By Emily Banks Wooten
“Doing business within is so critical. When you invest in this community, you’re investing in yourself and your own business,” John Tarver told those who attended a recent ‘Lunch & Learn’ hosted by the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce. Tarver is the new president and executive director of the Polk County Economic Development Corporation, a part-time position he started in January of this year.
“I see a lot more potential growth for this region. Polk County is a desirable place to live. There’s not a lot of vacant land between here and Houston. Growth is coming and it’s going to be substantial,” he said.
“The 2000 census – the last really true census – showed a population of 41,000 for Polk County. It is estimated that by the 2030 census, Polk County will have a population of 58,000-59,000,” he said.
Tarver said there are 1,653 businesses in the county, an unemployment rate of 6.5% and approximately 300 homes for sale presently.
“Some people don’t realize it but Polk County is kind of a leader in renewable energy, both solar and hydro. Another thing I see as huge growth potential for Polk County is Naskila Casino. They recently conducted an impact study that showed that the amount of economic activity that Naskila generates has grown from $140 million in 2018 and $170 million in 2020 to $212 million today. That’s phenomenal investment in the area,” Tarver said.
He mentioned expansions at Georgia Pacific as well as at Corrigan OSB.
“Healthcare has had tremendous growth. My father-in-law used the local medical facilities during COVID and I just can’t say enough good things about it. Healthcare will continue to grow. And we have also seen growth in the retail and fast food markets,” Tarver said.
“Since January I’ve seen that there’s a strong support for economic development and growth. There are good restrictions on development and smart moves by cities and smart development. The chamber of commerce, Yvonne and her team, do a tremendous job. She’s always been a tremendous resource for me and I know she’ll continue to be,” he said.
Regarding transportation, Tarver said the county is well set for improvements in transportation which will create opportunities for people to come off the interstate and shop in Livingston and Corrigan and the other area towns.
“Your location is ideal from an economic development standpoint. You’re centrally located for Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Another extremely strong point is the existing businesses we have here. There are a lot of businesses that are expressing a need to grow and that’s a good thing,” he said.
Tarver said the biggest weakness he sees from an economic development standpoint is that there are not enough industrial parks. He said about 200-plus acres on a rail or major highway is needed for an industrial park.
Tarver said he is working to improve the social media presence of the Polk County Economic Development Corporation which will provide the opportunity to better market the region.
He informed those in attendance that the county is working on a strategic plan and that everyone will be asked to complete a survey. There will be a survey for residents, another for business owners and another for elected officials. He said the data derived from the surveys will be formulated into a plan.
“There is ongoing growth outside of Houston and I really think we’re next,” he said in closing.
Tarver came to Polk County after retiring from Entergy Texas where he was the Senior Manager for Business and Economic Development. During his 42-year career, he established and developed economic growth and planning programs within retail, commercial, wholesale and industrial businesses. He was instrumental in recruiting businesses to Entergy Texas service areas and was successful in helping a number of existing businesses with expansion efforts.
He continues to maintain strong relations with economic development allies including the Economic Development and Tourism Division of the Governor’s Office, site selection consultants, area economic development organizations, and lawmakers in an effort to identify, track and locate projects for economic growth.
He is an accredited certified economic developer and is active with the International Economic Development Council, Industrial Asset Management Council and the Texas Economic Development Council.
The Polk County Economic Development office is located Suite 221 in the Livingston Municipal Library located at 707 N. Tyler Ave. in Livingston.