By Kathi Bliss
While growth sometimes makes for day-to-day inconveniences, the long-term benefits can create a ripple effect across communities, and beyond.
It is that unique position in which Lockhart finds itself now, as the community begins the first stages of a large construction project on Highway 183, stands poised for sweeping renovations of the community’s schools, and long-awaited development begins near the intersection of Highway 142 and SH130.
Lockhart’s Economic Development Director Sandra Mauldin said last week that the projects have dovetailed perfectly to create a fertile environment for economic growth in Lockhart.
“We had 19 new businesses open in the first quarter of 2014,” she said. “That’s equivalent to the 19 businesses we had come in all of last year.”
Retail, she said, was a driving force behind current economic development, with 16 of the 19 businesses in the retail sector. The others generally focus on industrial development, which has been a primary focus of the City of Lockhart for years.
“In 2007, the property now known as our industrial park was basically empty,” she said. “Now, we have several businesses and buildings there, with inquiries coming in consistently for more.”
The one dull spot in industrial development, she said, is the city’s current lack of existing industrial space. She spoke to several “missed opportunities,” referrals and potentially relocating businesses that hoped to do business in Lockhart, but found that the community lacked the existing building space to accommodate their needs.
“Most business don’t want to build,” she said. “They don’t object to coming in and retrofitting a building to suit their exact specifications, but they don’t want to do new construction. They want to hit the ground and open their doors.”
To that end, she said, the Lockhart Economic Development Corporation has begun recruiting investors to fund the construction of a “spec building” in the industrial park, in hopes of increasing the available inventory and opening the door for new opportunities.
Additionally, she said, the city’s recent decision to build a transformer relay station on property near the southwest corner of Boggy Creek Road and Cesar Chavez Parkway (SH130) has opened up new opportunities for development along the SH-130 corridor.
“Getting the infrastructure in place on that side of town is going to be key,” she said. “Because development is coming.”
One of the main focuses of Mauldin’s department, she said, is finding a way to balance growth so that it is best for the community in terms of not only business and job growth, but in retaining the community’s integrity and history.
“When you look at the developments going in near Highway 183 at Burleson Road in Austin, you can tell which way Austin is growing,” she said. “We have to have a plan in place to handle that in a way that is going to be best for us, so that we don’t get taken over and we can still have a balance between our local feel, and recruiting new business.”
That local feel, she noted has been an important factor in both attracting new businesses, and losing business prospects.
“When someone starts thinking about bringing a business to town, what they usually do is pick up a copy of the local newspaper, look at the area schools, and maybe sit down for a meal at a local restaurant,” she said. “I have heard of prospects that have chosen not to take their business to certain communities because a waitress in a restaurant was rude to them. But then, I’ve also talked to a prospect who stopped at a gas station and had the clerk take time out to break a $100 bill for him, and that was one of the things he looked at when he started seriously looking at moving his business.”
That attitude, Mauldin said, has spilled over into social media in recent years, with many prospects also taking to the Internet to research not only a community’s statistics, but also its people.
“I’m not going to say that I’ve heard of anyone that was specifically turned off a community by something they read on social media,” she said. “And social media can be a valuable tool, in a lot of ways. But I also know that, from a business-owner’s perspective, that a community should be embracing their positives instead of focusing on the negatives.”
Among those positives, Maudlin said, Lockhart is poised in a geographically desirable location; with the new improvements to Highway 183 expected to come to fruition in the next year, along with the improvements to the Lockhart schools, Lockhart is becoming more and more the focus of business development in Central Texas.
“We have worked hard on our partnerships with the Governor’s Office, as well as our CAPCOG and other Austin Metro relationships, and particularly the Greater San Marcos Partnership,” she said. “As we look at Hays and Caldwell County, we realize that there are lots of opportunities, some of which are going to get bigger and brighter as they start connecting the area between I-35 and SH130. It’s going to be a huge benefit for us that we are involved.”
Mauldin, along with Mayor Lew White and City Manager Vance Rodgers, continue to look for new and innovative ways to recruit and support local businesses, including a recent “Ready, Set, Launch Your Business,” seminar, which drew 22 participants from across Central Texas to learn how to set up a new business.
Such seminars, Mauldin said, along with partnerships with local businesses for promotions such as the “Cowtown Sip ‘n’ Stroll Art Walk,” and other downtown revitalization activities have helped to maintain the focus on the small-town feel of Lockhart, while promoting new business, as well.
For additional information on economic development in Lockhart, visit www.lockhart-tx.org, or call the City of Lockhart at (512) 398-3461.