San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, left, and Economic Development San Marcos Executive Director Amy Madison, right, have a chat outside San Marcos City Hall. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
A group of local leaders in the public and private sectors recently unveiled the latest phase of the Greater San Marcos Plan, a five-year plan to fight poverty, raise local wages, and provide affordable housing while promoting environmental stewardship in the Greater San Marcos Area.
However, the official launch for the Greater San Marcos Economic Development Council (GSMED), which will implement the plan, has been postponed due to a lack of funding while the plan’s executors line up 501(c)3 and 501(c)6 designations for the GSMED to attain non-profit status.
Partners for Progress — the organization spearheading the effort to develop, fund, and implement the Greater San Marcos Plan — intended to mark the launch of GSMED with a celebratory event on April 9 at the Embassy Suites, with a high-ranking dignitary to possibly deliver the keynote address.
Economic Development San Marcos Executive Director Amy Madison said the Greater San Marcos Plan will not be launched until Partners for Progress has most or all of the funding in place, which, she said, may be another two or three months. The launch event will be used to announce GSMED’s board of directors, provide details about the organization’s funding campaign, and update the public regarding initial successes and initiatives underway.
The Greater San Marcos Plan recommends targeting four industries for recruitment: health care, corporate and professional operations, material science and advanced manufacturing, and supply chain management. The plan also identifies three “special opportunity areas” which may benefit the local economy: tourism, downtown development, and green industries.
The Greater San Marcos Plan stipulates three main goals, which, according to the plan, “are interdependent and success depends on each one being advanced.” The three goals are workforce excellence, economic diversification and quality of place.
Each goal has several objectives and each objective specifies action steps. Workforce excellence, in the language of the plan, calls for the creation of “a workforce development system that allows regional businesses to be globally competitive and enhances economic opportunity for workers.” Improvement of educational opportunities for high school graduates is among the planks of the program for workforce excellence. Texas State Provost Perry Moore, chair of Partners for Progress, is a vocal advocate of including San Marcos within the Austin Community College District. Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley) is vice-chair of Partners for Progress.
Economic diversification, according to the plan, is achieved by diversifying the “area economy through enhanced programmatic, marketing, and infrastructure capacity.” Quality of place involves engaging in “aggressive and ongoing efforts … to make the Greater San Marcos area one of Texas’ most compelling destinations to live, work, and visit,” according to the plan.
“This is a very comprehensive plan and very detailed, and this definitely changes the way we do business in our economic development strategy in San Marcos,” San Marcos Councilmember John Thomaides. “And it really does lay out a step-by-step process that we all participated in this really well-designed discussion, I think, over four or five months, at least. And so, I really feel like this will take us to that next level.”
The community assessment conducted by Atlanta consulting firm Market Street, Inc., concluded that “despite being a university town, a cycle of poverty persists” in San Marcos, which exceeds rates for the metro area and nation. According to the assessment, poverty rates continue to rise in Greater San Marcos.
“Additionally, gaps between local, metro, and state per capita income are widening,” states the assessment.
The assessment also found that though the region has registered “solid job growth in recent years,” average annual wages for the region continue to lag behind because growth has been concentrated in lower-paying sectors. The assessment also concluded that people in Greater San Marcos are dropping out of the labor force and demands for affordable housing are not being met.
“While rental rates are lower in San Marcos-Hays County compared to the metro area, the community has a comparatively higher proportion of households which are spending at least 30 percent of their monthly income on rent (a commonly held threshold for affordability),” the community assessment states.
The assessment also found that Caldwell and Hays Counties have higher proportions of uninsured residents and a lower numbers of physicians compared to the entire Austin metro area. According to the assessment, Hays County has relatively low indigent health care spending, yet those costs rose from Fiscal Year 2007 to Fiscal Year 2009.
The implementation plan portion of the Greater San Marcos Plan specifies benchmarks and metrics by which to judge the strategy’s progress and step-by-step instructions for each year of the plan. The plan calls for the formation of the GSMED, an economic development corporation (EDC) with more than twice the funding of EDSM, the city’s current EDC.
