Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the corn field. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Where economic development is concerned, our local government needs to provide private enterprise certain tools to succeed. That doesn’t mean “give over the bank” to local business interests, or ignore community needs because they don’t make “good business sense”. But we need to create a business environment that makes companies, and their employees want to be here.
Of course, all this costs money, or time, or effort (usually all three). The money costs can come from many things like: tax abatement to encourage the business to operate in our town; development expenses for construction of new facilities; or costs to maintain, repair and rehabilitate existing infrastructure.
What? You say Alice doesn’t have any money? Tax abatement generally increases tax revenue over the cost of the abatement, so there isn’t an immediate direct cost, rather increased tax revenues which grow over time. Where we run into problems is the out of pocket costs for new construction, repairs …etc.
Lucky for us there are grants available to help communities in our predicament. These grants can be economic development grants or grant programs to pay for non-business development concerning the government functions in a city (things like parks, streets, and water lines). If less of our local dollars are spent on day-to-day government functions, then we have more funds to build for the future, or save for a “rainy day”.
Some examples are: the Texas Enterprise Fund (is a cash grant used as a financial incentive tool for projects that offer significant projected job creation and capital investment); the Texas Capital Fund Infrastructure/Real Estate Development Program (Funds from the infrastructure program can be utilized for public infrastructure needed to assist a business that commits to create and/or retain permanent jobs, primarily for low and moderate income persons); Texas Parks and Wildlife Grants (for local parks and recreational trails); U.S. Economic Development Grants (strategic investments that foster job creation and attract private investment, and development in economically distressed areas of the United States); the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program; the New Market Tax Credit Program; the USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program; Federal Fish and Wildlife Financial Assistance Programs (federal assistance for parks and recreation).
All of these are grant programs that our City use to target. Anyone can put a list together, or say they have a plan, but let’s see what they can accomplish? Our community has to have more of a focus on actually obtaining the assistance than focusing on proving we actually did something.
I recently had a friend tell me “don’t we have to get the grants first?” He was trying to say, just because grants are out there doesn’t mean we can count on the help. That’s where using our governmental resources come into play, and Alice has got a lot.
Our U.S. Congressman (Mr. Filemon Vela) has an office at City Hall, and is in the area so often Alice could be his second home. Our U.S. Senator John Cornyn used to have regular phone conferences with our City officials. In fact, our entire “Congressional Texas Delegation” (all the Senators and Congressmen from Texas) worked on getting us federal funds.
At the state level, the government resources are just as strong. Our State Representative has his office in City Hall, and has championed our community’s needs in Austin many, many times. Senator Hinojosa isn’t far away either. All we had to do was call his office, and a lot of the time, rather than return the call, he would show up. It’s pretty simple, all we have to do is walk down the hall or pick up the phone and ask for help.
Before anyone starts complaining about “entitlements” or increased federal taxes, understand that these grant programs (or ones like them) have been in existence for over 100 years. Towns ignoring these opportunities do nothing to reduce our tax rates. Government will continue to try to assist economic growth and stability because it allows more revenue, a stronger domestic economy, greater prosperity, and, yes, we can then afford to pay more taxes to the government. These programs will continue to exist whether we take advantage of them or not.
Jim Wells County also has an active economic development corporation (EDC). It is currently fine tuning a tax incentive proposal for presentation to the City and County. I am certain everyone isn’t going to agree on everything in the proposal, but the EDC is just another tool for business development. Our chamber of commerce is another valuable resource that is underused. Juan at the Chamber can give you pretty much any business data relating to Alice, Texas.
My point is, local government has a big part in creating an environment to retain and grow business but we need to use every resource available, and not jealously ignore outside help.