‘Envision Somervell County’ sows seeds for progress

By Kathryn Jones

Editor

Business leaders put their heads together at last week’s first work session for “Envision Somervell County” and came up with the seeds of a strategy for economic growth.

A group discusses community redevelopment as Somervell County/Glen Rose Chamber of Commerce President Rhonda Cagle looks on. Photo by Kathryn Jones

A group discusses community redevelopment as Somervell County/Glen Rose Chamber of Commerce President Rhonda Cagle looks on. Photo by Kathryn Jones

More than 50 people attended the two-hour meeting at Still Water Lodge. The economic development initiative was spearheaded by the Glen Rose/Somervell County Chamber of Commerce and 20 investors who have been meeting this year to discuss ways to develop the local economy.

Wes Jurey, president and chief executive officer of The Center for Innovation, a nonprofit technology-driven economic development corporation based in Arlington, has been hired to help guide the process from ideas to a plan of action.

Those attending the meeting divided into groups and gathered around tables. Each one focused on one of five topics – economic competitiveness, maintaining a competitive workforce, community redevelopment, infrastructure and quality of life.

Chamber members brainstormed about community strengths, tangible and intangible assets and areas for potential growth. After reaching a consensus on the top four or five issues, they identified the most critical ones.

During the lunch session, each table reported on their discussions.

The group focused on economic competitiveness favored more signage from U.S. Highway 67 directing people downtown, cross-promotion between businesses, more regular business hours on the downtown square and bringing in new businesses – such as fishing and hunting equipment manufacturers, an RV parts store and tentmakers — to complement the county’s tourism industry.

Nichole Belford, director of the Glen Rose Convention & Visitors Bureau, reported for that committee. She added that convincing visitors to overnight is another goal.

“We need to get rid of the perception of us being just a day trip,” she said. “We need to get them to stay two or three days and really experience Glen Rose.”

The group tackling the competitive workforce issue noted that a high percentage of Glen Rose High School graduates go off to college and many would like to come back to Somervell County to work and raise their families.

But they can’t do that if there aren’t good jobs available, and there won’t be good jobs available if businesses don’t come because they don’t have access to a skilled workforce, said Darrell Best, who reported the table’s findings.

“There’s a great need for technical training,” he said, noting that 38 percent of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant’s current employees are eligible for retirement.

Culinary arts, which complement the tourism industry, and nursing also could be “niche” areas with opportunities for training or upgrading skills through local colleges or certification programs, he said.

The table exploring community redevelopment identified affordable housing as a key issue – not only homes for working families, but also assisted living facilities.

Offering tax abatements to attract businesses around the square and setting up small business classes for retail vendors also were mentioned as possibilities, as well as highlighting the quality of schools in Glen Rose as an asset when marketing the area as a place to live.

The infrastructure table discussed transportation and mobility, as well as water and the environment.

“We are a beautiful area with a lot of green space,” said Chandler McClay, who reported for the table. “People come for that, but they also want some of the amenities they can get in the cities. “

The challenge will be keeping that natural beauty in balance while promoting growth, she added.

The group discussing quality of life focused on health care, art groups, galleries and museums, public safety and public spaces. Specifics included promoting low-cost medical services, adding an indoor amusement park, encouraging people to “buy local” at the Farmer’s Market, developing a centralized arts and entertainment website, holding a National Night Out for public safety and compiling a detailed description and contact list of public spaces available for use.

After hearing the reports, Jurey said the second meeting, to be held Aug. 21 at 10 a.m. at Still Water Lodge, will focus on narrowing the lists to the five most critical issues. The next step is to make “actionable” recommendations, he said.

“I don’t want you to think anything is impossible,” he added.

The key to success is to identify champions of issues and stakeholders, he said.

“What organizations are going to be critical to your recommendations?” he asked. “Who are the people who have the most passion for these projects?”

In September the Envision Somervell County group will host a community-wide forum and formally present a plan to get community feedback.

Jurey also said the group also needed to think about branding and a logo that represents the county’s culture with symbols.

“You have to come up with something that truly differentiates Glen Rose,” he said.

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