Local agencies plan for growth
LPR staff report
The Northern Caldwell County Coalition (NCCC) hosted its third annual “State of Northern Caldwell County” public meeting at the ML Cisneros Education Support Center in Lockhart on Tuesday.
The event aims to provide community and business members with an overview of developments in the area. NCCC members include representatives from Caldwell County, the City of Lockhart and Lockhart Independent School District.
Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden, Lockhart Mayor Lew White, Lockhart City Manager Steve Lewis and LISD Superintendent of Schools Mark Estrada were each on hand Tuesday to provide highlights from the county, city and school district, with growth emerging as a common driving theme throughout the presentation.
LISD Executive Director of Communications & Community Services Christina Courson opened the meeting by introducing the panel of speakers and welcoming attendees. “We want to give you a glimpse of where we are – at the county level, at the city level, and at the school district level to keep you informed,” said Courson.
Judge Haden began the panel discussion with an overview of Caldwell County. Poverty levels in the county have decreased by 2.1 percent since last year, and unemployment is at 3.6 percent, down from 5.2 percent in 2014.
In 2018, the population of Caldwell County was 43,247.
“We’re growing like crazy,” said Haden. “I have been telling people we’re going to explode in ten years, and I’m finally right.”
As the county continues to grow, so does the need for adequate road infrastructure. In this past year, the county purchased $1.2 million in road construction equipment, replacing an aged fleet in poor condition.
The county also funded engineering and environmental studies for FM 150 and Yarrington Road extension projects, looking to extend those roads towards the toll road from Highway 21 and Interstate 35. Officials noted work is underway on a plan to pave all county roads over the next 12 years.
To support growth, officials noted residential opportunities have continued to expand throughout the area. Several subdivisions were approved in 2019, including El Dorado on Highway 21, Fox Meadows at FM 713 and Fox Lane, Tower Meadows at Tower Road and Blanke Ankle Road, and Heartland Ranch Alexander Acres on Ivy Smith. Compostela on Williamson Road and Lytton Hills on 1854 are pending subdivisions.
Haden also highlighted construction related to economic development, including construction for Bluebonnet Electric. Other businesses new to Caldwell County include Turner Company, Family Dollar, Visionary Fiber Technologies and Promogo.
“Economic development is number one,” said Haden. “I once had a boss that said no company will ever shrink its way to greatness.
You have to grow, and so that’s the way to do it.”
Haden also touted the creation of a Caldwell County Economic Development Corporation, which is intended to bridge the gap for unincorporated areas not be served by the economic development corporations for Lockhart and Luling.
City of Lockhart
Mayor White followed the county’s presentation with an overview of Lockhart.
“Lockhart is constantly being highlighted in various news media,” said White. “People in surrounding areas are looking for communities such as ours with affordability of homes, business opportunities, and a very strong quality of life.”
The city council’s economic development goals include creating and retaining jobs with a grocery campaign, retail recruitment, marketing Lockhart more effectively and potentially acquiring land and buildings for new employers or expansion of existing businesses.
White also said the city is working on a unified vision for downtown development and tourism, as well as developing tools that would be used to facilitate recruitment to the SH 130 corridor.
In addition, the Lockhart Economic Development Corporation is developing a new 5-year strategic plan featuring five goals, which include defining and promoting Lockhart, supporting quality growth in export-oriented target sectors, optimizing the local talent base, accommodating and managing quality growth, and creating destination appeal.
According to White, the population of Caldwell County is expected to double in size to 105,000 by 2045. In 2018, Lockhart had 13,924 people with a median age of 38.2. The labor force totaled 5,948 people, he said.
In terms of job growth, the Lockhart experienced a 3.4 percent growth in jobs over the last year and is expected to grow by 16.4 percent in 10 years.
The median household income for Lockhart in 2017 was $53,570, compared to the city of San Marcos, which saw a 2017 median household income of $34,748.
White noted commuter data indicated fewer people are driving from Lockhart to go to work. Since 2010, 1,150 fewer people have left Lockhart to go to work, a 45.4 percent decrease. White said this suggested people were taking advantage of working within the city they live due to greater work opportunities in Lockhart.
