Tag Archives: AEDC

Enjoying a front-row seat of progress

Our new “home” across the way from Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport and the Bell Helicopter aircraft assembly plant has given me a front-row seat to an amazing display of engineering and economic progress.

My wife and I have been living at an RV park within spittin’ distance of AMA and Bell. From our living room we are able to watch jets fly in and out of the airport while also witnessing test flights of a state-of-the-art combat aircraft that is put together right here on the High Plains.

I refer, of course, to the V-22 Osprey, the notable tilt-rotor aircraft that’s seen plenty of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years. The Marine Corps has been using the bird to ferry troops and supplies on and off battlefields in both countries for, oh, about the past decade.

The Osprey hasn’t been without controversy. Many of us recall the terrible crash in Arizona that killed nearly 20 Marines on a test flight.

The Osprey, though, has been re-engineered since that crash. It has been improved. It has been modified to some degree. Today, from what I have heard, it has performed its mission well. The aircraft gives American fighting personnel quicker entrance and exit from the battlefield.

Amarillo used an interesting — and occasionally mocked — economic tool to lure Bell/Textron to the High Plains in the late 1990s. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation offered a lot of money that it collects from sales tax revenue to Bell/Textron, which ended up receiving about $45 million in various inducements, including tax abatements and free land next to AMA.

Bell returned to Amarillo, where it once repaired and maintained Huey helicopters during the Vietnam War.

AEDC hit a home run when it lured Bell/Textron to the region. We have seen it grow over the years, expanding its mission.

I think of all this on occasion as I watch the Osprey take off and land. I recall the ridicule we heard from the Fort Worth area that lost the Bell operation, thanks to Amarillo’s aggressive and creative marketing campaign.

I also look with some pride at what this community has been able to accomplish for its local economic health as well as contributing to the nation’s vaunted military establishment.

I spoke once with a Marine pilot who was stationed in Amarillo to test-fly the Osprey earlier in its development. He mentioned to me how this aircraft was so hard to learn to fly, but once he got the hang of it, the Osprey has turned out to be a lot of fun to fly.

On occasion I think of that Marine as I watch the Osprey glide through its paces above us, and I wonder how much fun they’re having overhead.

AMA: economic lure for Amarillo

I read with some interest a story this week about the Amarillo City Council approving a contract with American Airlines that sets up direct flights between Amarillo and Phoenix, Ariz.

The non-stop flights begin in April. The contract will be for one year; American Airlines will decide at the end of that year whether to extend it depending on its profitability.

My sincere hope is that American keeps the jets in the air between AMA and PHX.

Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport has been a favored lure for the city as an economic development tool. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation once subsidized American Airlines jet service between AMA and Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport; AEDC took a portion of the sales tax revenue it collects and paid the airline to maintain jet service.

AEDC eventually ended the subsidy. The airline dropped jet service for a brief period, but since has restored full jet service to DFW. It now will fly jets out of Amarillo to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

I’ve long touted the value of Amarillo’s air service to my friends and colleagues for as long as I have lived here. We don’t have many air carriers serving this community — American, Southwest and United. But two of those carriers, American and United, have plenty of international flights. When you depart AMA aboard either of those carriers, you are essentially just one stop away from connecting to flights that will take you anywhere on Earth.

Southwest is a highly profitable regional carrier and AMA gets service not just to Dallas Love Field, but also non-stop jet service to Las Vegas, Nev.

While much of our attention — mine included — has focused on downtown revival and on the extensive highway reconstruction along Interstates 40 and 27 as well as on Loop 335, we also can look with considerable pride at the airport that serves the Texas Panhandle.

I once spoke with Sarah Freese, the former aviation director at AMA, about the possibility of getting more carriers to serve this airport. She was hopeful at the time of attracting at least one more carrier. Freese has since moved on and I don’t know the status of the city’s effort to lure more carriers here. I hope it hasn’t withered away.

Amarillo’s airport remains a potentially big draw that will lead to the city’s brightening economic future.

Campaigning for city’s brighter future

Every now and then I get responses to my blog posts commenting on Amarillo’s progress from those who look a bit skeptically at what gets my attention.

I will post something hailing the development downtown. I like looking past the highway headaches we experience along Interstates 40 and 27. Then I get the responses from my fellow Panhandle residents who aren’t as supportive of what I see happening.

