think those are important, and that’s one thing we all need to do, whether its a local partnership or a regional partnership. When we work together, we can reach our goals faster.”
His office helps promote and market Texas products both inside and outside the local community.
For example, he said the agency has been working with major grocers like HEB, Brookshire Brothers in Lufkin and Brookshire’s in Tyler to provide outlets for Texas products ranging from produce to orchids.
“We like to say that we’re an avenue to help market those products,” he said. The agency also administers Community Development Block Grant funds to aid communities with street, water and sewer improvements in low income areas.
“The other one we have is our downtown revitalization program, so if you have a downtown area that is in need, maybe for sidewalk upgrades, to make them more walkable” the agency may be able to provide assistance, Martinez said.
While there are many tools that economic developers can use to lure and keep business and industry, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said there is no cookie-cutter path to success. He urged those attending to focus on the unique attributes of Carthage and Panola County.
“There are a lot of great pathways to go, but look for the right pathway for you and what fits for your community, and I think you’ll be served well,” Moran said.
Moran has been a county judge in Smith County since 2016 and is the Republican Party candidate on the November general election ballot for the District 1 US House of Representative seat currently held by Congressman Louie Gohmert.
“Find the thing that works best for Carthage and Panola County. because when you start chasing these other communities and other counties and emulating them, that doesn’t necessarily work for your community,” he said.
“That’s the thing we had to learn the hard way in Smith County because we looked at other counties and tried to do what they did,” Moran said. “We’ve got to get back to who we are.”
As facilitator, Russo brought years of experience and insight into the competitive world of economic development being regional representative for the Gulf Coast/East Texas Economic Development and Tourism office.
By outlining a number of programs and best practices, she provided local stakeholders with ideas on how to best be successful in the quest to lure new business and industry while also helping existing firms to grow and expand.
“Economic development creates, retains or/and reinvests wealth,” Russo said. Those working in the field need to create a toolbox of vital information they can share with business and industrial prospects.
“With each lead you get or request for information, you’ll get better and better because you’ll build up that toolbox with all the information you’ll need,” Russo said.
Make economic development easy for prospects by making the community’s presentation and information a one-stop-shop so the prospect does not have to search multiple avenues for the details they are seeking for their decision making process, she said.
“You need a strategic plan. It’s very important,” Russo said. That plan should lay out the community’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.
Rural economic development comes with challenges but it can be successful, she said.
An important area of economic development often overlooked is that of helping existing local businesses and industry expand locally and create new investment and job creation in the community they already have a presence, she said.
“What’s the No. 1 thing you can do to keep a business from closing or leaving?” Russo asked. Communicating with the firm’s leadership on needs and listening to what a community can do in order to foster growth for that business is vital, she said.
She suggested smaller communities which have existing industries should, target support companies which can serve the existing larger industry.
“Make those your target industries … It’s real important to take care of those that are already there,” Russo said.
The Aug. 29 workshop was the first of three planned for late 2022 and early 2023, according to Keri Perot-Vance, chamber of commerce president.
The second workshop is tentatively scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2022 and will focus on grants and programs available to assist entities in their economic development efforts, she said. The third workshop is tentatively scheduled for earlier 2023 and will focus on economic development planning, Vance said.