Economic development duties added to Huckaby’s job; city to contribute $15,000

 

October 16, 2012

“For Rent” or “For Sale” signs hang in the windows of several downtown stores that closed their doors this year. Photo by KATHRYN JONES

By Kathryn Jones

Editor

Vacant storefronts around the once-vibrant downtown square stand as symbols of a sputtering economy.

The need to fill them with businesses, attract more jobs to the area and grow the local base spurred the Glen Rose City Council on Monday to add economic development duties to Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Billy Huckaby’s responsibilities.

The economic development push will be a joint effort between the city and Somervell County. Since last year County Judge Mike Ford has been convening a group to discuss how to develop the economy. Huckaby attended the meetings and was asked to take on the additional role.

The two government entities each will kick in $15,000 to pay Huckaby to take on the extra work.

“This funding is just for this year,” Mayor Pro Tem Bob Stricklin told the council. It would not trigger a change in Huckaby’s salary range or change his duties as CVB director, he added.

If the temporary job is successful, the position could grow into a full-time position, Stricklin said.

Huckaby said Glen Rose has been operating at a disadvantage to other towns because it has not participated in the past in economic development conferences, associations and activities.

Area towns such as Hico, Dublin, Hamilton and Meridian have economic development directors, he pointed out. “Why not Glen Rose and Somervell County?” he asked.

The local quality of life, low tax base, school district, hospital and proximity to the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area are all attractive assets, Huckaby said.

“We’re poised,” he added. “We should be up there” among the Texas towns actively promoting themselves for economic development.

He suggested getting local property owners’ to “solicit businesses to put into their buildings.”

The goal would be to retain Glen Rose’s small-town atmosphere, but to keep growing, he added.

Huckaby also noted the Comanche Peak Nuclear Plant’s tax valuation is falling and the area can no longer depend on it as the main economic engine.
“We’ve got to look and find other sources to build our tax base,” he said.

Retirees are a prime group to attract and Huckaby said the application to make Glen Rose a “certified retirement community” through a state program is almost ready. Data show that every retiree moving to an area generates the equivalent of 1.5 jobs in economic impact, Huckaby added.

City Councilwoman Sandra Ramsay supported the proposal to expand Huckaby’s duties to include economic development.

“My personal feeling is we have a fantastic historic community that is generous,” she said. “We have people that are positive. Now is the time for us to save our community, save our downtown and we have to have it planned.”

Councilman Johnny Martin said he was concerned that Huckaby’s additional duties might take time away from his CVB job.

Huckaby responded that economic development goes “hand in hand” with his CVB job. He pointed out the city also hired an events coordinator who works out of the CVB office and has taken over those duties.

“I’m not worried about the burden on me,” Huckaby said. “What I’m concerned about is getting the ball rolling” on developing the economy.

Councilman Chris Bryant noted that downtown businesses are suffering and that getting those closed doors open is vital to the community’s future.

“You’ve got to have economic development to open those doors,” Huckaby said.

What types of businesses are being considered that relate to tourism, Bryant wanted to know.

Antique stores, art stores and even a microbrewery are among the types of businesses that would fit well with downtown, Huckaby told him. He also said Glen Rose is unique in that the CVB spents $200,000 a year to promote tourism and one of the top local attractions, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, spends $300,000 to $400,000 in its marketing efforts.

“There’s not another town out there our size that is doing anything like that,” he said. “We’ve got to get out and sell Glen Rose.”

Martin said he would be more comfortable funding the economic development part of the job on an hourly basis through an interlocal agreement with the county.

But Ramsay said she didn’t think that would work because Huckaby already is doing so much economic development work in his CVB job that dividing up his hours would be “about impossible.”

“We have got to decide whether we’re going to go forwards or go backwards,” she said.

“What can do for our downtown?” Stricklin asked. “The best thing we can do is to get more people,” meaning residents. And the way to do that is attract businesses that can provide jobs.

He said he supported funding the $15,000 for Huckaby.

“It’s a small investment to see if these things work,” he said. “If it’s a bust, it’s a bust.”

City Administrator Ken West said economic development has a “trickle-down effect.”

“As we increase the number of people who live here, they will go downtown” and patronize local businesses, he said.

“If y’all choose not to do this, you’re missing a golden opportunity,” West added. “In the worst-case scenario, you lose $15,000.”

On the Glen Rose Current’s Facebook page, some readers viewed the move as a “pay raise” for Huckaby and questioned how the city could come up with $15,000 for economic development but could not authorize overtime for animal control employees.

At the end of the half-hour-long discussion, the council voted unanimously to fund the economic development role.

Bryant had some final words for Huckaby.

“Good luck, Billy,” he said.

 

 

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