Brownwood News – The Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the 2020 Economic Summit on Wednesday, March 12, on the campus of Howard Payne University. Keynote speaker was Dr. David Anderson, Professor and AgriLife Extension Economist at Texas A & M University.
Dr. Anderson (shown above) said that the agriculture industry (food and fiber) in Texas is valued at $145 billion, which is 9.1% of the $1.6 trillion Texas gross domestic product. The leading Texas agriculture commodities are: cattle, cotton, and dairy. Agriculture is second only to the oil and gas industry in Texas.
Current economic conditions include low commodity prices on dairy, cattle, and crops, but Dr. Anderson believes there is good opportunity in pork, beef, and chicken. Agriculture exports have grown in recent years, featuring dramatic increase in exports to China in 2019. The cause of the increase to China is an agricultural disease in that country which has decimated their hog production.
Dr. Anderson said that the agriculture industry is affected by the strength of the U.S. economy, overseas trade, and wild cards such as the corona virus.
Gina Jameson, President of the Heartland Association of Realtors, gave a presentation on the real estate market in Brownwood. The median sales price for residential real estate in Brownwood in 2019 was $132,000, up from $106,000 in 2015. Closed sales in 2019 were 442, up from 384 in 2015. Active listings at the end of 2019 were 190, down from 298 in 2015, and months of inventory was 4.4 in 2019, down from 8.1 in 2015. All of the above indicate a seller’s market currently.
Also presenting were Ray Tipton and Marshall McIntosh of the Brownwood Municipal Development District (shown above). They reported that in 2019 the BMDD provided $166,000 in building improvement funds, which – matched with $559,000 in private investment – resulted in a number of small business building improvements, including The Glamour Shop, Hamilton’s, Teddy’s Brewhaus, and The Pioneer Taphouse. The BMDD also provided money for sidewalk and lighting improvements on Baker and Milton Streets downtown.
The city has created an Opportunity Zone, as a result of a 2017 federal law, which allows for deferred payment of capital gains taxes on qualified businesses in the zone. The Opportunity Zone includes downtown and goes south and east from there. Also the City has engaged a firm to perform a feasibility study on the old Hotel Brownwood on Fisk Ave. downtown.
Things to look forward to in 2020 include a new hotel on East Commerce behind Studebaker’s Café. Tipton said that many times when big events are occurring in Brownwood, such as sports tournaments, many people have to stay in hotels in nearby communities, because we do not have enough hotel rooms currently. The highest day for hotel occupancy is Tuesdays, because of business travelers. Also in 2020 Howard Payne University will begin construction of the new Newbury Welcome Center, a $2.5 million project, on the corner of Austin and Center Avenues. HPU also plans a $2 million renovation of the Academy of Freedom building, with fundraising for that project still ongoing.
The Brownwood Regional Medical Center is planning $21 million of improvements over the next five years, which will result in 60 new jobs.
The City is considering renovations to the Coliseum as well as a new mid-size event center, which if approved by the City Council, would involve the remodeling of the city-owned “Timmins building” on East Baker St.
Tipton also reported on the 3M “MAP Program”, MAP standing for Manufacturing and Academic Partnership. As the name implies, it is a joint venture between 3M, Brownwood High School, and Texas State Technical College which teaches the basics of mechanics, electronics, and hydraulics in the manufacturing process.
Other information provided by Tipton and McIntosh:
*** Brownwood sales tax collections in 2019 were $7.6 million (an all-time high), up from $7.122 million in 2018.
*** The unemployment rate at the end of 2019 was 3.6% in Brownwood, as compared to 3.4% for the state of Texas.
*** Annual construction valuation in 2019 was $11.798 million, up from $10.097 million in 2018
*** Daily traffic count on East Commerce in 2018 was 18,700, up from 17,388 in 2014. On West Commerce the daily traffic count was 26,305 in 2018, up from 20,775 in 2014.
*** Direct visitor spending in Brown County in 2018 was $54.33 million, up from $50.50 million in 2017 and $47.010 million in 2016. As a point of comparison, the 3M plant in Brownwood employs over 500 employees with a payroll of $45 million. Thus the tourism industry in Brown County is comparable to other major industries in the area.
Also speaking was rural consultant Bob Turner. Turner said the most important issue before the Texas Legislature in 2021 will be redistricting. Texas is projected to have a 2020 population of at least 28 million, with most of the growth taking place east of I-35. In fact, he said Harris County currently has more representatives in the Legislature than all of Texas west of I-35. New districts will probably grow from about 150,000 constituents to about 200,000, which will likely result in the loss of one or more representatives from West Texas, thus less representation for rural areas. He encouraged everyone to respond promptly and accurately to the 2020 Census, as it has huge implications for education, transportation, and military spending.
(story by Mike Blagg)