Tag Archives: Amarillo EDC

Group doesn’t need this expression of support, but it gets it anyway

A group of high-powered, relatively high-profile individuals formed to help guide a city’s future doesn’t need a word of support from bloggers like me, but it’s going to get it anyway.

Here it comes.

Amarillo Matters came into being in 2016 with a fairly straightforward agenda. It wants to elect highly qualified individuals to local government positions. It wants to promote Amarillo’s economic well-being. It wants to help craft a “positive” agenda for the city.

I keep wondering: What is so wrong with that?

Amarillo Matters recently unveiled a new website. It has included a roster of its board of directors, which up to now had been kept more or less under wraps. Now the community knows who comprises the Amarillo Matters board, who is setting the agenda for the political action committee.

I’ve moved away from Amarillo. However, I remain intently interested in the future of the city where I lived for more than 20 years. I hear occasional grumbling from some in the community who continue to question the motives of Amarillo Matters. I cannot say the grumbling is widespread, or even that it comes from a significant minority of the city’s residents. The complainers are able to have their voices heard far beyond their numbers.

I am not a Pollyanna. I am not looking back at my former city of residence with a sense of naivete. However, I am unable to find a legitimate reason to question whether a group of successful individuals has the community’s best interests at heart.

What I do question are those who criticize individuals simply on the basis of the success they have enjoyed in their professional lives. Isn’t their success part of what we hail as “the American way”?

I wish Amarillo Matters well as it heads on down its road. The future of their city, to my eyes, is looking brighter. There can be nothing wrong with that.

AQHA needs more than signatures to stay in Amarillo

Here is what I have gleaned so far from news that Fort Worth might be making an effort to lure the American Quarter Horse Association Museum from Amarillo to Cow Town …

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson has launched a petition drive to collect signatures from Texas Panhandle residents seeking to persuade the AQHA movers and shakers to stay put, to avoid relocating.

Fort Worth City Council has signed a 50-year lease agreement that well could result in the development of a site where the AQHA Museum, a fixture in Amarillo for 70 years, could be relocated.

The story apparently is causing a stir in Amarillo, which doesn’t want to lose the iconic institution, created in Amarillo to salute the ranching industry that has been so vital to the development of the Panhandle since the mid-19th century.

This is no great flash, but it is going to take a whole lot more than thousands of names attached to a petition to keep the AQHA anchored in the Panhandle. It will take some financial inducements, as in real American money. 

I don’t know what those inducements would include. I do know that the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation in the past has employed an aggressive strategy to lure businesses to the region in the name of job creation. It uses a portion of sales tax revenue it collects to help start-up businesses, or to lure big-time employers to the region. The Bell-Textron aircraft assembly operation and the Hilmar Cheese plant in Dallam County are two prime examples of the success enjoyed by AEDC’s strategy.

I don’t know if there is a provision in AEDC’s charter that allows such inducements that would apply to retaining an existing organization, or even if there is much actual job growth associated with such a plan.

All I am left to presume is that signatures on a petition carry the same tangible value as political leaders sending “thoughts and prayers” to victims of gun violence.

This effort to keep AQHA where it’s been for seven decades doesn’t look terribly promising.

AEDC scores big with Bell Helicopter project

The Texas Legislature took a moment before adjourning this week to offer a well-deserved salute to a company that took a gamble that has paid off in a major way.

The company was Bell/Textron, which once used to assemble aircraft in the Fort Worth area. Then in the late 1990s, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation dangled a significant financial incentive package to lure Bell/Textron away from the Metroplex to the Texas Panhandle.

That was 20 years ago. The Legislature approved a resolution saluting AEDC and Bell/Textron for the decision to relocate to Amarillo. Man, this investment has paid off handsomely.

AEDC lured Bell/Textron to Amarillo with an incentive totaling around $45 million. It included tax abatements and free land next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. Bell/Textron took the bait and built a plant where it assembles V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which at the time — and it still is! — was considered a state-of-the-art airplane that can take off like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing airplane.

The V-22 has endured some controversy and some tragedy. Planes have crashed, killing service personnel who were aboard. Bell grounded the aircraft while it worked on the issues that caused a particular crash that killed 19 Marines. It fixed the issue.

The plane has been deployed to battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it ferries troops and supplies to and away from the field of combat. It has worked well.

The AEDC incentive that lured Bell to Amarillo drew plenty of criticism, particularly from the Fort Worth area that lost the corporate neighbor. Metroplex media bitched about how Amarillo was essentially bribing companies to relocate to the region.

