THE CITY OF SEABROOKS
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PATH FORWARD
In keeping with the goals of the Seabrook Comprehensive Master Plan and the Bylaws of Seabrooks Economic Development Corporations, the Seabrook City Council on March 1, 2001 approved the retention of Johnson & Associates to perform an in-depth assessment of the citys economic development needs to result in a strategic economic development plan.
After spending more than a month in Seabrook and interviewing over 150 citizens, business owners, and people from outside the city but with insight into how Seabrook fits into the areas economy, Mr. Steve Vassallo of Johnson & Associates on August 4th, 2001 presented to the City Council an Economic Development Plan with 27 specific recommendations. The recommendations specifically address the various needs, problems and opportunities that were disclosed during the interviews. The recommendations were not influenced by any group, individual or fraction and represents what we believe if implemented, will be the best short-term as well as long-term interest of the community.
Recommendation - Light Industrial / Business Park
The Economic Development Corporation should acquire the necessary property for the purpose of establishing a light industrial / business park with infrastructure in place. We recommend a minimum of 20 acres to a maximum of 50 acres with the actual size of the tract to be determined by the sale price and terms and the needed infrastructure.
Recommendation - Expand Tourism
Seabrook is a bird sanctuary on one of the largest migratory paths in North America and has four site locations designated on the Texas Birding Trail map. An Information Center should be considered to readily direct visitors to these areas, and designated observation areas should be identified within the parks. Blue directional signs should also be considered, directing visitors to the areas with a minimum of difficulty.
Recommendation - Community Beautification
The community should consider designating areas for "adopt a spots" which are located in the most visible traffic paths. Flowers, trees and shrubs should all be included with a master plan incorporated to ensure the initiative is successful.
Recommendation - Economic Development Foundation
The establishment of a privately financed Economic Development Foundation (501c3) should be strongly considered. Private funds are not restricted except by the bylaws established by the investors. Seabrook's EDC could consider a one-time seed money contribution should there be sufficient interest to pursue this opportunity.
Recommendation - Sister City Alliance
With all of the international ties in Seabrook and the Clear Lake area, we encourage the city to establish a sister city alliance in a foreign country for economic development objectives. In addition to creation of new jobs, more opportunities for capital investment, and exporting opportunities, tourism can also be expanded should this be an objective of the alliance.
Recommendation - Improve The Point
The EDC and / or the city could (a) name a committee, chaired by one of the businessmen already located there; (b) create a master plan following the committee's input; (c) establish a strict timeline for implementation of the plan; (d) improve the outward appearance of the area by investing in lighting; paving; and a pedestrian walkway among items to consider; (e) pursue all grants as appropriate; and (f) offer incentives to existing property owners to either expand or rehab their properties.
Recommendation - Incentives
The need to establish a formalized incentive program will, in our view, stimulate increased economic activity. By adopting an effective tax abatement program as part of this overall effort, a comprehensive and meaningful incentive offering can be marketed.
Recommendation - New Image
A positive image needs to be created which will portray Seabrook in a favorable light every time the city is mentioned. This new image can link Seabrook to an inviting theme that will encourage tourists and enhance investment. The Pelican Path Project is a monumental step in the direction of a new image and theme for the city. A new logo and slogan utilizing and incorporating the Pelican would be a natural transition.
Recommendation - Communications
A semi-annual town hall meeting could be scheduled. Secondly, a newsletter could be developed to send to residents via e-mail or fax broadcast or by another cost effective means to interested parties. Another possibility is to hire a Public Information director who would be the official communicator of City Hall to the taxpayers. Other possibilities could include an annual report, website monthly updates, and the creation of an electronic community bulletin board. Time Warner Entertainment will provide Channel 16 to the city beginning in September for use as a community bulletin board or other information broadcast as the city so desires. There is no cost associated with the connection at City Hall, but there is a cost for the computer and required software to be able to perform this activity.