Lewis continued the presentation by touting the city’s recent marketing collaboration with the Greater San Marcos Partnership, Caldwell County, City of Lockhart Economic Development and the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
“Economic development has become a team sport these days,” said Lewis.
To support the marketing efforts, officials said the city is redesigning its website with the assistance of ED Suite to target information beneficial to business site selectors and other investors.
Currently, notable employers include Fashion Glass and Mirror, Reed Prototype & Machining, Visionary Fiber Technologies, Promogo, Pure Castings Co., and Serta. The industries Lockhart targets include hospitality and retail, life sciences, information technology, manufacturing, defense, and distribution and logistics.
The city is preparing for quality growth with enhanced infrastructure and services. Officials noted a 500,000-gallon elevated storage tank is currently under construction, and the city is developing additional water lines, a new pump station and a new fire station.
Lewis also pointed out the new power station built by Bluebonnet, as well as multiple natural gas options to provide to potential employers.
According to Lewis, there are 17 total subdivisions with platted sites within Lockhart, including the Clear Fork Municipal Utility District with 500 acres and 1,700 homes. Another project, Caldwell Valley, will have 3,634 acres of mixed-use development between Uhland and Lockhart.
Lewis also shared the city’s plan for a downtown funding development project that would provide $4.4 million in capital improvements, including water main replacement, sewer main replacement, storm drain improvements and street improvements. Additionally, the city will offer grants which provide 50 percent matching grant to reimburse up to $20,000 of well-designed property improvements in the central commercial district.
Superintendent Estrada was the final speaker of the event, providing an overview of Lockhart ISD. This year, the district has more than 6,200 students, which is in line with the moderate growth projections of demographers.
With the passing of House Bill 3 in the recent legislative session, public school districts received increased state support that enabled tax relief, resulting in a seven-cent tax rate decrease.
In August, the LISD Board of Trustees passed a new tax rate of $1.26236, down from last year’s tax rate of $1.33235. Estrada noted the Lockhart school district has one of the lowest tax rates when compared with neighboring school districts.
Estrada thanked Rep. John Cyrier, in attendance at the meeting, for his support in helping to pass House Bill 3, which benefitted public education and Lockhart ISD.
According to Estrada, the fast student population growth in the district has resulted in a significant decrease in overall school facilities capacity. Elementary capacity is at 91 percent. Lockhart Junior High School capacity is at 98 percent. Lockhart High School’s capacity is at 92 percent, he said. The ability to meet the needs of the student growth in educationally appropriate ways is one of the greatest priorities for the school district at this time.
“Our senior class has less than 350 students in it, which was normal for the past few years, but those days have well passed us,” said Estrada. “Our eighth-grade class has over 500 students.
“Our seventh-grade class has over 500 students. Our sixth-grade class has over 500 students. As these students move up, even without any growth, in three years, we will be over capacity at Lockhart High School. So our capacity needs are very real, very urgent, and the district is working with the board and the community to figure out our next steps.”
Estrada noted the district is expected to grow by another 1,000 students in five years and another 2,000 students in 10 years.
“We want to do this in a way that our kids have everything that any other kid would have in any other community,” added Estrada. “Putting up portable buildings all across our district is just not something that, while I am superintendent, is going to be a long-range strategy.
“We’ve got to do something that gives our kids and our teachers what they need and what they deserve so our kids can learn at the highest levels just like any other kid in any other community.”
Even as the district faces challenges, Estrada concluded his presentation with district celebrations. This month’s student performance data indicates it was the district’s best month ever in growing students academically.
A total of 70 percent of LISD students are on pace to grow 1.5 years, a focus that anchors the school district’s strategy for all students’ growth and success, officials said.
Other district highlights included the school board’s recognition in training other school districts in excellent governance; expansion of career and technical education courses for high school students to better prepare them for the local workforce and achievements of the fine arts program, including Lockhart High School’s theater program being rated in the top 24 programs in Texas as a result of the access to facilities such as the Gerry Ohlendorf Performing Arts Center, funded by the 2014 bond.
Officials also noted all of the high school’s varsity sports teams this year have gone to the playoffs as the expectations for students continue to rise, and the Roaring Lion Band has made their mark across Texas in competitions.