Hill to lead Orange County towards successful growth

Published 9:27 am Saturday, July 2, 2016

By Trevier Gonzalez

The Orange Leader

Capital, creativity, cooperation and commitment. It’s these four words newly-assigned Executive Director of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Jessica Hill is utilizing on her mission to build the EDC back up and lead Orange County towards successful growth.

“Culturally, we are knocking it out of the park,” Hill said. “There is so much to offer for families and for tourists to come and see here in Orange County. We just need to work a little bit harder on recruiting retail.

The Liberty-native said she knows the community wants more retail locations and it’s not far off the table as it plays an integral role in her plan.

“To do that, we have to bring in strong, steady jobs,” Hill said. “We have to show consistent population growth, which is going to reflect positively on why a company should locate here. So if we can have some success with some of those smaller, manufacturing projects that are creating good-paying jobs, then the retail will follow.”

Before doing so, Hill said she needed to restore the EDC’s status.

“The EDC, about nine months ago was kind of dissolved,” Hill said. “So we’ve really worked to bring those partnerships back together. In doing so, we’ve created a new membership structure that includes three-tier levels of membership.

Historically, memberships had sustained the EDC. Hill, aiming to build upon the concept, sought to make them available for all members within Orange County.

“We’re hoping by doing that, it engages some new dialogue with the business owners in the community to bring perspective and input into what we’re trying to do overall in our strategic planning process,” Hill said.

The EDC also received support from the Chamber of Commerce and other establishments during its period of reconstruction.

“We’ve reached out to a lot of the organizations in town,” Hill said “The school districts, the Stark Foundation, all of the municipalities — just trying to rebuild the team to make sure that everyone is committed and wants to be engaged in what we’re doing.”

Hill said she would like to perform a full analysis of what Orange County has to offer, then specifically target individual industries and companies that fit within the criteria.

“It’s more narrowly-focused on specifics that we feel are going to be beneficial and successful in Orange County rather than just going after open prospects,” Hill said. “We see a lot of leads come from the state, and so we spend a lot of time responding to those leads.

“Not just Orange County, but all of Southeast Texas, has not historically landed any of those projects, and a lot of resources are spent on that, so we’re hoping to flip that and rather than chasing leads, we’re hoping to create (them).”

Hill said the growth of the county will require help from all members of the area.

“We will be submitting some surveys,” Hill said. “Canvassing the community, determining what it is that both the citizens and businesses feel are important to the county and how we can mold that into an overall strategic plan.”

Hill said the EDC will concentrate on capital by ensuring that funds will be strictly placed in areas that will help the county and communities further develop.

“It also means bringing in jobs that create good wages that improve the employee morale, Hill said. “Then it includes bringing in organizations that have a commitment to this area that benefit from a prosperous community.”

Hill said creativity comes out from putting unconventional ideas that may not have been done before, into action.

“Vidor’s ‘Pride and Progress’ is a good example of that — it’s not a program that has historically, in any community, been taken advantage of,” she said.

Hill said over the years, Southeast Texas has continued chasing expensive projects.

“The focus has largely been on chasing large mega-projects that consume a lot of acreage, that consume a lot of resources,” Hill said. “The county hasn’t been very successful in landing a lot of those, and neither has Jefferson County or some of our surrounding areas. I don’t think it’s of any fault to anyone in particular, I don’t think it has to do with anyone doing a bad job, I think it just has to do with the resources that we have here not completely matching up with the criteria of the project.”

Hill said that it’s probably not the best direction to continue in.

“We spend a lot of resources, a lot of time, a lot of money on those billion-dollar projects when we could be focusing those efforts on smaller, job-creating manufacturing jobs,” Hill said. “So instead of spending a billion dollars, you might get ten businesses that invest a hundred million, but they’re creating more jobs than that billion-dollar project and those jobs are what’s going to make Orange County more successful.”

Hill said all facets of the area must work together and cooperate.

“The county can’t do it alone, the individual communities can’t do it alone,” Hill said. “If we can come together with a common mindset, a common plan, then we can move Orange County forward together. If we don’t, then we’re all going to lose something in the end.”

Hill said, with much of it due to members of the community, she’s always felt that Orange is a special place.

“The county, not just the city,” she said. “That commitment from them — and that passion in them has made my job thus far so much easier. Everyone’s been so welcoming, everybody has been so supportive and willing to help as needed. I’m looking forward to engaging all of them and giving all of them responsibilities to help us grow.”

Hill said it’s going to take time. In doing so, the EDC needs everyone to have commitment, the last of the “Four C’s.”

“Nothing happens overnight,” Hill said. “But if we can celebrate the small achievements and build upon those to create a long-term goal, I think we’ll all be successful, and we’ll all be happy with the results.”