This is the message that came from John Plotnik, Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation director at the annual Refugio County Community Development Foundation breakfast and public meeting early Tuesday morning, May 14.
Other top economic development directors were at the breakfast to back up those words.
Among them in addition to Plotnik were Dave Fowler, Victoria Economic Development Corporation director; Lynn Spencer, San Patricio County EDC; and Diane Probst, Rockport EDC director.
Ann Fierova, chairwoman of the Refugio County Community Development Foundation, introduced each EDC director and noted that Refugio County stands to benefit from the developments in neighboring counties but wants to help, too.
Fowler said Victoria is doing well and all of South Texas is doing well.
He said when he goes to international meetings, he hears the woes of other states.
Currently, Fowler said Victoria’s Caterpillar excavator manufacturing plant has hired 500 and plans on hiring up to 800 in another two or three years.
He said a manufacturer of counter weights – parts for excavators – announced two weeks ago it is coming to Victoria. The company is based in Chattanooga, Tenn., and will put another plant in Victoria.
Folwer credited the Caterpillar, Eagle Ford Shale and the petro chemical companies for Victoria’s growth.
All in all, Fowler said it has been estimated that 24,000 jobs have been created.
He noted that Victoria College, one of Refugio’s assets, has begun building a training center on 16 acres – possible from a $22 million bond issue.
“We can train your employees,” he said.
Plotnik posed the question, “What is economic development?”
Bouncing off Fowler’s job figure, he said “jobs” is the definition of economic development.
Plotnik represents a seven-county area of economic development.
“We live in a blessed area,” he said mentioning the Eagle Ford Shale.
“Corpus Christi’s value today is $16.5 billion,” he said.
And he said an additional $20 billion is being worked on.
He said manufacturing from China, Austria, Italy, South Korea and others have or have a desire to come to South Texas.
“I was in China three weeks ago. All they wanted to talk about was Corpus Christi,” he said.
This was because one of China’s largest pipe building companies – Tianjin Pipe Company – is building a $1 billion manufacturing plant next to Gregory. It means hundreds of jobs.
“It opened up the flood gate for more Chinese industries,” Plotnik said.
He mentioned another shale formation called the Pearsall Shale that is reportedly bigger than the Eagle Ford Shale. The Pearsall Shale is underneath Eagle Ford Shale.
He said it would afford another 25 years – “Unlimited gas.”
He noted that the unemployment rate went from 8 percent to 5.7 percent in Corpus Christi.
He said the challenge to all of us is to practice long-range thinking and make tough decisions now.
“The area is going to be global,” he said.
Spencer said a Chinese realtor is inquiring about a gated community in San Patricio County. She said the Chinese want a quality of life they can be comfortable in, so a Chinatown community.
“But we continue to have an industrial focus,” she said, noting that plenty of tourism is next door in Nueces and Aransas counties.
She said her organization is considering a San Patricio Training Center.
She said much of the focus is business retention, housing, bigger workforce and more quality of life.
She said her organization also is learning how to balance agricultural and industrial industries, while preparing for new jobs.
Probst said Aransas County has about 24,000 people, a lot fewer than Corpus Christi and Victoria, but tourism is working for the county.
She said 23 years ago, hotel occupancy tax totaled about $30,000. In 2011 those HOT monies grew to $1.7 million, just in the Fulton and Rockport area.
And much has been spent on pathways.
“We have 65 miles of recreation activities,” she said.
She mentioned two developments that are significant: the Islands of Rockport and the Boardwalk at St. Chalres Bay.
Currently, she said 20 vacant buildings have been identified, and they are targeted to be filled.
Woodsboro Superintendent Steve Self asked what should high schools do to help students’ careers.
Plotnik suggested apprenticeships.
“A lot of schools are seeking credit for juniors and seniors through “apprenticeship” credits.
He said it was a vocational path that many students prefer.
“High schools are coming around. Men and women want to go into those skill sets,” he said.
Fierova thanked the directors for coming and introduced Victor Garza, prime candidate for the Refugio County economic directorship.
Garza is currently a policy writer in Washington, D.C. but hails from Alice. He is an attorney but does not have a practice.