Well, I believe they were suffering from sour-grape indigestion.

AEDC collects a half-cent on every dollar in sales tax revenue in Amarillo. It banks that money and then uses it for purposes such as the one that brought Bell/Textron to the Panhandle. AEDC sees the money as an investment on job creation. So it has worked. Some projects have paid off better than others. AEDC has had some misfires along the way, to be sure.

However, the Bell/Textron investment has paid off well for the company, as well as for Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle.

The Marines are still flying the V-22; the Air Force and Army have signed on as well.

There are time when you need to take a gamble in search of a big return. Amarillo’s economic development planners saw the potential of such a gamble . . . and have reaped the reward.

Texas Tech preparing to enlarge its Panhandle footprint

Texas Tech University really wants to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. For that the entire Panhandle should be grateful to the Lubbock-based university system.

Two committees comprising Tech regents have approved a degree plan for the school and a design for the way they want it to look.

It’s going to be erected near Tech’s health sciences center in west Amarillo. It’s going to cost more than $80 million over five years to operate; construction will cost around $89 million. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, with the blessing of the Amarillo City Council, has committed around $69 million in public money to lure the veterinary medicine school to Amarillo.

The school isn’t a done deal just yet. Tech’s regents, along with Chancellor Bob Duncan, are acting as if it is.

That’s fine. The Texas Legislature will be able to weigh in next year.

However, Tech has made the case for a new school of veterinary medicine. It wants to build it in Amarillo, cementing its commitment to the Panhandle.

Read the Amarillo Globe-News story here.

Tech will build this school over the objection of the Texas A&M University System, which has the heretofore only vet school in Texas. A&M officials don’t want Tech to build the school. The reasons why escape me, given that the state is large enough to field enough students for both veterinary medicine schools.

The Tech vet school is going to specialize in large animal veterinary medical care.

This is a huge boon to the Panhandle. My perch from some distance away doesn’t lessen my own support for this worthwhile and stunning advance in the region’s economic well-being.

AEDC keeps earning its spurs

Amarillo has just witnessed yet another example of the wisdom its voters exhibited in 1989 when they approved the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

AEDC has pledged $69 million to Texas Tech University as an inducement for the construction of a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

For the past 29 years, AEDC has had its share of successes of varying degrees of significance. Has it batted a thousand? No. There have been some misfires. But the Tech vet school initiative is a big deal that over time is going to rank up there with another huge catch that AEDC managed to reel in.

I refer to the Bell/Textron aircraft assembly operation along Airport Boulevard, next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. AEDC kicked in about $45 million in 1998 to bring Bell back to Amarillo from Fort Worth.

Critics of that initiative bitched out loud about it. But the funding mechanism that AEDC uses was put to good use when Bell decided to build the assembly plant where it puts together the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft; the Bell operation has expanded as well, with work on various military helicopters.

AEDC collects money from a half-cent sales tax derived from the purchase of goods and services. Over many years, AEDC has built a significant fund that it invests to allow it to grow and which AEDC then uses to lure prospective businesses to Amarillo — and to the greater Panhandle region.

The Hilmar Cheese project is another AEDC project that has paid off handsomely for the region. Yes, the plant is in Dalhart and AEDC’s involvement in granting public money did attract some negative response. Then-AEDC head Buzz David dismissed the criticism, noting correctly that the jobs created by the cheese operation would ripple across the Panhandle and, yes, into Amarillo. And they have.

Amarillo voters delivered a visionary endorsement at a time when the city — indeed, the region and the state — were going through a difficult economic period. The late 1980s was an unhappy period in Amarillo, but the creation of AEDC perhaps demonstrated a community’s need to roll the dice on a new endeavor that at the time presented only the promise of a better day.

That promise has been delivered.

Here’s an idea: How about sprucing up AMA?

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson rode into office partly on the strength of an ambitious six-point campaign platform.

It pays a lot of attention to economic development, fiscal responsibility, accountability to taxpayers and even makes a nod toward improving the appearance of public rights-of-way along our interstate highways.

I didn’t see any mention of Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. Indeed, I am keeping my copy of an Amarillo Globe-News story that profiled Nelson’s campaign platform; my intent is to remind myself of issues she is addressing and which of them she needs to devote more attention.

About the airport.

I just returned this evening from a quick trip to AMA and noticed a couple of things about the site.

One is that the grounds immediately around the covered parking structures look better than they have looked in recent months. The grass is cut and trimmed. I did notice a number of weeds sprouting through the pavement in the parking lot. Tsk, tsk.