Recommendation - Advertising / Marketing Plan
1. Current, professionally prepared printed materials that include demographic information, incentive information, and costs of operating in the community.
2. A state-of-the-art interactive website with links to other key economic development sites.
3. Clever ads in selective trade publications and journals of targeted industries.
4. Participation in one trade show per year for each targeted industry.
5. An aggressive direct mail campaign.
6. A monthly newsletter to allies and prospects.
7. Subscriptions to magazines and publications that focus on grant opportunities.
8. A semi-annual luncheon for developers, site location firms, and commercial / industrial realtors.
9. If the Economic Development Corporation is actively recruiting in a country with a language other than English, the items above that are pertinent should also be in that country's primary language.
Recommendation - Networking and Education
By participating in the various economic development educational programs, key contacts can be made which will be of benefit in many areas. Other means to increase networking possibilities include memberships in the primary economic development organizations, participation in area and regional alliances, and hosting an annual allies day which constitutes sending invitations to key allies and active prospects to formally visit the community.
Recommendation - Technology Outreach Program
It is our recommendation that an incubator facility be either constructed or an existing building be renovated to accommodate this type of activity. Businesses that emerge through an incubation process have an 80% greater chance to survive than those that do not. Should Seabrook have a facility to launch new businesses coupled with the "TOP" program and other forms of assistance, an entire new sector of economic development possibilities develops.
Recommendation - Advertising Campaign
A carefully planned and orchestrated advertising campaign targeted at the Houston metroplex would, in our opinion, increase tourism and the number of visitors significantly. One way to accomplish this would be via strategically located billboards throughout the city. Both community events and specific businesses could be marketed, as well as the community as a whole. In addition, the city's (economic development) website should be considered for inclusion.
Recommendation - Changing the Anti-Business Image of the City
1. Seabrook needs to quickly convey the message to potential investors that it is "open for business" and also it is pro-business. This message needs to be advertised.
2. Adoption of a comprehensive incentive plan including tax abatement.
3. A streamlined approach to permitting and the approval process for building plans.
4. Designation of a staff member who has the authority to deal with grievances without involving the time of the City Manager and Council on every minor dispute.
5. A pro-business approach to assisting investors without compromising codes or ordinances or varying from the city's strategic plan.
6. An aggressive recruiting campaign by the EDC that conveys the message to the outside world that Seabrook is serious about new investment. (This can be accomplished by implementing the program outlined previously in this report.)
Recommendation - Implementation of a Leadership Seabrook Program
Establish a "Leadership Seabrook" class either sponsored by CLAEDF or creation of a new entity that will incorporate this program. Secondly, we recommend that the City propose certain guidelines and criteria for residents to be considered for various Board and Committee appointments. The "Leadership Seabrook" class would be established for the sole objective of providing a training ground for future leaders of the community. Guidelines would need to be established with a quota set annually to make the program workable and meaningful. Inclusion into the program would be an honor in itself with scholarships available for those individuals whose companies would be unable or unwilling to finance the cost. We would recommend no more than 24 individuals are included in the nine month program with a minimum of 12 individuals necessary to commence it.
The second part of this recommendation addresses education more than any other aspect. One example would be that anyone recommended to serve on either the EDC I or II Boards would first have to complete the one week basic economic development course sponsored by Texas A&M University and held each November in San Antonio and each March in College Station. It would ensure that the Board members would have received the minimal basic training in economic development in order to make better informed decisions and secondly, it would separate those individuals who are very serious and committed about a particular area of government from those less inclined. With each Board and Committee, minimum criteria would need to be established and enforced once a desired level of applicants is reached to fill the various positions.
We recommend more private sector involvement on these Boards with less direct participation from the Council. The Council will have no less control nor will it transfer any of its' authority. With greater numbers of well-informed private citizens serving on these various Boards and Commissions, the Council members should be able to devote more time to overseeing the broader scope and direction of city government.
