Everyone on the same page
That was the under riding theme of Rockdale’s first-ever “economic summit” which drew about 50 community leaders to the Patterson Center Thursday.
The topic was Rockdale, how to promote it in order to attract new businesses to the area in the wake of Alcoa’s closing.
City Manager Kelvin Knauf, who presided, identified 18 “economic development organizers” in the community, ranging from city government and the Chamber of Commerce to landowners, developers and the State of Texas.
“A common language (in dealing with business prospects) is important,” Knauf told the leaders.
OLIVE GARDEN—To illustrate what happens when some parts of the community aren’t “on board” with economic development attitudes, Knauf related a horror story from personal knowledge.
“ The first place they went into, they asked ‘do you think this town needs an Olive Garden’?” he said.
And the answer came back, “No, we’ve already got an Italian restaurant,” Knauf said.
Olive Garden did not locate there.
Knauf said there are 285 businesses in Rockdale and each one, and each employee, is a potential new business recruiter.
“Economic development is all about connections,” he said. “It’s who you know.” COORDINATION—Knauf stressed coordination of efforts, and consistency, between the many “economic development organizers.”
“Stability and consistency are important to developers,” he said. “They don’t want the rules to change in the middle and be different by the end.”
Knauf asked for input on proposed goals and objectives drafted by the Planning & Zoning Commission as it prepares a revised master plan for submission to the city council.
Gary Griesbach, chairman of the Municipal Development District (MDD), pointed out three of the goals are identical to goals of the MDD and asked for coordination.
“You could have two separate entities meeting independently with prospective businesses,” he said. “ That could leave the impression we don’t know what we’re doing.”
EDUCATION—Dr. Howell Wright, Rockdale ISD superintendent, asked for an “education past high school” component to be included in the goal mix.
“ That’s a driver for so many jobs,” he said. “I’m including vocational education.”
Lon Williams, city code enforcement officer, gave an example. “You’d be surprised where some of the people are coming from to attend Associated Training Services (ATS).”
ATS is a heav y equipment training business which located a branch in Rockdale last summer.
PUBLIC SAFET Y—Mayor Larry Jones pointed out several factors he said gave Rockdale “recruiting points” as it competed with like-sized cities for businesses.
“We have a low tax rate, property is available and our aggregate location is good, not far from Austin, Bryan- College Station and Temple-Waco,” he said.
“ There’s a readily available work force, our schools are excellent and we have small- town values which are becoming more and more prized by companies and businesses,” Jones said.
“And our public safety record is excellent,” he added. “Last week there was an article in The Reporter noting our police department clears about half the crimes reported. That’s far and away higher than the average for cities our size.”
DEMOGR APHICS—Knauf presented a number of demog raphic charts comparing Rockdale with Bastrop, Caldwell, Cameron, Elgin, Giddings, Hearne, La Grange, Luling and Navasota.
“These are cities our size in our region,” he said. “This is who we are competing with. We need to be competitive with them first and then we can go after the Taylors and Huttos.”
Populations of the cities (state estimate for 2010) range from 4,379 (Hearne) to 7,684 (Elgin). Rockdale was put at 5,366.
Smithville has the oldest population with 20.8 percent of its residents 65 and over. Navasota and Bastrop were the youngest at 14.9. Rockdale’s percentage was put at 18.0.
One of the most surprising statistics showed Cameron with the highest unemployment rate (14.7 percent) and Bastrop with the lowest (4.0). Rockdale’s was estimated at 7.7 percent.
DOWNTOWN—Several participants praised the efforts of Rockdale’s Downtown Association in helping to restore sections of downtown during past years.
Bastrop’s restored downtown was targeted as a major economic plus for that city’s economic development.
Knauf promised more meetings to coordinate economic development activities.
“ This is t he f irst meet ing I’ve attended, since coming to Rockdale, where representatives of the city, the school district, the hospital district and the county were all present,” he said.