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Lagging economy concern in Waco

Feb. 9, 2001

Officials look for ways to boost city

By TYLER EMLER

Reporter

In an effort to improve a lagging local economy, the Waco city government is working with The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce to draw in more businesses and to promote greater residential development in the community.

In the most recent economic development study sponsored by the city in 1999, Waco's unemployment rates were significantly higher than its peer communities, such as Temple, Lubbock and Mesquite. Also, Waco had relatively low hourly wages in comparison to its peer communities.

Having seen the effects that a slowing economy has had on the nation, city leaders are attempting to ensure that the already subpar local economic situation does not suffer further.

'The economic development process is an ongoing process,' said Jack Stewart, president and CEO of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. 'The efforts that we have through the chamber are ongoing efforts of strategy and marketing to make the community attractive to new businesses as well as an attractive place to grow a business. We continue to market the community through site selectors ... [which] are businesses that help other businesses to find places to expand.'

In terms of economic development, the chamber has more influence in the city than any other institution. Stewart said the chamber is primarily involved in creating jobs within the community by attracting new industry and by 'supporting existing ... businesses that are expanding locally.'

Stewart said the Waco economy generally runs a few years behind the national economy so no one knows the full effect the national slowdown will have locally. He said he is already seeing a negative effect on some local industries such as manufactured housing.

Dr. Kent Gilbreath, a Baylor professor of economics, said that in spite of the slowing national economy, there is no cause for concern in Waco.

'Waco is healthy in the sense that we have a diversified economy,' Gilbreath said. 'We do lots of different things here. So if one sector of the economy starts slumping, the whole Waco economy is not likely to be effected.'

Stewart said the goal of the chamber of commerce is to speed up the development of the Waco area ahead of when it would naturally develop.

A large factor in the development of a city is the presence of fresh, new businesses, Stewart said.

The city manager's office and the county government each contribute $750,000 a year to an economic development incentive fund for the city, City Manager Kathy Rice said. This fund is used like a dowry to provide incentives to any new companies that come into town.

'You've got to look 20 years out. You can't look five years down the road,' Rice said. 'We need to find businesses that are viable and that are going to grow. There are some businesses that might look good now, but they're going to be mechanized ... and they aren't going to grow.'

Rice said the city manager's office has also initiated a housing program to encourage the building of homes.

'If you want to create wealth and disposable income you have got to get people to own a house,' she said. 'Most of the wealth in the country is in your house.'

Gilbreath said the city government could help the local economy by forming a coalition with local business leaders, educational institutions and the county government and 'ensure that [Waco] has a good tax policy and a good infrastructure of roads and utilities.' He said that the city could have a continued positive impact by providing quality social services over the long run.

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