Changing Views on Economic Development?

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Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

Reading Erath County Rant and Rave on Facebook, it occurred to me that the discussions on economic development are beginning to become a little more sophisticated.  Many comments are same old same old, but some are beginning to reflect more original and creative thinking. 

Of course, I came across the usual complaints about Stephenville businesses, or the lack thereof (all quotes in Italics are copied “as is”):

  • Rant on the grocery store options in Stephenville!
    We now shop at Granbury HEB regularly for our weekly groceries. ~the prices are lower, better selections, LOVE THE FRESH PRODUCE and no ridiculously long lines!! Just so frustrating that we can’t shop locally because Stepheville businesses aren’t growing to accommodate the needs of the population which is obviously growing tremendously! Ugh.
  • Dear Stephenville,
    Can we please get some good stores? Target? Home depo? lowes? Aldi? Kroger? Kmart? Gosh the list could go on and on!
    Sincerely,
    Erath and surrounding counties
  • We have nothing here anymore, bowling alley gone skating rink gone ,movies half the time there not the big hits!!!!!! sick of wal mart and heb
  • And so on.

And there still seems to be a rule that any complaint about the local economy must always be accompanied by assertions that somehow the Stephenville City Council is to blame:

  • City counsel doesn’t want to let new business’s into Stephenville!!!! We have only a Walmart and an HEB which is to small but they don’t seem to care!!!!! We got a bunch of junk food places though!!!! Maybe someday times will change!!!!!
  • We have had plenty of chance to get more restaurants and businesses in this town. We need a new city council that will want more for this town and not want to keep the mom and pops places in town.
  • Yada Yada Yada.  Blah Blah Big Blah.

But others are beginning to grasp that the failure of Lowe’s to come in was not necessarily the city council’s fault.  According to one rather refreshing statement:

  • Lowes. They were not denied [the opportunity to come to Stephenville]. The city made many concessions to bring them in. A lot on negotiation. Lowes pulled out, then they came back to the table to put a deal together. During that period the private land owner raised their selling price and Lowes could no longer make the numbers work.

And amid all the wish lists and council-bashing there are beginning to appear statements showing some grasp of the economic realities, as well as raising a very important question not previously debated.  For example, one participant to the discussion said:

  • Just takes money! That said, not many of them are doable, even with the money. Most of these will tell you there are not enough ‘roof tops’. Trust me, they have been approached. And the Lowes and Home Depot had a good EXCUSE to not come. It wasn’t all the city’s fault. Partly, but not all.

Of course, he had to take his obligatory swipe at the city, but he did nonetheless get to the nub of the problem of attracting more businesses here.  As the reps from Lowe’s told the city council when they first approached us for concessions, Stephenville is simply too small to generate enough profit to normally make establishing a branch here worthwhile—not enough “roof tops.”  NO business will come here if it believes it can’t profit sufficiently, and a major “problem” of Stephenville is that there aren’t enough residents, or “roof tops” to generate the needed profit.

But other comments indicated that Stephenville’s population is not a problem, but actually one of the city’s more attractive features:

  • I love Stephenville. Perfect size for me. I moved here to Hico a few months ago from San Antonio because I’m sick of the city life. I never felt safe in a city. For me, I personally moved here because I love small town living. I know people that move from small towns because they would rather be in a bigger place too. Find somewhere you like living and be happy. I am. Thank you Hico. And thank you Sville! PS the Walmart does suck but I don’t mind. It’s worth the tradeoff.

And some are noting that bringing in more businesses may actually cause Stephenville to not  grow bigger in population, but change its very nature, and they’re asking whether the increased size is worth the increased numbers of businesses:

  • Do you enjoy living in a small town? Then keep it small, you bring big name stores here you bring the big city people with it. And before you know it Stephenville and Frisco are one in the same. If you want big stores move closer to them!

I personally don’t think economic growth and development should be stifled to preserve whatever “small town” virtues Stephenville might possess.  One could not block change in Stephenville even if one wanted to.  One can determine, within limits, the rate and direction of change, but one can never eliminate the fact of change. 

Besides, to try to do so might infringe on the right of buyers and sellers of goods and service to engage in commerce, which is why, believe it or not, I’ve NEVER TRIED TO BLOCK Lowe’s, Home Depot, or any other business from coming to town.  I’ve always said the city should supply the infrastructure and rules for competition, and otherwise act as a referee or umpire as businesses seek customers and profits, by applying the rules with fairness to all and favoritism for none. 

But even if my views continue to put me in a small minority, I’m still glad to see the evolution of other views as well.  The growing knowledge, sophistication, discernment, and imagination of those commenting on economic development in Stephenville will produce a better debate on the subject, regardless of whose views ultimately prevail.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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