Jacksboro’s Economic Development Board had already demonstrated significant economic development savvy, especially when you consider the town has a population of about 4,700 people, and roughly 1,000 of those souls actually live in the prison that employs 200 or so of Jacksboro’s citizens. This is a small town. They told me they were new to economic development and needed help to get up to speed and then to get serious about moving their town forward.
I love working with rural communities. The people are genuine, passionate and straightforward. They expect a good value, and if you say you’re going to do something, you’d better be prepared to do it. They are my kind of people. But economic development is a long-term game, wherever you play it. In rural places, it is likely to take even longer– to engage key players and develop your overall strategy, dig into necessary sub-plans, identify funding, grow entrepreneurs and, eventually, start to see the physical signs of progress. I’d say the folks in Jacksboro were working on economic development for a good 10-15 years before they ever established their board, and well before that, they were thinking like economic developers. They just weren’t calling it that.
Jacksboro was building up their public works infrastructure. When a big business came to call but walked away at the first sight of aging schools, Jacksboro set out to build all new Jacksboro schools. Their Twin Lakes and ballpark are beautiful and overflowing with families enjoying the cool breeze and tree-covered rolling hillsides. Lost Creek Reservoir State Trailway is a 10-mile hike, bike and equestrian trail that goes from Fort Richardson State Park all the way to Twin Lakes and is peppered with interpretive displays that shed light on the rich history of this town that is just over an hour outside of Dallas/Fort Worth.
Jacksboro’s been busy laying the groundwork for economic development. They just wanted to be better informed about the strategies, resources and opportunities available to them as a rural Texas town seeking to better itself. After some brainstorming, we decided that rather than limiting ourselves to our typical TEEX Community Economic Development Strategy process, we’d also develop a training course. We’d been thinking about creating a course entitled Economic Development for Local Leaders, and Jacksboro agreed to be our guinea pig. We also decided that we needed to help Jacksboro tell their story to the people in Austin who might be able to help Jacksboro execute their newly minted plan. So, we committed to introduce them to our friends at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism, Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Historical Commission, their local workforce board, and others.
The inaugural delivery of the Economic Development for Local Leaders course in Jacksboro was well-received. The members of the Economic Development Board participated in all the modules and came away with lots of ideas. It was great that Lynda Pack, their new (and first-ever) Economic Development Director, was able to join us for the course. And the following day, some 25 citizens came together for a vision and strategy session. What a day! You’ll never learn as much about the spirit of a place as you will when you get people together to share their dreams and talk about the home they love. You uncover secrets that I like to call points of pride – it’s these unique qualities and assets that make the locals stand a little taller. In Jacksboro, one example is Kathy Warnell’s gourmet catering. She catered our meals for both the training and the planning workshop. There was a beautiful display of fresh foods prepared with incredible attention to detail, which we consumed with absolutely no regard for gluttony…we just couldn’t help ourselves. Another point of pride is the town’s incredible generosity. They get behind a cause with their personal pocketbooks. Plus, their work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit is vibrant. All of these and many other assets were uncovered that day and will serve the community well as it moves forward.
Jacksboro’s local leaders now have a deeper understanding of the elements of a sound economic development program. We’ve finalized and celebrated the adoption of the first Jacksboro economic development strategy. Their presentation is coming together, and we’ll all be meeting in Austin later this month to tell their story and seek support for specific projects. Jacksboro Economic Development is up and running. And that’s going to be great for Jacksboro. I’m honored to have worked with them to create their plan. Even more, I’m grateful that they’ve helped TEEX to create a new suite of tools called Rural Jump Start that will enable other rural communities to “jump start” their economies with their own plan, built on unique assets and personal dreams, and the will and resources to execute it.
Joan Quintana is the economic development and market intelligence program director for TEEX's Technology and Economic Development Division (TED). She welcomes your comments.