The Decatur Economic Development Corp. is awaiting final results from the recently-completed community survey that is expected to drive its planning for the next several years.
But director Mary Poche isn’t exactly sitting on her hands.
Poche , who joined the EDC in January, is busy developing her first budget, working with board members and city staff to set short-term and long-term goals – all while fielding a flurry of inquiries from companies looking for a place to go and grow.
The Decatur EDC has a sizeable pool of money to help companies looking to move to the city, but the choice of locations for an industrial employer is extremely limited.
In the past month, Poche said her office has fielded inquiries from nine companies looking for a place to move.
“Typically in the summer, in economic development, it’s pretty slow,” she told her board Thursday during their monthly meeting. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s pretty unusual.”
All of the projects said they specifically want to be in the D/FW Metroplex area. All would create jobs and boost the tax base – and all are looking for buildings that simply do not exist.
Poche fielded inquiries from a business process solutions center, a plastics manufacturing facility, a rubber mixing facility, an equipment manufacturer from Asia, a couple of food processors and an aircraft manufacturer.
She did not respond to any of those because Decatur could not meet their needs.
There were two, however, she said she plans to try and contact.
One, a flight training facility, will make a $20 million capital investment and hire 30 workers, and they need a 4,000-foot runway – something the city has.
“I’m going to talk with Brad [Burnett, the city’s airport director],” she said. “I think there might be something we can do with our facility.”
Another project, a fabricated sheet metal production company, is searching for a 50,000 square-foot existing building.
“The thing that intrigued me about this one is, we have the labor pool for it,” Poche said.
OFFICE NOT IDEAL FOR EDC
Poche and the board also talked about moving the EDC to a different location. It is currently housed in the Decatur Visitors Center at 106 S. Trinity – a historic building that once was the city’s Post Office.
“While this is a great public building, it is a visitors’ center,” she said. “To be able to hold any type of private conversation or private meeting is virtually impossible.”
The walls in Poche’s office do not go all the way to the ceiling, and conversations there and in the large back room where the board meets are audible throughout the building.
She also cited security concerns, noting she has on several occasions been on the phone when someone she didn’t know walked all the way into her office.
“To run an economic development organization the way you need to, you have private businesses come in and you’ve got people walking in and out, coming to use the restroom and such – it’s just not a good environment for that,” she said.
“People like to come in here and see the mural up front and they walk through here and ooh and ah, and I think that’s great,” she said. “It’s just that I’ve got a meeting going on.”
She also noted that the big back room is utilized only about 5 to 10 percent of the time – a waste of a unique and beautiful space.
“We’d like to have a more professional, business-like environment where we could hold private conversations and have private meetings,” she said.
Any type of move is out of reach in the upcoming budget year, but the board said they would ask the city to look at what might be done to make the facility more functional for the EDC.
BUDGET TAKING SHAPE
The EDC is in good financial shape, with the sales tax funding its operations holding up strong through 10 months of the fiscal year.
As of July 16, the EDC had $1,392,354 in its operating account and $949,085 in a certificate of deposit. Sales tax receipts for July were $111,615, and for the fiscal year to date total $1,103,691.
“You had budgeted $1.2 million, so you’re within $96,000 of your budget with two months to go,” city manager Brett Shannon reported. “That’s a really nice-looking thing.”
He noted the city had just received its second-larged July sales tax allocation ever, $334,846.
Poche summarized the areas in her proposed budget that showed the biggest differences from last year.
Plans include moving executive assistant Ida Mae Burnett into more of a business retention and expansion role, while splitting up administrative duties.
“Business retention and expansion is such an important part of the overall economic development program that to just leave it idle, or try to work on it catch-as-catch-can, is really a detriment to the organization,” Poche said.
The board also discussed the status of Project Walter – Karl Klement’s new Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep dealership – which is on hold while the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) firms up plans for the Farm Road 1810 project on U.S. 287/81 North.
“They’ve held their hearing, and gotten a lot of feedback,” Shannon said. “I don’t have a feel at this point for how long TxDOT will spend going through all that feedback, the environmental studies and all the other hoops they have to jump through.
“Hopefully within a year we might know which alternative they’re leaning towards.
“Realistically, it could be as long as five years before there’s actually dirt moving on the project.”
But, he added, once they decide on a design, the city and Klement should be able to go ahead and move forward.
The EDC is contributing some funding to extend water lines to the site.
The steering committee for the EDC’s strategic plan will hold its final meeting Aug. 5 at the Civic Center, looking at results of the survey and recommendations from Avalanche Consulting.