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Decatur EDC marks 25 years

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, July 28, 2018
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LATEST PROJECT – Infrastructure is under construction at Eagles Landing Business Park in Decatur. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

It was one of the most decisive elections in Decatur history, and over the last 25 years, the results have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.

On Aug. 8, 1992, Decatur voters approved a half-cent city sales tax for economic development by a vote of 398-13. Since that time, millions of dollars have been spent bringing new business to the city and building city projects.

The late Larry Morrow, who was area manager for Texas Power and Light Co. headed a citizens committee that worked to pass the sales tax. Voters were faced with a 26-cent tax increase and a quadrupling of sewer rates to replace an aging sewer treatment plant.

The city was under orders from state and federal officials to replace the plant. The new plan was estimated to cost $4 million. Money from the sales tax retired the debt on the new plant two years ago.

Ironically, under current law, the EDC sales tax cannot be used to build wastewater or water treatment plants. “Some of the big cities were abusing the EDC sales tax to build fire stations and libraries, so the Legislature tightened the rules on what could be built,” said longtime Decatur Economic Development Director Thom Lambert.

While the first project financed by the sales tax was the sewer treatment plant, many other significant projects – including the Decatur Conference Center were also made possible by EDC funding. The $3 million debt to build the conference center will be paid off in two years.

“Over the past three years, $8.2 million has been added to the tax rolls through projects developed by the EDC,” Lambert said. “The new Eagles Landing Business Park has the potential to add $200 to $300 million to the tax rolls over the next few years. All this can reduce the burden on property taxpayers and improve services for the citizens.”

Decatur has a Type A sales tax designed specifically for industrial projects. In 1998, voters approved using the tax revenue to fund the conference center and for parks and recreation improvements.

The EDC has invested in a number of industrial and distribution facilities, including $1.5 million to extend water and sewer lines to the Landmark Industrial Park on U.S. 81/287 at Farm Road 2264.

“I am both pleased and disappointed with that grant,” Lambert said. “I am pleased because Landmark continues to be a major employer and is growing, but I am disappointed they didn’t develop the remainder of the park.”

The new Eagles Landing Business Park, east of Landmark, will be able to utilize the water and sewer facilities already in place. Eagles Landing is a 162-acre business park bought by the EDC for $1.8 million earlier this year.

The EDC has now sold $5.5 million in debt to install water, sewer and streets in the park.

“We already have a firm commitment for a 21-acre tract from a company that will bring 50 new jobs with good salaries and benefits,” Lambert said. He estimated the company will eventually add $6 to $10 million to the tax rolls.

Lambert expects 75 percent of the new businesses in the park will move to Decatur from the Metroplex.

“Many of them are landlocked and cannot expand where they are,” he said. “At the same time, we don’t want anything dirty or nasty in there, so we will be very selective on who we recruit for the park. We want something the citizens can be proud of,” he said.

The new park will be built for “heavy duty” service, Lambert said, with 40-feet wide streets paved with 9 inches of concrete over 2 inches of asphalt over a 10-inch base.

“You could land a 747 on streets like that,” he said.

The new park is expected to be ready for occupancy by the end of 2018.

The Twisted X Boot Company is one of the city’s big success stories, although it did not begin that way. Plans for a huge distribution center for Twisted X fell through, and the company located its distribution center in Fort Worth.

Its headquarters remained in Decatur, and now Twisted X has 37 employees in Decatur, 27 sales representatives across the nation and 11 employees in China. The company has its annual sales meeting at the Decatur Conference Center, bringing more than 100 people to town for the event.

“Twisted X is a success story that nobody knows about,” Lambert said.

While the EDC tax revenues are $1.3 to $1.4 million a year, Lambert insists “we’re not a bank or savings and loan. But it does no good to have $5 million in the bank and not be doing projects to bring more business and jobs to Decatur.”

On the retail side, the EDC’s powers are limited.

“We can bring water and sewer to the edge of the property, but that’s about it,” he said.

But, the EDC can work with the city on 380 agreements to provide some sales tax incentives. That was done for Lowe’s several years ago.

“We had an agreement to refund up to $500,000 in sales tax over a five-year period, and they paid it off a year early,” he said.

Lambert spends much of his time talking with business prospects who want no incentives.

“Many are looking for existing buildings with proper zoning and utilities,” he said. “They are also looking at the total tax requirements and the availability of a good work force.”

But some businesses are not worth the effort, Lambert said.

“I get dozens of inquiries that I don’t bother to answer because we can’t provide what they want,” he said. “If I talk to a prospect and they only offer minimum-wage jobs, I don’t give them much attention. I want $10- to $12-an-hour jobs with benefits.”

On the retail side, Lambert said the No. 1 request he gets is for another grocery store and, of course, for a Chick-fil-A.

“What some people don’t realize is the average gestation period for a project is two to three years,” he said. “When a company is making a $6, $8 or $10 million commitment, that decision doesn’t come very fast.”

Retail prospects look at Decatur’s population of 6,000 and some don’t realize the city has an average daytime population of 20,000, Lambert said.

“Studies have shown we have a retail draw area of 80,000 people. Of course, one of the big draws is Wise Health System and the related medical practices,” he said. “Two thousand people a day are employed in the medical field. Most towns our size are lucky to have a minor medical clinic, and we have a 145-bed hospital that most of the time is operating at capacity.”

Another major success was a $50,000 “seed money” grant in 1999 to entice Weatherford College to open a branch campus in Wise County. The funds allowed the college to remodel an existing building to begin offering classes.

But all is not positive in the economic development field and Lambert has had his disappointments. One involved a pre-fabricated concrete business that was ready to come to Decatur.

“But they called me on Sunday before we were to make the announcement and said they found an existing building in Sherman and were going there,” he said.

Another failure happened while Lambert was away from Decatur for a few years working in Crockett, in East Texas. The EDC lost money on the H2X oilfield service company that went out of business when the natural gas bust occurred.

“People did not look hard enough at the company before granting the $200,000 incentive,” Lambert said.

Success in the economic development field takes time, and it’s not for the faint of heart, he added.

“If you want instant gratification and can’t stand failure, then this isn’t the business for you.”

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