By Kevin Thompson :: Photography courtesy of BKCEDC
While some of us think about where our kids will eat when they get home from college, Misty Mayo thinks about where they will work.
“It’s nice to have a variety of restaurants and retailers, but is that really where we want our kids to work long-term?” asks Mayo, President and CEO of Boerne Kendall County Economic Development Corporation (BKCEDC).
New development rumors fly frequently in a growing locale like Kendall County. Target®, Academy Sports® and Whole Foods® often make the list of purported pending arrivals. Then, there’s the supposed sacred cows of economic development: Chick-fil-A®. “My daughter wrote it on my office whiteboard so I wouldn’t forget,” Mayo says.
While everyone has a different definition of positive economic development, most agree on the need for balanced growth. Kendall County is the 5th fastest-growing county in Texas, 17th fastest-growing in the nation. “Denying growth is not the answer,” Mayo says. “Balance is everything. We want our values and the product that is our community to stay the same. We can retain all that through thoughtful dialogue and strategic planning. The goal is quality growth.”
“We cannot stop growth,” says entrepreneur and BKCEDC board member Paul Duran. “What we can do is control it.”
Most local government and business leaders don’t want to cut off Boerne’s nose to spite its face. They realize the features that drew people here must be preserved if the area is to maintain vibrancy. But it’s a paradox to walk.
On one hand, some want to freeze frame the place. “Close the gate…behind me!” On the other, desirability involves progress and growth. People want access to goods and services.
“We live in a unique place demographically,” Mayo asserts. “We are generally affluent and well-educated. Naturally, we think companies are beating down our doors for a spot here. It doesn’t necessarily work that way.”
Economic development is a highly competitive process. Boerne no longer only competes against domestic rivals for projects and opportunities. It competes internationally.
Development takes time. The average project takes two years to land. Site selectors pore over mountains of financial and demographic data before pulling triggers. Even then, economic events can turn long-laid plans at a moment’s notice.
And there’s no substitute for population density. Companies want a certain critical mass of buyers and workers. While Kendall County is growing by leaps and bounds percentage-wise, raw household numbers don’t yet support what some businesses require.
But with more than five thousand new residential lots in some stage of development, the landscape is changing quickly. Fortunately, groundwork’s been laid.
In 2006, local business owners circled up to fill a void. While a lively Chamber of Commerce connected small businesses and a vibrant Visitors Bureau reeled in tourists, no organization was explicitly charged with reeling in new businesses.
Through a public/private partnership between Kendall County, the City of Boerne and private businesses, BKCEDC was born. A small staff was hired, while GVTC donated office, meeting space and utilities.
“GVTC has supported BKCEDC from the beginning because we want to enhance quality of life in the communities we serve,” said GVTC Chief Financial Officer and Cordillera Ranch resident Mark Gitter. “We help BKCEDC retain and add new jobs by providing some of the fastest broadband speeds in the industry, which is lucrative for a small town the size of Boerne.”
Timing was good, says BKCEDC founding board chairman Ron Warden. “If we hadn’t negotiated the retention of Texas Composites when it sold to New York-based Albany Composites, three hundred local workers would have lost their jobs right before the global recession.”
BKCEDC later orchestrated Albany’s expansion that brought 100-plus more jobs to Kendall County. That’s how economic development can domino.
Boerne-based Allcat Claims is another example. In 2013, BKCEDC and city officials facilitated an expansion of the company’s operations in Boerne. This year, sales tax revenue from Allcat’s extensive hail storm billings will more than pay for the original incentive package.
As for other success stories, Warden is proud of AJW Architectural Products’ facility in Comfort. It will employ 500 workers when completed later this year. And a cultural organization which BKCEDC helped relocate from Kerrville has brought more than a dozen world-class fine art acts to Kendall County since 2012.
While there are many goals of economic development — jobs, utility customers, tax base expansion — no one wants any of it without a continuation of quality of life, Warden says. “Our original slogan was ‘preserve the past, promote the future.’ It was a phenomenal example of multiple entities — chambers, governments, schools, businesses — coming together for a common purpose. Everyone simply wanted to do the right things in the right ways for Boerne.”