The other thing I continually notice as I drive along Airport Drive is that it, um, is so non-descript. I didn’t notice a “Welcome to Amarillo” sign, or any roadside artwork that depicts the personality of the community travelers are visiting … many for the first time, or perhaps for the only time.

I make the point about AMA for this reason: In the 1990s, the city spent a lot of tax money to subsidize jet traffic provided by American Airlines. The idea of spending Amarillo Economic Development Corporation sales tax revenue on these jet aircraft was to make air travel more comfortable for business travelers. The AEDC subsidy was intended to lure business to Amarillo. It drew its share of criticism from other communities. Frankly, it sounded like so much sour grapes.

I found the strategy to be innovative, aggressive and ambitious. The city ended the subsidy. American Airlines pulled the jets out of its Amarillo-to-D/FW route — for a time. Then the airline brought jet traffic back to AMA, as did United Airlines and Continental; Southwest always flew jets in and out of AMA.

The city once staked a lot of public money on air service at its airport. What’s more, in recent years the city has renovated and remodeled AMA, modernizing the terminal, turning it into an attractive site.

We have a new mayor and an entirely new City Council making policy at City Hall. Our new city manager, Jared Miller, came here from San Marcos with a reputation as someone who emphasized economic development.

I’ll throw this idea out to them all for consideration: How about developing some sort of strategy to make Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport a good bit more inviting to those who come here from the Metroplex, from Houston, Denver, from Las Vegas or from Phoenix?

There might be a business opportunity to be gained for the city if the traveler gets a first-glimpse look at what the city has to offer on his or her way out of the airport.

Just some food for thought, folks.

Randall County office also set for major makeover

I have been commenting from time to time about the extreme makeover under way in downtown Amarillo.

Given that I don’t get out quite as much as I did when I worked for a living, I recently discovered another makeover project for which many Randall County employees — and perhaps residents, too — have been waiting.

We were driving south on Western Street when I shot a glance to the right and noticed a building that used to house an insurance company. Eventually, it’s going to house the Randall County Courthouse Annex.

Work on the building is well under way.

County Judge Ernie Houdashell told me some weeks ago about the purchase of the old Nationwide building and the realization of his longtime effort to relocate the county annex from its cramped quarters at South Georgia Street and Interstate 27.

I give Houdashell a huge dose of credit for bringing this project together. He had dickered and bickered with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to sell the Nationwide structure to the county. AEDC apparently had some issues that it was able to resolve with the county.

So now the county owns the structure and is refitting it to meet its needs.

The annex does the vast majority of the county’s tax business, even though the county seat is in Canyon, about 15 miles south of Amarillo, which straddles the Randall-Potter County line. Amarillo contains about 75 percent of Randall County’s population and generates about 80 percent of the tax revenue used to finance county government.

The annex will include the auto registration operation, along with a sheriff’s department presence and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace court. I cannot recall the precise square footage increase that the county will get in the new structure, but I am aware that it’s going to be substantially more than it has at the Georgia Street site.

What’s going to happen to the current annex building? Houdashell hopes the county can deed it over to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, which is in the process of raising money for its new interpretive center.

Houdashell, always the dealmaker, already has added an F-100 fighter jet to the War Memorial grounds, along with a Vietnam War-era UH-1 Huey helicopter, the kind of ship on which Houdashell served during the Vietnam War.

Yes, the downtown work is important to Amarillo and will bring tremendous value to the city over time when all the work is done. It’s not the only place, though, that’s undergoing a serious change.

I will look forward to watching the courthouse annex work progress — along with Randall County’s continuing evolution.

After all that … council makes a great AEDC choice

Well, that was a bit of a bumpy ride but the Amarillo City Council finally finished a short trip down a rocky road.

It chose Laura Street — a certifiable force of economic development nature — to fill a vacancy on the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

The vacancy occurred when Ginger Nelson resigned while announcing her candidacy for mayor.

The council voted 4-1 to select Street, with Councilman Randy Burkett casting the lone negative vote; hmmm, imagine that.

The ride got a bit bumpy toward the end of this process when applications for the AEDC post went missing. They were “overlooked” by council members. One applicant, real estate developer Perry Williams, emerged as a “favorite” for the spot when his application was discovered. It turned out Williams wasn’t answering city requests to meet with him — and then he pulled his name out of consideration.

The council looked a bit like a gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Then it hit pay dirt with Street’s appointment. Street has been active in civic and business affairs for years and she brings a huge demonstrated commitment to the city’s economic well-being to her new post.

