Businesses to Central Texas: 'Be mine'

Businesses are having a love affair with Central Texas. From Google and Facebook to ventures born and bred in the area such as H-E-B and Seton Healthcare, Central Texas is experiencing growth at a rapid clip. Hays County is no different.

"We have a lot of people come through our door to talk to us about their ideas," said Diana Blank, director of economic development for the City of Kyle. "Usually a lot more effort has to go into finding them."

There were 195 commercial building permits issued in San Marcos, Buda and Kyle in 2012. Kyle approved 43 commercial permits in 2012, and Blank said as Kyle's infrastructure grows, businesses will find the city more attractive. Blank said the city's commercial space is only 30 percent built out, making it primed for more of the growth it has seen in the past decade.

According to a report released by Catalyst Commercial, a retail consulting and marketing firm with which Kyle has contracted, there are 12 restaurants looking at locating in the city. Two of those are what Catalyst representatives Jason Claunch and John Baldwin referred to as "destination spots."

In San Marcos, there were 120 commercial permits issued in 2012. Hays and Comal counties' proximity to Austin and San Antonio has made them a hub for distribution centers of companies such as H-E-B and Ashley Furniture.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Feb. 11, Planning Director Matthew Lewis said Amazon was interested in putting a distribution center in San Marcos but ultimately decided the city's zoning timeline was too laborious.

An ordinance allowing the city to waive the permitting process for certain developments is to be presented to City Council on Feb. 19. The ordinance would allow an expedited permitting process for developments that "are a unique, regional economic draw incorporates design or construction features or characteristics that exceed city regulations or standards in other respects; or makes a unique or unequaled contribution to development or redevelopment efforts in the City of San Marcos."

In Buda there were 32 commercial permits issued in 2012. Planning Director Chance Sparks said Buda and other Central Texas cities have developed simple, uniform processes for getting things permitted.

"A lot of people expect to hear that we're ultracompetitive with each other, but I think the truth of the matter is that there's so much economic growth happening in the region, everybody gets their share," Sparks said. "Priority No. 1 is if it's a big prospect, let's at least get it in the region, and then we'll figure out where it lands after that."

In August, Ampersand Art Supply announced plans to leave its longtime home in Austin and relocate to Buda. Buda's courtship of the company included a $75,000 economic development grant as well as a $75,000 county grant to be paid over 10 years on the condition that Ampersand add at least 35 jobs to its 40-person staff over the same period.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley played a part in landing Ampersand—helping the company figure out what he called its "parking lot issues" and securing the economic development grants—and said most of the companies he talks to find Central Texas' location and workforce to be huge commodities.

Conley said that although Hays County was not untouched by the recession, it did not feel the same penny-pinching sting felt in a lot of areas in the nation.

"Now we're really starting to see through activities at our economic development organizations a good groundswell of activity, both commercial and residential," Conley said.