Current board member and Cordillera Ranch resident Phil Hunke sees something unique in the organization’s structure. “A distinguishing characteristic of BKCEDC is its public/private partnership,” Hunke says. “The stars have lined up right which is good because Boerne has been discovered whether we like it or not. We are an inclusive, not exclusive, organization. Everyone benefits when we succeed.”
As BKCEDC turns 10, it has turned a corner. A new generation of board members has taken the reins including Cordillera Ranch President Charlie Hill. Hill serves as BKCEDC treasurer.
The board’s hiring of Ms. Mayo last year was a coup among economic development circles. The former second highest-ranking official in the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation has lived in Kendall County since 2013.
“Along with our schools and proximity to San Antonio, Misty Mayo and her positive attitude are clear competitive advantages,” says Duran whose “Attitude Is Everything” banner now hangs at Apache Rifleworks in Comfort.
Other long-time Kendall County residents with strong San Antonio connections have committed to BKCEDC’s cause. All seem to subscribe to a balanced growth approach.
Banking executive Pam Parish has commuted to San Antonio from north of Boerne since 1997. She will serve as BKCEDC board chair next year. “We are striving to create a future that we can look back on and be proud of,” Parish says. “We want to be able to say, ‘Those were thoughtful decisions.’ The most important thing is to have a shared vision with the city and county that really articulates what we want the future to look like. A strategic plan gives you the impetus to say ‘no’ to things that don’t fit.”
Marketing guru Andra Wisian, a 7th generation Texan and Kendall County resident since 1993, joined the board after a career in TV productions, global tourism and corporate communications at USAA. “It’s all about the next generation and providing diverse options for good-paying jobs, all while not losing sight of the character of who we are,” says Wisian who also volunteers with local youth development programs.
Hunke is lending his expertise after an accomplished career in the Rio Grande Valley. Hunke helped recruit businesses to McAllen prior to moving to Cordillera Ranch in 2011. The retired pediatric dentist now owns a major commercial center in Boerne. “We must transition our tax base from predominantly residential to commercial. It’s best for schools and for economic prosperity,” Hunke states. “But we must do it in the right way. Boerne has so much that can’t be duplicated. From Cibolo Nature Center to our historic downtown. It’s very special.”
In a sky’s-the-limit, the world’s-your-oyster environment, Mayo and her team are forced to prioritize. Their highest priority: retaining and expanding existing businesses.
MIT economist David Burch says companies with 10 – 100 employees and at least $1 million in annual sales are the greatest source of economic growth. They make up only 10 percent of businesses, but they account for 35 percent of job growth. He calls the nurturing of such businesses “economic gardening.”
“We want to help those companies get to the next level through education, information and workforce development,” Mayo asserts. “They are critical to our future.”
A second priority of the BKCEDC is to lure area companies like Electrolab Controls to Kendall County. The forty-year-old industrial electronics company relocated its headquarters and manufacturing facility to Boerne from San Antonio in 2014.
“It’s a win for the entire area when a San Antonio company moves to Kendall County,” Hunke notes. “Many employees will still reside and pay taxes in Bexar County. The ones who move out will still travel to San Antonio for some goods and services.”
A third priority of BKCEDC is what some consider the holy grail of economic development: recruitment and attraction. The Toyota plant in South San Antonio. The Caterpillar plant in Seguin. Medtronic offices at The Rim. A Buc-ee’s in Boerne. Announced recently, the Buc-ee’s Boerne facility will bring significant economic benefits to the community, including up to 200 jobs with a $6 million annual payroll and roughly $180,000 in annual property taxes to BISD.
“As the chief marketing office of Boerne and Kendall County, we position our area as an ideal site for corporate investment,” Mayo explains. “We move quickly. In economic development, it’s not the big who beat the small. It’s the fast who beat the slow. But we’re not doing it at any cost,” Mayo assures. “I want this to be the kind of community my children can find a job in. I want my grandchildren to want to stay here, not pick up and leave because there are no opportunities. That’s my philosophy. It’s what inspires me.”
Boerne-Kendall County Economic Development Corporation
830.331.9070 :: www.bkcedc.com