Health care, ag, energy keys to post-Alcoa era

How can Milam County recover from the devastating shutdown of Alcoa’s Rockdale smelter which cost the area economy more than 1,200 jobs?

It won’t be easy but a year-long study by an Austin consulting firm has targeted several areas of concentration which might lead to brighter economic times.

Talent, Innovation & Place ( TIP) Strategies met with the public Tuesday afternoon at Rockdale’s Workforce Solutions office to discuss the federally-funded study prepared for the Regional Economic Revitalization Planning Council (REV-UP).

REV-UP covers seven counties. Its council members include Milam County Judge Dave Barkemeyer and former Judge Frank Summers.

The report doesn’t minimize what’s been lost. “(Alcoa shutdown) spillover effects are (also) blamed for the loss of nearly two dozen other small businesses in the area,” it concludes.

AGENDAS—While noting the single greatest advantage for the area is its geography—proximity to major metropolitan areas such as Austin-Round Rock, Killeen Temple and Bryan-College Station, the report concludes recovery initiatives should be rurally focused.

“(The metro areas) have their own economic agendas which would be difficult for the REV-UP process to influence,” it states. “Concentrating on better linking the rural counties to those agendas will pay off for all parties.”

R ECOMMENDATIONS— Most of the report’s recommendations attempt to link Milam and rural areas to economic activity in the nearby cities as follows:

• L everage hea lt h ca re assets—“Aging baby boomers ( born between 1946 and 1964) suggest the dramatic expansion of the health care sector is likely to continue. The REV-UP region is home to a number of strong health care assets.”

• Link regional tourism assets—“ Tourism can provide an important mechanism for bringing people into the region... The REV-UP counties are wellpositioned to capture weekend travelers from most of the state’s major metropolitan areas.”

• Enhance regional entrepreneurial efforts—“Strategies could include removing barriers to small business owners, training and networking opportunities and facilitating access to capital.”

• Position the region for energ y- related projects— “Energy-related research at Texas A&M and the University of Texas, coupled with the aggressive pursuit of clean energy and clean technology investment in the region, should continue to drive dollars and talent to the area.”

• Strengthen agricultural opportunities—“Agriculture provides a quality of life that defines large parts of the region. Helping to ensure the viability of this sector should be a priority.”

• Continue to pursue catalyst project for the A lcoa site—Citing the Velocita “green city” plan, which did not happen, the report suggests exploring options on a similar scale.

• Ensure infrastructure is in place to support strategies— The report cites two priorities, long-range water planning and access to broadband internet.

NEXT STEP—During the next several months the REV-UP committee will take the recommendations and refine them.

Ultimate goal will be identify a single project, or a cluster of strategies, for which a single strategy can be pursued.

The study was funded by a $263,200 grant from the U. S. Department of Labor.

In addition to Milam, other counties included in the study are Bell, Robertson, Williamson, Lee, Burleson and Brazos.

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2011-08-04 digital edition

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