While it probably went unnoticed by most folks, Blanco took a major step towards determining the future of the county last year. The Blanco County Economic Development Committee formed and filed for a 501(c)(3) designation as the Blanco County Economic Development Corporation (BCEDC).
This was a significant move. The economic development landscape in Texas is extremely competitive these days. Texas has provided some very useful tools to help local communities fund their community and economic development programs. The 4A/4B Sales Tax is probably one of the most useful tools in that set. Communities who have elected to go that route have generally done well, those that haven’t...not so well. Establishing an economic development program is not an option; it is essentially a requirement.
Blanco County is in a very unique place in time these days. With San Antonio 45 minutes to the south and Austin 45 minutes to the east, it is at the crossroads for economic growth in the Hill Country. It is not a matter of is this growth coming; it’s a matter of how soon, and will Blanco County be ready? It is essential that the County gets ahead of the curve or there is a real risk that outside developers might be the ones that decide the future here.
The first priority for the BCEDC is building up the capabilities and capacity of the organization. “Right now we lack the administrative infrastructure to support some of the basic functions of an EDC,” said Joe Stewart, broker with CENTURY 21 Town Creek Properties and President of the Blanco County EDC. “We can only go so far when it comes to what can be accomplished with a volunteer base. Economic development is a very competitive business and we need to invest in it if we are going to succeed in managing our future here.”
The BCEDC committee has already succeeded in bringing Blanco and Johnson City closer together through the Chambers of Commerce of both cities. “When it comes to economic development, what is good for Blanco is good for Johnson City and vice versa, “ said Penny Thomas, Executive Director of the Blanco Chamber. “We’re already talking about some cooperative efforts in the future to consolidate our resources in that respect.”
The BCEDC is currently working with Pedernales Electric in partnership with LCRA to establish a strategic plan for the county’s economic development effort. The LCRA Community and Economic Development department provides these services in partnership and on behalf of Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Inc., their wholesale customers. These services are part of LCRA reinvesting in the communities it serves. “I can’t over-emphasize that we are a community-based organization,” said Stewart. “We need the input, commitment, and investment of the citizens of Blanco County to ensure that our strategies represent the consensus of the folks that live here. I encourage anyone who is interested in getting involved in this process to contact us and get involved.”
There is also talk about developing a signature project in the form of establishing a Sustainable Resource Center near the intersection of Highways 290/281. The Center is envisioned as being a scalable facility, with distance learning, and a focus on green jobs, businesses, and educational services. More immediate is the need to develop a viable website that details some of the basic information of the county. “Blanco County is way behind on our web presence,” said Stewart. “Getting a working website is essential if we are to do business in this environment.”
Ultimately, that is what the BCEDC’s greatest value might be, consolidating resources and bringing the Blanco County community together to manage its economic and business development. There is a long way to go in that respect, but the good news is that the business has started and we can be assured that the BCEDC will continue to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate as it evolves and develops.