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Huntsville City Council Discusses Economic Development

In a workshop session held prior to Tuesday Night’s regular Huntsville City Council Meeting, the Council heard presentations on and discussed economic development and future initiatives. Mayor Andy Brauninger introduced the topic by suggesting that the Council go back to last July’s two-day forum sponsored by SHSU and use that as a starting point for discussion.

Background information:

Mr. Terry Stokes of SHSU briefed the Council on last summer’s forum. He noted first that he was part of the University’s Office of Economic Development Initiatives which had been created in 2013 to foster ventures to strengthen the economy of Central East Texas. By last summer he had noticed that in Walker County there seemed to be no single agency providing overall leadership in the area of economic development. So, SHSU and The Greater Houston Partnership sponsored a “Town Hall” meeting and invited a cross section of community leaders to discuss that question. As Mr. Stokes said, “The purpose of the meeting was to determine if, in fact, there was an over-arching, single focus agency doing this on behalf of the community (Walker County) what would be its structure, what would be its governance?”

After reviewing several options, the one preferred by those in attendance was a combined public/private organization that pooled their resources and hired their own staff of full time professionals. This was called Option G.

From July 2015 to the present

The Mayor then asked Betty Russo who was also in attendance representing the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism to comment. She advised that the Governor wanted to shift the State’s economic development focus more toward the rural areas of Texas as opposed to just focusing on the big corporate players that tend to favor the larger cities.

Councilmember Tish Humphrey then discussed the July meeting –
“What I remember was the whole fact that been there, done that so many times before, nothing was new. This community is very segmented. – – – But we, as the City, heard from the community leaders that we needed to move forward. We needed everybody at the table. – – But they haven’t stepped up. And we’ve talked about it privately and I don’t give a rip that we’re talking about it publicly. Nobody stepped up to the table, so we’ve tried that. – – But I think the City can still be the main player. – I never saw the 4B as not fitting with option G.”

Picking up on that point, Mayor Brauninger raised the question, “Is the environment right for the other organizations that are obviously going to benefit from economic development to participate in the cost of it? Or participate in the organization of it? Or is Walker County so fragmented that you’ll never bring them together?

Councilmember Montgomery responded, “I think that’s what we were feeling coming out of that meeting, that we needed a funding source. We debated as a Council between 4A and 4B. – – We have over $100 million dollars of immediate needs. That million dollars spent in research was darn sobering. I’m thinking, how are we going to raise that kind of money?
Councilmember Olson observed, “You know what’s embarrassing – – – We have made fun of every county around us for being hillbilly or podunk and we’re the only ones that – – are too dumb to get out of our own way.”

In Tuesday’s City Council Meeting

The regular session of the Council was short and consisted of only routine items such as proclamations, a City Committee appointment, working with a consortium of other cities on Entergy rate issues and approving a contract for election support for the May 7 election.
If there is no more than one candidate for the vacant Position 1 at-Large seat in the May 7 election, an option that the City has is to not hold the formal election.
No action was taken after an executive session to receive legal advice on claims regarding McDonald Creek.

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