That’s their call. Just as my blog posts are my call.

I suppose it’s an unwritten policy of High Plains Blogger to offer positive commentary on Amarillo, where my wife and one of my sons and I have have lived for more than two decades.

I want the city to succeed. I have noticed a decidedly different approach from the city’s governing council regarding Amarillo’s growth and the role that municipal government is playing.

The council once operated under a policy of letting private enterprise carry the ball forward. The city took a more hands-off approach to public involvement. I assumed my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995 and felt a decided slow-down of inertia at City Hall.

That appeared to change with the election of Debra McCartt as the city’s first female mayor. It continued through her time in the mayor’s office and was picked up by her successor, Paul Harpole. This past year, Ginger Nelson took over and seems set on continuing the city’s more proactive approach.

I fully support this form of “good government” and I will continue to use this blog as a forum to express that support.

Some of the more critical observers of Amarillo’s business activity perhaps think of this blog as a forum for a Pollyanna. If that’s the case, well, I would disagree in strong terms.

I’ve been known to toss a brick or two at local political interests when opportunities present themselves. I also have snooped around and found those opportunities hidden in places most folks cannot find.

I won’t assign nefarious motives just for the sake of stirring up trouble. To date, as I’ve watched the city move forward with downtown redevelopment and the myriad other initiatives under way throughout Amarillo, I remain in wholehearted support of what I consider to be a march toward a brighter future.

Cities throw big money at big business

I am not privy to economic development deliberations in Amarillo, but I’ll presume that the city didn’t compete for a big plum that’s become the subject a major-league bidding war among 20 cities in the United States and Canada.

Amazon, the big online retailer, has narrowed its search to a list of finalist cities. Two of them are in Texas: Dallas and Austin.

The payoff is — to borrow a term — yuuuge for the city that wins the right to become Amazon’s second major headquarters.

But here’s the fascinating element of this bidding war: Cities and states are throwing lots of money at Amazon to persuade the company into their communities. Texas isn’t planning, in the words of Gov. Greg Abbott, “to give away the farm.”

Why the fascination? Because little ol’ Amarillo has used this kind of incentive to lure businesses to the Texas Panhandle.

In 1989, voters approved creation of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation. AEDC then began collecting sales tax revenue generated from within the city limits. It builds a cache of money from a half-cent sales tax allotment. It then uses that money as a lure to businesses.

The city has scored many hits and has had its share of misfires along the way.

But it did land a big one in the late 1990s, when Bell/Textron relocated its aircraft assembly operation to Amarillo. AEDC offered Bell roughly $45 million in various inducements, including donated land and tax abatements. Bell built its plant and has been assembling the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, along with other state-of-the-art helicopters.

It lured Bell here from Fort Worth, where there was plenty of teeth-gnashing over being outbid by this isolated burg out here on the High Plains.

States and the cities within them are willing to offer plenty of cash to Amazon. I hope it comes to Texas, not that our state needs much of an economic boost; we’re doing pretty well these days as it is — which no doubt is going to be part of the state’s pitch to lure Amazon either to Big D or the People’s Republic of Austin.

If only Amarillo had a bigger base from which to operate.

AMA gets chance to boost city business climate

Amarillo long has seen its international airport as a gateway to the city’s economic well being.

If you look back over recent history, you find examples of the city forking over public money to keep jet service between the airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; critics called that initiative a form of “economic bribery.” I called it at the time a bold and creative initiative to help make business travel more comfortable for those seeking to do business in Amarillo.

The money came from sales tax revenue collected by the Amarillo Economic Development Corp.

So, with that the city has announced that American Airlines is going to begin daily non-stop service between Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. They’ll fly once daily between AMA and PHX.

The AEDC, City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce see it as a big business opportunity, connecting Amarillo with a key hub out west, enabling travelers to avoid flying east to DFW just to connect and fly west.

That’s a good idea … if the city markets the opportunity as aggressively as it did the AEDC subsidy it paid to American Airlines back when it sought to entice the carrier to keep the jets flying to DFW.

Since I am fully retired and since my wife and I will spend the vast bulk of our domestic travel time in our fifth wheel RV rather than in airports, I don’t have a particular dog in this so-called fight.

For the rest of Amarillo — which appears to be entering an accelerated growth mode — this new air service is good news.

Let there be more.

