Denison community leaders and city officials spent Friday looking back at 2012’s successes and forward to what they seem optimistic will be another year of economic and job growth for the city.
“You’re basically responsible for any success that we have,” Denison Development Alliance Board Chairman Robert Brady told the 100 or so leaders gathered at Grayson College for the 12th annual Economic Development Summit.
Each of the speakers, who ranged from Denison’s business and manufacturing managers and executives to elected and appointed government officials, highlighted different areas of success for the city. Much of the focus, however, fell on growth in manufacturing.
Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said all but one of the manufacturing companies in Denison added employees during the year. “All of our industries are in great shape,” he said.
One of the largest growers was Caterpillar Inc., which almost doubled the number of employees on its payroll over the past year, said Caterpillar Facility Manager of Drills Timothy Pecenka. He also said the company invested more money in the Denison plant over the past year than has been invested in the plant over the past 19 years combined.
The company also expanded beyond its Denison plant this year. It opened a warehouse location in Van Alstyne, moved a subsidiary company, Halco Rock Tools, to a Sherman location, and moved a number of its offices to downtown Denison.
Texoma Medical Center has also had a year of continued growth, said TMC Chief Operating Officer Justin Kendrick. Last year, he said, the company spent $21 million in capital investment and is planning $22 million more for 2013. The hospital also hopes to begin finishing its top two floors this year to open more beds.
At the North Texas Regional Airport-Perrin Field, economic growth is evident in the numbers, said NTRA Marketing Manager Bill Retz. Since 2009, the amount of fuel sold at the airport has more than doubled to 416,894 gallons in 2012. Besides just an indicator of activity at the airport, the sales also provide some tax income to the airport. The number of businesses based at the airport has also increased from 35 in 2009 to 42 in 2012.
That expansion, Retz said, has left all but one hangar filled. To prepare for future expansion at the airport, Grayson County began the process of taking water and sewer to the airport’s west side, which fronts on State Highway 289. The County will complete that this year, just in time for the new west-side tenant, Texas Turbine Conversions Inc.
Speakers pointed to other preparations made for future growth. “I’m confident that this decade … really will shape the next 50 years in Denison,” Denison Mayor Jared Johnson said.
Grayson College President Jeremy McMillan pointed to the work of the college and city of Denison to extend a sewer line along FM 691 to the college. McMillan said, not only will it serve the college but it will serve future development there.
Some of that preparation has also been in less traditional forms. City and Denison Independent School District officials have repeatedly said that the renovations and construction currently underway at the district’s campuses will play a key role in attracting new families to Denison. DISD Superintendent Henry Scott said renovations at all the elementary campuses is completed and overall, the construction projects are approximately 25 percent complete.
In addition to making facilities more attractive, the renovations will allow the district to consolidate its elementary campuses and close two of them, Layne and Golden Rule. Layne was closed at the end of the 2011-2012 school year and demolished in December. Golden Rule is expected to be closed in two years.
Scott said the consolidation is expected to save the district $1.2 million, “money that can be put back into the classroom,” he said.
The district is also looking at a major overhaul of Munson Stadium. The $5 million project will include replacing the home stands; constructing a new field house, press box, concessions stand, entry and new restrooms; and making all the facilities handicap-accessible.
The replacement of the stands are an urgent need for the district. Based on a number of engineering reviews, the stands have structural issues and will be unsafe for use after next year’s football season. As for the other elements to be replaced, some date back to the 1930s and no longer meet the district’s needs. The district still needs to raise $800,000 for the project.
Denison Development Foundation Chairman Matt Looney said the stadium is what many visitors base their opinions of Denison on, and a new and more attractive facility will help to attract new families.
Also as a tool to attract new families, visitors and businesses, the city and community organizations have focused on implementing the new Denison brand that was unveiled at last year’s Economic Development Summit. Denison Area Chamber of Commerce President Anna McKinney, who has taken point on the brand implementation, said it has been incorporated in city, DDA and chamber stationary, websites and advertising. It has also begun to appear on city vehicles, and several businesses have begun to use it.
“The collaboration is great … all of us working together for the common good of our community,” McKinney said. That spirit of partnership was echoed throughout Friday’s summit as speakers talked about each of the projects. “I would say it’s unparalleled,” Pecenka said of the partnerships.
“I’ve seen partnerships here that I haven’t seen in other regions,” McMillan said.
Those partnerships include the cooperation of the city, Chamber, DDA, DISD, Grayson County, city of Sherman and private industry, as well as other government organizations. Perhaps the best example of the partnerships is the a partnership of 10 local industries, DDA, Workforce Solutions Texoma, Grayson College and DISD.
The group is working to provide scholarships to Denison High School graduates to attend Grayson College’s industrial maintenance program. While attending, students also work at one of the partnering industries. The industries also partially fund a full scholarship for students to earn their certificates in industrial maintenance.
“As we develop this region, we need a solid workforce,” said Champion Cooler Corp. Vice President of Manufacturing Brian Aspell. Champion Cooler piloted the program. He said industrial maintenance is a skill set that’s lacking in the current workforce. “We’re starting to fill the pipeline in our own little community,” Aspell said.
The group is also in the second year of a program that allows seniors at DHS to spend half-days of school working in an industry to get a head start in a manufacturing career. “This is how we’re going to get this region to grow,” Aspell said.
Likely the largest preparation move, however, has been the creation of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone or Tax Increment Financing plan for the area around U.S. Highway 75 and 691. The development tool allows the developer for Denison’s gateway to be reimbursed for public infrastructure improvements in the area through revenue generated by the increased property tax revenue that results from the development in the area.
DDA Vice President of Business Development Scott Smathers said, within five years, one quarter of Denison’s property tax will come from that area.
Looking forward to next year, Kaai said, it will be a year of more preparation and growth. Kaai introduced attendees to a new corporate park DDA is planning for the intersection of 75 and FM 84. DDA approved plans to purchase the property from DISD in August.
Kaai said he expects the development of the corner to be 10 to 20 years out, but that the corner will be the next key location for Denison growth.
“It’s going to be phenomenal what we’re going to be able to do on that,” he said.
Kaai said another priority will be finding a new business or businesses for the area that can utilize the skill sets of the former TrailBlazer employees. The company lost its main contract for the Denison location early in 2012 and has laid off most of its employees with lay offs expected to continue through April.
Kaai said DDA is working with two businesses that would be a good fit for the former TrailBlazer employees. Both are waiting on final word about pending government contracts, but Kaai seems optimistic.”Our No. 1 priority this year is to find companies to hire those employees,” he said.