AEDC’s mission has been revamped a bit since the resignation of City Manager Jarrett Atkinson. The former interim manager, Terry Childers, took some of AEDC’s duties away from the board and placed them in the hands of City Hall staffers. AEDC president and CEO Buzz David¬†retired and moved to Washington state. Now the corporation has a new CEO and it has a full complement of board members.

What’s more, the city has a new manager — Jared Miller — who got the job largely on the basis of his emphasis and experience with¬†economic development.

So, let’s get busy.

Amarillo’s political divide has been exposed

mayor and nair

Just when some of us had hoped the Amarillo City Council’s five-man lineup¬†might learn to cooperate among themselves, we see an exhibition of non-cooperation.

Let’s see how this goes.

The council was going to consider two appointments to the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, the city’s publicly funded development arm. The debate got a bit rowdy, as I understand it.

Two council members, Mayor Paul Harpole and Councilman Brian Eades, objected to the appointments being considered. The other three supported them.

Then came a motion from one of the other three, Councilman Randy Burkett, to shut down the public meeting and vote without any further public discussion.

Then the council voted 3-2 to seat the two new members — Craig Gualtiere and Brian Heinrich.

That was it.

I’m not going to comment — at least not today — on the individuals who’ve been seated. I know one of them pretty well. I consider him a friend.

What does trouble me are two aspects of this selection process: the effort to shut down the public discussion and the division that splits the three newest members of the council from the two more experienced hands.

Burkett, Mark Nair and Elisha Demerson all were elected to bring change, openness and transparency to the council. Their actions this week in shutting down the discussion speaks to other instincts that look a lot like what they accused the former council of doing.

Public comment be damned!

As for the division that laid itself wide open this week, that will need to be dealt with as the council moves forward on a number of citywide projects and policy decisions. I don’t mind tension among governing officials if it leads to constructive conclusions.

My hope here is that the division that erupted over the AEDC selection doesn’t stymie the work of the economic development agency, which in my view has done well for the city since voters approved its creation in 1989.

As for shutting out the public’s views on who should serve, let us also remember: The AEDC parcels out public money collected from a portion of the sales tax revenue¬†contributed by, um, the public.

That is our business being conducted. The public has every right to have a say in determining who is making these decisions.

Stay the course with AEDC

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Buzz David’s tenure as head of Amarillo’s leading economic development arm is about to end.

I read the newspaper account of his supposed “retirement” twice this afternoon and I’m left with a nagging takeaway: There seems to be more than meets the eye in his announced departure from the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

I don’t know the particulars. AEDC called his announcement a “retirement,” while David insists he’s going to stay in the economic development game after his tenure at AEDC ends late this month.

Whatever the case turns out to be, I want to declare that AEDC has succeeded so far in fulfilling its mission to bring jobs to Amarillo and the Panhandle and that David has been a major factor in that success.

The city should seek to find a suitable replacement, someone with the kind of economic development chops that David exhibited during his decade-plus as president and CEO of AEDC.

As for AEDC itself, my unsolicited advice to the Amarillo City Council is clear cut and unequivocal: Don’t mess with it.

I say this because of some careless talk around the city immediately after this past year’s municipal election that the AEDC board should resign en masse. That talk subsided immediately, for which I am grateful.

I had the chance to watch David up close for many years while I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo newspaper. I’ve had many discussions with him during that time and since my departure from the paper more than three years ago.

I consider David to be an impressive individual with loads of business savvy. If you ask him about criticism of certain projects AEDC brought to Amarillo, he’s straightforward and direct in answering them.

I once inquired about the Hilmar Cheese plant that AEDC awarded several million dollars to build in Dalhart. David’s response? The money was well-spent, given that the economic impact of that operation ripples far beyond Dallam and Hartley counties.

The Bell aircraft assembly operation came into being before David arrived at AEDC. It, too, has produced huge economic impact for the region. On David’s watch at AEDC, the operation has continued to expand.

AEDC’s strategy is to use the money it accrues from the half-cent municipal sales tax it collects and then doles it out to businesses interested in locating in Amarillo.

That strategy drew considerable scorn from the Dallas-Fort Worth media after Amarillo managed to lure the Bell aircraft operation from Tarrant County to its current location next door to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

It worked! Period.

Yes, there have been some hiccups along the way. Businesses that set up shop here after receiving AEDC assistance have failed.

The bottom line, though, looks good.

I wish Buzz David well as he moves on to his next station in life.

Moreover, my hope is that the city doesn’t mess with the successes built by its economic development corporation.