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Strategic planning, economic development to follow surveys

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Polk County LogoBy Emily Banks Wooten
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Results of the countywide surveys conducted last fall were recently presented by John Tarver, president and executive director of the Polk County Economic Development Corporation, to the Polk County Commissioners Court and are being presented to other groups throughout the county as well, with the next step being round table discussions and workshops, to develop a mission statement and focus areas.

Overwhelming growth throughout the county in recent years led to the Polk County Commissioners Court’s approval to enter into a strategic planning process as part of a collaborative effort between Polk County, the Polk County Economic Development Corporation and the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce to develop a comprehensive countywide strategic plan.

Once developed, the plan will serve as a roadmap to guide the collective vision and goals for Polk County, outlining the aspirations, priorities and strategies to enhance various aspects of the community, including economic growth, public services, infrastructure development and more.

Recognizing the importance of involving all stakeholders in the planning process to ensure a well-rounded and inclusive strategy, three distinct surveys were disseminated to gather insight from residents, local business owners and entrepreneurs, and elected officials and government staff members.

“We received 414 resident surveys, 78 local business surveys and 43 government official/staff surveys, for a total of 535 surveys. Approximately 71.65% of respondents identified natural resources, including forests and waterways, as a significant strength. This underscores the importance placed on preserving the county’s environmental assets,” Tarver said. “Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, Naskila Casino and Lake Livingston provide an economic benefit to the county. Transportation and proximity to Houston were also mentioned.

“A majority, 63.78%, highlighted the small-town charm and character as a noteworthy strength. A substantial 43.57% of respondents recognized community involvement and volunteerism as a strength, emphasizing the importance of an engaged and supportive community. While a smaller percentage (18.64%) mentioned it, the quality of schools and education was a strength in the county. Approximately 13.39% noted access to healthcare as a positive aspect, reflecting an awareness of the importance of healthcare services in the community,” Tarver said.

Items cited as needing improvement included: limited job opportunities (68.15%), poor public transportation options (34.46%), limited access to affordable housing (33.42%) and inadequate infrastructure (48.83%) such as Wi-Fi and internet, water, sewer and electric. Other concerns related to lack of diverse restaurant and grocery options, homelessness, substance abuse and public safety.

“Some significant improvements have been made in all these areas and sometimes the citizens don’t recognize that,” Tarver said.

Moving on, 48% of the business respondents mentioned they plan to expand in the next two years. Nearly 71% believe local growth is crucial for economic development, nearly 62% see new business recruitment as a significant factor for economic development, and approximately 74% consider supporting small businesses as a key aspect of economic development. Over 45% listed the following as key to their success – access to reliable high-speed internet, healthcare, housing, a skilled workforce and affordable utilities.

Reviewing the responses from the elected officials/government staffs, Tarver said the strengths listed were a strong sense of community, geographical location, quality of life and cultural and historical assets, recent infrastructure improvements and lower taxes. Challenges cited were workforce training, access to capital, lack of affordable housing, access to high-speed internet, and keeping pace on infrastructure improvements.

“The main priorities are good jobs with good benefits for the youth in the community to transition into instead of moving away to purse other opportunities; a diversified economy that is not based on one industry sector; quality of life enhancements such as access to quality healthcare, good schools, ample retail outlets and entertainment opportunities; a highly trained educated workforce; a healthy business community with affordable housing; and a growth-friendly political climate,” Tarver said.

“The transportation network received very high marks, with 59 soon to be 69, 190, 287. We’re centrally located for some good positive growth. And I’m extremely excited about Lamar College and what they plan to do here. That’s just going to be a tremendous benefit to the county and to the region and to our employers.

Tarver said the objectives of the Polk County Economic Development Corporation are to create an existing business retention and expansion program; conduct marketing and recruiting; prospect development; workforce and training; buildings and sites; community preparation; and better communications.

“The county has done a lot of things really well over the last few years. The last decade y’all have grown 16%, but I think that number’s low from what I’ve seen,” Tarver said. Reviewing key demographic data for Polk County, he said the estimated 2028 population is 54,742 and that the county has a labor force of 20,650, with an unemployment rate of 5.5%. The median age is 44 and based on 2023 income, the median household income is $55,159 and the average household income is $75,951.

Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy said she is going to go and visit with and speak to the younger set (50 and younger).

“We’re about to have a population explosion. We need our younger professionals involved. My philosophy on why I think it’s important is there are times when other people have ideas that we haven’t thought of. The more engagement we have, the better off I think we’re going to be as a community,” Murphy said.

“We need a skilled workforce and, in some cases, professionals. That’s one of the things we have to focus on. As a county as a whole, I do think we need to start trying to entice some younger people,” Murphy said.

Commenting that she sits on three state-level transportation committees and chairs the Alliance for I-69, Murphy said she understands the importance of transportation. “Economic development and community growth is driven by transportation because utilities follow. I want to make sure Polk County is at the table.”

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    GARRY · 11 days ago
    Just perfect! Finding new ways to spend our hard earned ever increasing Property Taxes. how much did your tax appraisal go up last year? Get used to that, but i'm pretty sure you'll get some cute bike lanes out of the deal...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul · 11 days ago
    Funny thing!! I never received any kind of survey from the county commissioners court! Must have to be one special list things.