In recent weeks, the local Economic Development Corporation has been busy with prospective manufacturing and business companies inquiring about and visiting Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County. With the approach of spring and the first of the year in the rear view mirror, companies are beginning to explore options for expansion and/or relocation.
Roger Feagley, EDC Director, told KSST News he has no set pattern in his approach to working with a prospective company. His approach depends on the company itself. He said some companies prefer that no one knows they are visiting the area. He stated that includes even the EDC knowing that the owner or representative of the company is here. He said other companies like the attention of being obvious in their intent. Some companies desire to get the feel that the community wants growth. Growth does provide problems, Feagley said, but having no growth creates even greater problems. He noted that some communities are dying doe to being short sighted regarding industrial growth. “You want to be a growing community. Yes, there are problems with growth but these are much easier problems than those of dying communities.”
Those companies that do not want anyone to know they are interested in the area are often more concerned that their employees in their current location(s) will learn of their intent. Feagley said that in most cases the company is expanding rather than relocating but there is less stress for employees regarding their stability if their search is less obvious. He also noted there are those that do not want the fanfare of a public visit. He said the EDC will do short meetings with those companies and allow the company to explore on their own.
Often in those brief meetings, the company will ask questions regarding specific concerns. One of those concerns is taxes. The local EDC is able to tell the company representative or owner that local and state taxes are not the highest around. Texas currently ranks 10th lowest in business taxes across the United States. The states that have lower taxes are often states that contend with weather conditions and employment issues such as skill-set of employees due to a more rural environment such as Wyoming. Those coming from other states are often here thanks to the lower state taxes and more affordable housing. According to Feagley, businesses look for the skill set of the employable and an affordable pay scale that matches the need of that business.
Locally, the labor pool seems small. Local unemployment rates are in the upper 3% to lower 4% of the workforce. However, Feagley said there is a labor shed that includes other counties nearby that do have a higher unemployment rate. He stated that people in this area will drive 40-50 miles for a job. The good news is that the unemployment rate is low locally, which means people have jobs and are willing to work, and that there is a skilled workforce and/or available training for workers. Utilizing a computer software program, the number of people to be hired and a work code can be input into the spreadsheet and from that the number of available and trainable employees can be found. He stated that most businesses look for 50 applicants for one job as a rule of thumb for available workers.
Also added to the mix, especially if the company will move employees to the area, is the availability of quality of schools, hospitals, and housing. Most businesses seeking to relocate locally look at housing costs in our area and find it attractive. While in California recently, Feagley was told by one who was looking at housing and housing cost in the area that the individual could sell their home and buy four houses locally. Many who are moving to Texas are buying larger houses and paying cash based on the sale of their home in other states.
As companies seek to relocate or expand, they often ask interesting questions. The strangest question Feagley has ever been asked was, “How many Thai food restaurants in 2o miles of location?” Thankfully, that was when he was located in another area. He said the manager that would move to that area happened to like Thai food. Quirky questions based on the likes of those who will move to the area are often asked. He also noted that the wife of the owner often has a great influence based on her likes.
Locally, the EDC’s ability to construct a building according to the need of the company is a plus. “We are one of the only EDC’s that build for the client.” Small and medium sized businesses are attracted to that because we can build perfect building for client according to the specifics of the client’s need and desire.
Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County are but one of the many in Texas seeking to attract new business and industry. However, the advantages found locally make the area a strong contender.