Recommendation - Cooperative Promotions with Neighboring Communities
Kemah would be the first logical community to attempt this concept, followed by Nassau Bay and League City. All three of these communities have interests similar to Seabrook's and the timing to consider this alternative is appropriate. We are not advocating that all promotional activities by Seabrook involve participating communities, but an overture in this direction should be extended by Seabrook to determine the level of interest. If sufficient interest does exist, and we are of the opinion it does, the ground rules can then be established following this determination.
Recommendation - Inventory of Community Assets
This would include a detailed fact sheet on each and every available building, (commercial, retail, office, warehouse, and industrial) and all available sites that are zoned for either commercial or industrial use. It is imperative that these business owners and associated realtors be invited to a community meeting initially to explain the following plan of action:
1. The community (EDC / City) will market the properties at no cost to the owners.
2. In order for the above to be effective, the EDC needs commitments from the owners in these areas:
a. All current information on the property that is accurate and requested will be forwarded in a timely manner.
b. The property will be presented in the most appealing condition; i.e. it will be painted and cleaned up with repairs made if needed. Landscaping will be prioritized with grounds kept neat and clean.
c. Reasonable market values must be established with some degree of correlation between the asking price and the appraised value. The EDC should reserve the right to exclude any property from consideration that is so overpriced as to discourage outside interest.
d. Reasonable assurance must be documented to convey the property is "environmentally clear."
3. The EDC will offer incentives to prospective employers who meet the minimum requirements for either new capital investment, new jobs created, or exceeding the minimum established hourly wage for new jobs being sought.
Recommendation - Being More Competitive Than the Competition
It's important that Seabrook is evaluated against its primary competitors. Those include hotel / motel tax rates, property tax rates, economic development incentives including tax abatement, and building fees assessed. These four areas are the primary ones in which communities are compared and where they can have a direct influence over costs. It is our recommendation that the EDC evaluate these areas and make specific recommendations to the Council to correct those conditions where it is practical to do so and where it will also give the appearance that Seabrook is better positioned to attract new investment.
Recommendation - Focusing on California in Recruitment Strategy
The energy problems being encountered in California are serious and continuing. It is our belief that over the next five years, more and more California companies will be leaving the state because of these problems and other increases in operating costs. We recommend that Seabrook target those hi-tech firms that would be a complement to the aerospace firms in the Clear Lake area via direct mail and trade shows. This should be an integral part of the overall recruitment effort.
Recommendation: Building Height Restrictions (C-2)
Seabrook's City Code restricts building heights in its C-2 Medium Commercial District to 40 feet or less. In certain respects, this has an adverse impact on new construction, especially in the area of office buildings. It is our recommendation that Seabrook re-examine this code and consider raising the limit to 80 feet for this classification.
Recommendation: Suggested Use of Hotel / Motel Sales Tax Dollars and Procedures
1. The Hotel Tax Advisory Review Commission should prepare a budget for approval by the City Council. After approval of the budget, the Council should also approve any expenditure of $5,000 or more. Expenditures less than $5,000 need not be approved by the Council considering the expenditure falls within the proposed budget guidelines.
2. The proposed budget:
$20,000 Billboard Advertising
$20,000 Monies reserved for a regional alliance including a Convention and Visitors Bureau
$10,000 Annual updated brochure (s)
$10,000 State-of-the-art web site that is interactive and updated monthly
$22,000 Promotion of special events in Seabrook
Recommendation: Expansion of the Back Bay Market
1. Have four special quarterly weekend events (March, June, September, and November) that are heavily promoted throughout the greater Houston metropolitan area. Each of these four sales would be a signature event, i.e. each would have its own identity and the focus would emphasize certain types of merchandise. Each would have an individual theme.
2. In order to ensure maximum success, a community-endorsed promotional effort would need to occur. Sufficient funds would need to be allocated to the marketing effort through the 4B sales tax, hotel / motel tax, or both.
3. Allies in all other area cities would need to receive brochures featuring these four special event dates and possibly selective billboard sites in Houston during January-February-March.