Open meeting violation? Let’s be careful, council members

Texas has a fairly concise and well-defined law governing open meetings of government bodies. It doesn’t take a great deal insider knowledge to understand the basics.

One of the tenets of the Open Meetings Act is that a quorum — meaning a majority — of a governing body cannot meet without posting it in advance.

Three members of the Amarillo City Council met recently in an informational setting with the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. Since there’s only five council members, a gang of three comprises a majority.

Did they make any decisions? Did they cast votes? Did they discuss city business among themselves? Did they — in the strictest sense — break the law? Probably no on all counts.

I long have chided county commissioners, for example, for sitting at the same table at luncheons. I recall one time spotting three members of the Randall County Commissioners Court at a social event somewhere and admonishing them — in jest — against passing any tax increases while they were breaking bread together.

http://amarillo.com/politics/news/local-news/2017-05-24/amarillo-city-councilmembers-may-have-violated-texas-open

I also am acutely aware of how governing bodies can skirt the Open Meetings Act through what’s called a “rolling quorum.” The presiding officer, say, a mayor, can meet with one council member at a time privately to reach a consensus on a particular issue. Nothing in the law prevents such a series of meetings from occurring. It’s legal, although it’s not always the correct way to conduct the public’s business.

The three council members in question — Howard Smith, Eddy Sauer and Freda Powell — all are smart and astute enough to avoid falling into the trap of talking about city business without first notifying the public.

The council, whose five members all are newbies, are set to complete training on the Open Meetings Act. I trust they’ll be brought up to speed.

I’ve noted already that the Texas law is quite clear. In the future, perhaps all members of the council need to be mindful that the community is watching.

Maybe the ‘outsider’ can mix it up at City Hall

Jared Miller has been called the “outsider” at Amarillo City Hall.

As the Amarillo Globe-News noted in today’s paper, he is the first such individual to be named city manager in many decades.

Going back to the days John Stiff, then to John Ward, to Alan Taylor and then to Jarrett Atkinson, the city has deemed it appropriate to move men up from the ranks into the top job administrative job at City Hall.

Let’s see, Stiff took over in 1963; Miller was hired just this year. That’s at least 54 years before the city reached outside its own municipal government family to find a new manager.

What kind of manager will Miller become? Let’s wait for the answer to that one. I’ve already commented on the outreach he has demonstrated by seeking input from all City Council and mayoral candidates in advance of the May 6 citywide election. He wants to hear their priorities, their goals, their aspirations for the city; he wants them to ask questions of the manager, and I presume for him to ask questions of them.

Miller, who served as San Marcos city manager before taking the Amarillo job, appears to be a good hire. What awaits, though, is for the public to determine whether his outsider status will enable him to make constructive change in the way policy is carried out.

I am not privy to the nuts and bolts of the strategies his predecessors employed at City Hall. I have watched city government operate for the past 22 years as a resident of Amarillo and have been generally impressed by what I’ve witnessed.

I’ve seen the city maintain steady population and economic growth over the years; I’ve watched the city expand and diversify its economic base; I have watched how the city has managed to secure its future through the acquisition of water rights at a time of diminishing water supply.

I also have seen some hiccups along the way. The city has invested in some economic clunkers through its use of sales tax revenue managed by its Economic Development Corporation; the city did hire a downtown redevelopment general management firm that went belly-up amid a big fight between its two principal owners.

What will Jared Miller bring to the table as he makes his imprint on the city’s future?

I shall await eagerly to see how this outsider uses his fresh approach to running a government enterprise worth a few hundred million bucks each year and which has a direct impact on 200,000 lives.

I like what I see … so far.

Clumsiness breaks out at City Hall

Amarillo’s City Council is looking once again like a gang that cannot shoot straight.

It is looking to fill a slot on the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. board. It pushed the name of a prominent local developer, Perry Williams, to the top of its finalist list.

Then the candidate went missing in action. The city couldn’t find him. Williams wasn’t responding to efforts by the city to arrange an interview with him.

Then Williams — who is developing the huge Town Square residential/commercial project on Soncy Road — announced he was backing out. He pulled his application for the AEDC board.

Some media reporting indicates that his application had been “overlooked” by council members.

Huh? What the … ?

The council is looking at four finalists to fill the AEDC spot. I am acquainted with a couple of them, one of whom I would recommend for AEDC.

