That headline is a quote from the late economist and Nobel Prize winner, Milton Friedman. For a decade City Manager Brad Stafford has made it his business to spread the message to retailers that the welcome mat is out, and the light is on in Navasota. In this three-part series, Stafford and Navasota Grimes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Johnny Mc-Nally, discuss “marketing” the city and the county, and the challenges of meeting retailers’ demographic criteria.
Despite their ongoing marketing efforts, Stafford and McNally are still often criticized “for not going after business.” And then there is criticism associated with where an interested business wants to locate, such as Taco Bell’s request to rezone a residential property on Washington Avenue. A common misconception is that the city dictates where development will take place.
Stafford said, “We don’t select the site. The companies select the site. They spend a lot of money determining where they’ll get the most return on investment.”
And at present, according to Stafford, Washington Avenue and SH 6 is considered “the heart” of the city, where the traffic comes together from north, south, east and west.
At the recent Retail Live! Trade Show, Stafford said, “We talked to numerous quick serve restaurants and the circle they drew was at the intersection of SH 6 and Washington. We pulled out a map and suggested FM 3090 or SH 105 and they bring it right back to SH 6 and Washington. Almost everyone we talked to wants that area within a block of where Taco Bell wanted to be.”
According to Stafford, Taco Bell vice president Dwayne Kostiha had “already done his homework.”
Kostiha told Stafford, “Here’s the piece of property we’ve found. We feel like Navasota has met the threshold now that we can get a return on our investment within a reasonable amount of time.”
From there, Kostiha contacted the property owners, who came to Stafford and asked if a Taco Bell would be welcome in Navasota. Stafford was upfront about the unlikelihood of rezoning but with both parties desiring to move forward and with city council having authority over zoning changes, city staff were tasked with providing information, assistance and getting the item on the agenda.
Stafford said, “When you sit in our shoes, it becomes frustrating. All we do is present them with the information they need and hope they select our available sites.”
Development at home
Economic development isn’t limited to bringing in new business but also assisting existing ones. McNally pointed to local businesses branching out or expanding such as Agape Furniture, Baylor Lumber, T&S RV & Sport and Ellwood Texas Forge Navasota.
While retail growth may be slower than some citizens would like, Navasota has seen the addition of Stripes, Revival Barbershop and the Baylor Scott and White Clinic and looks forward to a hotel, a restaurant, bakery and tavern and a truck stop in 2020.
Likewise, Grimes County has welcomed several dollar stores, gas stations, a liquor store, a doughnut shop and a health clinic.
Stafford said, “If something comes in and it looks like a county issue, we’re pushing them into Johnny’s office and vice versa. We want to get it in Johnny’s hands as quickly as possible, so it doesn’t go to Washington or Brazos County.”
The good news
Navasota is better off than it was five or 10 years ago!
Stafford said, “A lot of rooftops makes Navasota more attractive but the change we see is the Amazon affect. We’re in a better position as a community to recruit but recruitment is more difficult than it was 10 years ago. If we had the rooftops 10 years ago that we have today, recruitment would have been easier. A lot of those would have already come.”
Taco Bell, Burger King and Whataburger are companies Stafford has “courted” for 10 years and while Taco Bell’s zoning change request did not pass, Stafford said, “We’re still trying to find Taco Bell a location.”
He continued, “The only choices we qualify for today are the ones we’re getting, or that show interest in us.”
However, comparing Navasota to neighboring towns like Brenham and College Station, Stafford says Navasota’s “leg up” is its lower taxes and low cost of doing business.
McNally said, “A year from now when Retail Live! comes around again, we’ll be in a different boat. The years following that, I just see the whole face of this economic development recruiting changing.”
Stafford said, “At the end of the day, we’re the cheerleaders and the facilitators to make sure we put everything in front of them that they need or require to make their decision.”