May 26, 2017
In a meeting of the Board of Directors for the Seminole Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) in City Council chambers last week, SEDC Executive Director Chris Jones unveiled an initial draft of his strategic plan for the city. Subject to the approval of the SEDC Board of Directors, the plan, a roadmap of sorts, represents Jones’ vision of the business future of Seminole, capitalizing on its resources in a variety of areas, and the strengths of its current business climate.
Jones’ plan focuses primarily on four individual areas: Agriculture, Energy, Manufacturing, and Medical. Those represent four areas that either have had a strong foothold in Seminole and Gaines County for decades, or show signs of emerging growth.
According to Jones’ outline, the goal of the strategic plan is “to outline development efforts in Seminole for the next 3-5 years. With an economic development strategic plan, the City of Seminole can bring together it’s entire community to support a vision, goals, and strategies which allow Seminole to grow and thrive. However, economic development is not the responsibility of one individual or board, but rather the responsibility of a committed community. This plan will provide a vision, guiding principles, and simple goals for economic development in the City of Seminole.”
The vision, simply stated, is to “work to promote economic development…by attracting new business and industry, while retaining, supporting, and expanding existing business. The continued effort will result in an expansion of the local tax base and ratepayers, keeping Seminole an affordable, vibrant place to live, work, and play.” Jones’ primary guiding principles advance that vision through “innovation, people-centered activity, and community engaging.
Working in concert with those three principles, Jones’ plan includes stimulating business by challenging existing businesses to expand customer bases by utilizing innovative marketing techniques, expanding “commerce territories” and controlling “leakage” (local dollars being exported to other markets) through “shop local” campaigns. To serve that customer base, much of Jones’ focus in recent months have focused on another goal, greater workforce retention through recruitment and training of skilled workers, primarily building on a local education base with an array of community colleges, technical colleges, and research institutions throughout the region.
As the local workforce becomes increasingly skilled, the intent is to meet yet another goal, the “retooling and cultivating of an environment for new business,” or to enhance that concept, to “redevelop our current workforce to take advantage of future opportunities, while developing a culture of entrepreneurship”.
The primary focus of those strategic goals would include the energy sector, where the region remains a mainstay in meeting the energy needs of the nation and the world. However, Jones’ plan points out that the support sector of the oil and gas industry has not fully met its potential as a local presence. The industry “depends heavily on Texas Tech and Odessa College to produce the needed skill sets”, and there exists a lack of mentorship and career transition into such skills as welding, mechanical engineering, and chemical engineering.
The energy-based aspects of Jones’ draft include possibilities in wind energy and biodiesel. The plan also notes that Xcel Energy currently has a pending application to build a gasoline plant in Gaines County, currently under review by the Public Utility Commission. Other options include advanced photovoltaics technology, a more adaptable and less intrusive alternative to solar panels.
The specifics of Jones’ roadmap toward pursuing such ambitious goals would include continued development of the proposed Seminole Business Park, with an emphasis on the relocation of energy-related businesses from the Houston market, and the main players in an emerging photovoltaic market. Other suggestions are to identify landowners open to providing land for wind farms, and working with an area gin to acquire a biodiesel plant, with possible expansion into ethanol. Jones’ draft cites successful biodiesel ventures in Eastern Europe, where the process has been more economically feasible.
Jones’ plan hopes to capitalize, to a greater degree, on a cooperative effort in workforce dynamics that is already under way with the city’s new partnership with Odessa College. To increase mentorship, the plan suggests the creation of a local chapter of SCORE, which would tap into knowledge gained by retired executives in the oil and gas industry.
In agriculture, the plan articulates the need for greater vigilance in identifying and addressing the volatility of agricultural markets, often subject to shifting priorities in federal farm policy, and the manipulation of markets by investors and day traders. The plan’s efforts would include defining a “sustainable third crop rotation.” It calls for the SEDC to work with the Department of Agriculture to try “to bring innovative, drought resistant ideas to Gaines County, which reinvest nutrients into the soil”, while providing an additional, profitable commodity.
Possible strategies would include the development of a working group of farmers and agricultural specialists, developing stronger ties with the Department of Agriculture, and advancing the idea of creating a local peanut pasting plant and a cotton spinning mill.
In the area of manufacturing, Jones’ draft notes that “Seminole is hone to a strong fabrication workforce”, and that manufacturing in Seminole must be a reflection of these diverse talents. The SEDC’s aim would be to seek out manufacturing companies that produce components relative to the agricultural and oil and gas industries, as well as medical device technology.
Strategies that might be in place to support such goals might be to identify and recruit the top producers of automated technology in the oil and gas industry, as well as the producers of automated farm equipment and medical devices. Jones feels that a market might be created for the refurbishment of wind turbines, and that a strong workforce, skilled in fabrication, might be utilized by defense contractors.
Noting that Texas is a national leader in cancer research, Jones’ draft suggests that opportunities might be available in a small town environment, both in research and treatment. He notes the considerable endowments at the University of Texas and Texas Tech which are targeted toward cancer research. The plan encourages relationships with the two universities’ Health Sciences Centers, as well as seeking out companies engaged in cancer research, and identifying federal grants that are awarded to public-private research partnerships.
Additionally, Jones’ plan would work with the local Hospital Board to help identify the needs for a conventional treatment facility, identify local providers who might be able to provide supportive therapies, and to find ways to provide Business Park facilities in support of these goals.
With their drafts of Jones’ Strategic Plan in hand, some members of the SEDC Board of Directors suggested that the plan might benefit from a series of public roundtables that would allow area residents and business and community leaders to weigh in on the plan’s vision.