Business is great.
At least that’s what former Chamber President Carey Williams told the crowd gathered at the Decatur Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday.
A panel discussion he moderated drove home the idea.
Before doling out questions to the panel – which included a home builder, an economic development director, a hospital president, an agricultural agent, a banker and a developer – Williams gave an overview of the local car industry.
Compared to previous years, truck sales are down. But cars have remained steady and mid-size SUVs have remained “on fire.”
“New car rates have remained really, really good, and in my opinion, incentives are good,” he said.
In the agricultural realm, county Extension agent Todd Vineyard reported equally optimistic results with record-high cattle prices.
“I helped a producer cull a couple of cows the other day, and those two cows brought $1,500 and $1,700,’ he said, “We’ve never seen that. If we got $1,600 for those cows, we’d call it good … I think the cattle business will continue to thrive.”
Business is also favorable for builder John Schedcik. Although his work is mostly residential, he said he has a few commercial projects underway. His clients span across the county, around the state and even outside of Texas.
“We’re busier right now than we’ve ever been in 22 years,” he said. “We’re very fortunate.”
Schedcik added that potential buyers are having little trouble finding loans – a good sign for that market, as well.
“Five or six years ago, it was a challenge,” he said. “In the last two years, it’s been awesome. The local community banks as well as other lenders will simply bend over backwards … Maybe 5 percent of the folks who apply have an issue. We’re going strong.”
Among those going strong is Legend Bank. Banker Brennan Williams said in addition to housing loans, his institution had seen an increase in consumer and commercial loans.
“Toys – SUVs, boat, four-wheelers – things people don’t have to have,” he said. “Commercially we’ve had some big projects going up that we’ve been able to offer some attractive deals and financing to lure some people in on that … It seems that some of the businesses that sat on their hands for a while have decided they’re tired of sitting around this long, and demand has been good. Business has picked up, and I think everybody has benefited from it.”
Steve Summers, chief executive officer of Wise Regional Health System said he expects the hospital to continue to grow through specialty practices such as neurosurgeons.
“We want people to be able to stay here at home instead of driving to other places,” he said.
Even though business is great, there is room for improvement, as Mary Poche, executive director of the Decatur Economic Development Corp., pointed out.
When asked what challenges she faces in bringing new industry and retail to Decatur, she listed several issues.
“A quality workforce that’s specific to the job type is what’s really important,” she said. “You have a lot of generalists in a lot of fields, but there needs to be more specificity whenever it comes to skill sets in welding, computer knowledge, software development, advanced manufacturing.”
Earlier in the luncheon, Duane Durrett of Weatherford College Wise County announced that the local campus would graduate its first class of 28 registered nurses this May.
“I was pleased to see how large the nursing class was,” Poche said. “There’s definitely a need in that arena. Because we have the medical going on here in Decatur, to have that many graduates coming out of that program reinforces what we have. I can go and take that message out to the rest of the United States and say, ‘Hey, you want to relocate your medical device company? We have a strong medical entity.'”
Other areas that she mentioned as lacking were infrastructure – electrical, good road access, transportation, buildings and housing.
“Those are some of the things that I think are major challenges,” she said.
The work of developers such as Mark Duncum, president of Double Creek Capital, can do something about that.
Projects on his drawing board include both commercial and residential construction:
- the renovation of the old Gary Swain building that now houses Dr. Christine Holland’s Urgent Care Clinic, Renshaw Pharmacy and the Wise Regional sleep lab.
- an office building in partnership with FX5’s David Fuller on the corner of Business 380 West and Park West Court. It should be completed in the fall.
- a 13,000-square foot mixed-use office on the corner of Bennett Road and Farm Road 51. It will be the home of Dr. Kelley Tibbels’ practice, Randy Bowker and his Edward Jones office. “And we have some space available if anybody is looking,” he added.
- a residential project off of Sunflower Road in Paradise.
- a single-family development near Rann Elementary School in Decatur.
- a low-density, multi-family development also near Rann. This will be a gated community of about 100 single-floor units.
“We have also have three other commercial products that we can’t really talk about right now,” Duncum added. “They’re a little early in the process …
“Both the commercial and residential markets are healthier than they were a year or two ago.”
Despite what she’s identified, Poche seeks input from the community for the formulation of a strategic plan.
The EDC has engaged a consultant to help identify how to best use marketing dollars to attract and retain business, industry and retail and “make sure they stay vibrant,” and the company has devised a survey to aid in their research.
It is posted on the EDC website at www.decatur-edc.com and takes about four minutes to complete.
“We want to hear what the community thinks about what’s needed, what’s here that’s a good thing for us, where we fall short, how we need to shore that out so we continue to make this be a vibrant community for all of us,” she said.