Sitting way out here in the peanut gallery, I am not sure if Williams backed out because of incompetence by the selection committee, or if he just decided at the last minute he had too much to do already … that he couldn’t devote the time needed to craft job-creation policies.

Service on the AEDC is a big deal. The AEDC is charged with using sales tax revenue to lure new businesses — and to enhance existing businesses — in the search for new jobs.

It does seem a bit strange, though, that the council would “overlook” an application, then push it forward — only to have an applicant suddenly become MIA.

Can we get an explanation? From somebody? Anybody?

Amarillo’s EDC needs to get after it

Amarillo has a new director/president/CEO for its economic development corporation.

Welcome, Barry Albrecht, to Amarillo and good luck to you as you start your new gig as head of the Amarillo EDC.

Here is my particular hope: Turn the AEDC loose to pursue job growth and to lure businesses using a tiny portion of tax revenue generated by the purchase of goods and services within the city.

Albrecht seems like a top-drawer kind of guy with plenty of economic development experience in his background.

City Hall, though, did something this past spring that created a bit of concern. It essentially demoted AEDC, rolling many of its economic development functions into existing City Hall departments. Buzz David retired as president/CEO and the city took a good bit of time looking for a suitable replacement.

AEDC has been an important part of the city’s economic growth since its inception in 1989, when voters approved a measure that sets aside a half-cent of sales tax revenue for the purpose of luring business and industry to Amarillo.

AEDC has scored some monumental successes over the years using this strategy. I will cite two of them:

* Bell Helicopter’s massive aircraft assembly operation next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. The AEDC, as I recall, pledged tax incentives and actual cash amounting to around $45 million to lure Bell back to Amarillo in 1999 to assemble the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. Yes, it’s a lot of money. It has paid off rather handsomely.

* The Hilmar Cheese Plant in Dallam County. This project drew some criticism from those who wondered out loud why AEDC was granting money to a company to build an operation way up yonder in Dalhart. Buzz David was adamant that the investment would bode well for the entire region — including Amarillo. He was right.

Have there been hiccups along the way? Sure. But the AEDC has proved its mettle as an economic development inducement tool for Amarillo.

http://amarillo.com/2017-01-06/amarillo-economic-development-corp-names-new-president

The city would do quite well to spring AEDC loose on its quest to use the resources it banks every year from sales tax revenue to expand existing business and to attract future business to the city — and, yes, the region.

Welcome to the fray, mayoral candidate Nelson

image529523_web1_ginger-nelson-img_4263

I do not know Ginger Nelson, other than what I’ve heard about her.

Solid citizen, seasoned lawyer, dedicated to Amarillo’s economic future, smart, idealistic, well-educated … and all the other good things one attaches to those who seek public office.

Nelson is running for Amarillo mayor. Hers is the first name on the municipal ballot that I expect will fill to the brim by the time registration closes for the May 2017 election.

The story I saw in the Amarillo Globe-News didn’t mention, though, a word about the current mayor, Paul Harpole.

http://amarillo.com/news/2016-12-14/it-s-official-amarillo-has-1st-mayoral-candidate

A little birdie or two has told me Harpole isn’t going to seek re-election. Officially, he’s undecided. My strong hunch is that he likely won’t run now that Nelson is running.

Nelson brings a good bit of civic involvement to this race, stemming mostly from her work on the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, an organization near and dear to Harpole’s heart.

It stands to reason, therefore, that a candidate with strong AEDC ties likely could preclude the incumbent from seeking another term. Nelson said she’s quitting the AEDC to devote all her energy to winning the mayor’s seat.

I think this bodes well for a City Council that has been roiled in conflict since the May 2015 election. Harpole has been part of what former interim City Manager Terry Childers called the “dysfunction” at City Hall.

A fresh face and fresh ideas — along with a demonstrated commitment to economic growth and stability — might be just what the city needs at this juncture of its redevelopment. It’s been a rough ride at times during the past two years: the resignation of a city manager and the abrupt departure of his interim replacement; ongoing hiccups with downtown redevelopment and the relocation of a baseball franchise to Amarillo; occasional flaring of tempers among City Council members.

I’ll await along with the rest of the city’s residents Mayor Harpole’s decision on whether he intends to run. My grumbling gut tells me he’s out, paving the way for someone of Ginger Nelson’s leanings to seek to guide the city toward a bright future.