We proposed the idea of advertising weekend events for the area cities over the Houston cable channel for community activities to the Greater Houston Partnership.
Recommendation: Marketing Initiative Aggressive Pursuit of Restaurants
1. Prepare a detailed demographic packet on Seabrook outlining available sites on NASA One and Hwy 146.
2. Determine asking prices of Seabrook properties and evaluate reasonableness to market value.
3. Develop an incentive program to provide assistance with certain infrastructure needs in relationship to sales and property taxes projected.
4. Consider optioning one or more sites to maintain control over the property during the marketing effort.
5. Subscribe to, and consider advertising in, the primary publications of the food industry, including Nation's Restaurant News, a weekly publication.
An aggressive marketing campaign of commercial business such as restaurants should be organized similar to other targeted industries. Trade shows also need to be included in the marketing effort. Seabrook's Bed and Breakfast appeal coupled with the proximity to the Bay, an even stronger case can be made for achieving success from this effort in the short run. Should this recommendation be endorsed, the Economic Development staff needs to have total authorization to implement the plan.
Recommendation: Establishing a Closer Relationship with NASA
Leased space is often sought that would accommodate a range of contractor needs. This would include Class A office space, warehousing, and storage space. Industrial briefings follow in which Seabrook could directly participate. Seabrook could also be included on an e-mail broadcast to learn of these projects firsthand.
At our request, we were provided with a current listing of prime contractors (29 companies) with the Johnson Space Center. We recommend the following plan of action:
1. Contact the 29 companies in an attempt to determine their future needs, as well as their subcontractors' future needs, in terms of types of buildings and amount of space required.
2. Establish an economic development contact point in Seabrook for a weekly monitoring of the email broadcasts in order to learn of new projects coming on line.
3. Attend all industrial briefings in a further attempt to obtain firsthand knowledge and establish the opportunity to meet with potential prospects directly.
4. Develop a close working relationship with the Business and Information Systems office at NASA
5. To take full advantage of these potential opportunities, the EDC should explore public-private partnerships in order to construct spec buildings for future use by these and other parties. One common approach is for the EDC to acquire the necessary land and arrange for the basis cost to be repaid through operating leases. Payments are only made to the EDC during times the property is occupied. In this manner, developers are spared the expense of land costs, marketing, and infrastructure to the site while the EDC does not have to incur the cost of construction and debt service on the building while the facility is being marketed.
Recommendation: Technology Transfer
Based upon an initial conversation with the Assistant Vice President for Technology Management at UTMB, we believe sufficient interest exists for Seabrook to do the following:
1. Establish closer ties with UTMB, especially the Department of Technology Transfer.
2. Consider the general needs of their clients and determine the feasibility of constructing a spec building to address these needs.
3. Consider the formation of a group of professional advisors (accountants, attorneys, bankers, etc.) that would be willing to advise start-up businesses for no fees (initially) in order to assist them in getting into operation more quickly and efficiently. This would establish the foundation of a "Seabrook Resource Center" and provide the city with another marketing advantage.
Recommendation: The EDC Budget / Staffing
Our experience has been that an operation of this size and activity requires a minimum of a full-time director with one full-time administrative assistant. Typically, a third staff member would be involved, either full-time or part-time depending upon available funding and workload.
Recommendation: Allied Meeting with Public Utility Commission
Seabrook, nor any of the Clear Lake area cities, have DSL service available. We learned during the course of the assessment that the service will not be available even in the foreseeable future. It is almost inconceivable that one of the highest technological areas in the world does not have a state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure available or even scheduled.
Our recommendation is to request that CLAEDF invite any of its member communities interested to have a collective meeting with the Public Utility Commission in Austin to vocally express its displeasure with this situation. By bringing this to the PUC's attention via a meeting of this nature, the timeline could possibly be reduced, even dramatically, for this service to be provided to Seabrook and area residents.