The implementation plan calls for GSMED to have an estimated five-year budget of $3,480,233. GSMED’s sole purpose will be to coordinate the implementation of the Greater San Marcos Plan, portions of which stand to change in the next few years.
“It’s one of those living, breathing plans,” said Madison said. “We have a plan in place that the consultants put together, but it’s going to need some tweaking, so that it really fits up snug and tight and personal with our partners that we have involved.”
The San Marcos City Council approved a unanimous resolution on Feb. 16 to adopt the Greater San Marcos Plan. According to the council’s resolution, “the City Council may implement all or any parts of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and Implementation Plan as it deems appropriate.” Only Councilmember Chris Jones offered a caveat before voting for the plan.
“While I’m supportive of the overall effort and direction, there are certain things that I think may carry more of a priority now and probably in two or three years,” Jones said. “Just to give you a heads-up, I will support it now, but there are some things I might have an issue supporting.”
San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz pulled the resolution from the consent agenda, bringing it forward for public discussion by the council.
“I simply asked this to be pulled so that we could just re-emphasize that, while we are adopting this strategy, we are also adopting the plan to implement it,” Narvaiz said. “And that implementation also includes that we are stating very clearly that we are in favor of bringing in Austin Community College District … as part of our first action. So, I just want to make sure that everyone understands that we’re voting on a comprehensive plan, that we appreciate the work of the entire group that (includes) many of the people we appointed, that’s been many months in the making … This is just really the beginning stage. So, I wanted to make sure that we are making a commitment here. We’re not just voting on a document.”
GSMED will be a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation, the board of which will include representatives from Partners for Progress and private investors. Partners for Progress includes representatives from city governments and EDCs of San Marcos, Luling and Lockhart, elected officials from Hays and Caldwell Counties, and representatives of Wells Fargo Bank, Broadway Bank, Texas State University, Prime Outlets, San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, Gary Job Corps, TCOR Insurance Management, Priority Personnel, Inc., Central Texas Medical Center, Heritage Association of San Marcos, Butler Manufacturing Co. and Ember Industries.
The Hays County Commissioners Court, EDSM, and at least three other publicly-funded entities in the Greater San Marcos Area have passed similar resolutions in support of the plan. The Greater San Marcos Area includes the City of San Marcos, eastern Hays County, and Caldwell County. San Marcos, including its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), lies in Hays, Comal, Guadalupe and Caldwell Counties. Madison said San Marcos has a “vested interest” in Caldwell County because Gary Job Corps and the city’s airport are located there.
The implementation plan proposes a 16-member board for GSMED, including three seats reserved for representatives from the City of San Marcos and four seats for private contributors (three lead investors and one investor).
Madison said EDSM will remain in existence to offer recommendations to councilmembers when they consider requests for economic development incentives.
“Our staff will continue to provide administration support to both of the groups,” Madison said.
The implementation plan specifies an annual budget of between $680,000 and $750,000 for GSMED.
“It’s my understanding that we would hope that the city would maintain funding (for the new EDC) at their current level with minimal increases … and that we’d be looking to the community — both from a private and public standpoint — to match that amount, and increase it,” said Madison told city councilmembers on Feb. 16. “Currently the (EDC’s) funding is approximately $350,000, coming from the city. So we’d be looking for the additional funding to come from Partners for Progress as well as other private investors.”
Madison told councilmembers that private and public entities had already pledged approximately $500,000 in funding for GSMED.
Other funding sources may include cities in the Greater San Marcos Area, Hays and Caldwell Counties, state and federal grants, utilities, philanthropic and foundation investments, individual investments and private business investments.
Partners for Progress created a fund of $150,000 to oversee development of the Greater San Marcos Plan. The City of San Marcos paid $173,298.21 to Market Street Services, Inc. for conducting community surveys, focus groups, interviews with community leaders, and for developing the Greater San Marcos Plan during the last year.
“The fund was created to pay for the plan ($173,293.21) and to assist with implementation,” Madison said. “The remaining funds are being used for the implementation of the plan. While we are not fully launching the plan, we are working on several action items in the plan which requires resources. The remaining funds are being used for this purpose until the funding is in place.”Email | Print