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Economic Development at What Cost?

The term “economic development” is often used by elected officials at every level of government.   Cities, counties, and states across the country are competing to lure businesses into their areas to boost both employment and tax revenue.  Though these types of financial incentives may help bring new industry to an area, there can be some less desireable consequences that aren’t often, if ever discussed.

As our area continues to experience growth, local governments will likely focus on what they can do to attract new industry to their juristications.  One of the main questions that arises related to future growth is the quality and nature of future industrial growth and whether or not constraints should be put in place to control it.  Currently there are very few such constraints anywhere within Walker County. Undesirable industries, including polluting ones, could locate here with very little opposition.  That could have major implications for the future of the Cities and the County as these types of industries will be looking for places to locate in the future. The Houston metropolitan area’s overall growth is almost certain to push more industrial businesses further out into our rural areas.

Recently, for example, there was a vote by the Huntsville City Council to provide tax incentives to a Conroe company that builds large fiberglass tanks to locate one of their plants in Huntsville.  The location selected was on the North side of the City near the American Legion Post just off of FM 2821.  There was no public involvement or discussion of this plan ahead of time, only the brief formality of the Council’s public vote required by state law.
A few weeks later, in a City Council meeting, there was a comment by one of the Councilmembers that the company had decided not to locate in Huntsville after all.  A follow-up Huntsville Item article quoted a Company executive as saying, “We found that permitting and air regulations were a little more difficult than we had hoped.”

It later came to light that this plant would have routinely emitted significant amounts of toxic gasses and substances into the Huntsville atmosphere that could then be carried by air movement to nearby populated parts of the Huntsville. One such gas was Styrene, a suspected carcinogen that has been extensively studied by several state and federal agencies. There were other substances known to be hazardous as well.
Regardless of the history and merits of this particular decision, the question this incident raises is what the Cities (and possibly the County) should do to protect local residents from undesirable industrial growth in the future.   It surely raises the question of whether taxpayer funds should be used to lure a polluting industrial business in to Walker County.

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