Liberty Hill EDC continues business recruitment efforts

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By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

The Liberty Hill-branded lip balm sticks were a “hit” at an Austin showcase for developers last month, said Executive Director Lance Dean at last Thursday’s meeting of the Economic Development Corp.

The sticks, which were purchased in bulk several months ago by the EDC, were passed out to interested businessmen from Liberty Hill’s booth, which Dean said was “the first time we’ve had a public face at a conference or trade show.”

This and other updates on the EDC’s ongoing efforts to both help local businesses and recruit new ones, were detailed last week. It was the first meeting for new Directors Jamie Etzkorn and Eric Bailey, who last month were appointed by City Council to fill the vacancies left by former Directors Rick Hall and Eric Van Natter.

The two will add new perspectives to the board, said EDC President Bill Chapman.

Etzkorn is a lawyer with real estate and business law experience, whose practice is in downtown Liberty Hill.

Bailey has long served in executive positions in the concrete industry.

All directors were present, as was City Council Member Liz Rundzieher, who was appointed as a non-voting ex officio member last month by the Council.

The showcase in Austin, sponsored by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, was a “great chance for us to get Liberty Hill out on the market,” Dean said. It allowed the executive director to speak to developers with specialties in office space, schools and hospitals.

Dean said that it is helpful because if a developer simply searches online about Liberty Hill, “it just doesn’t show that there’s much here.”

At the conference, however, Dean said he was able to show developers a more accurate set of metrics for the city, such as its trade area size, its growth in building permits, and its “true” median household income.

“It just lights a fire under them when they hear it,” he said.

Dean said that several developers picked up the site plans they had available, and he expected follow-ups with at least two of the contacts he made at the convention,

“I hope we can do more of these in the coming years,” Dean said.

More are planned for this year.

In November, the Retail Coach, a firm hired by the EDC to help its marketing efforts, will attend the International Conference of Shopping Centers in Dallas to represent Liberty Hill among its other client cities. Dean will meanwhile be attending an event in Florida.

The efforts to recruit outside developers and big box retailers has been a consistent goal of the EDC alongside its efforts to promote the local economy.

Dean said that over the past month, the EDC has communicated with or been contacted by several interested parties, including a hotel group, a grocery store group, a national brand hardware store, an auto parts supplier, and a fast food restaurant.

A workshop for the EDC’s “incentives” framework will be held Nov. 15 at the Liberty Hill Learning & Event Center, and will begin at 4 p.m.

The next regular meeting will be held later that day at 6:30 p.m. in the Municipal Court building.

There will be no meeting in December due to the holidays.

Facade Grants approved for Radiant Salon and downtown office building
The EDC Board approved two requests for facade grants, a program designed to encourage beautifying improvements to the downtown area.

The Liberty Belle, an office building at 925 Loop 332, belonging to Henry de Keratry, Jr. and Carol de Keratry, was approved to receive the maximum $5,000 allowed by the grant.

Total costs of the improvements, which include vintage-style renovations and lighting, total $17,975.

New director Etzkorn abstained from the otherwise unanimous vote because she her law office is housed in the building.

Another $5,000 grant was approved for Radiant Salon at 2921 Ranch Road 1869.

Previously Brent Witbeck, the salon’s owner, had submitted an application for a $500 sign grant, which was approved last month. The facade grant had been applied for at the same time, Dean said, but the EDC had never received it.

The total cost of improvements was close to $16,000, and included replacing all existing doors and windows, repainting, and generally restoring the building while keeping its vintage appearance. The work has already been completed, but because of the invoice-based model of the grant, it was still eligible for the grant. Receipts for the work done were attached to the application.

Compensation Study Deferred
The Council asked the EDC to review the salary of its Executive Director, currently Lance Dean, and to come back to the Council with a recommendation.

Chapman said the Board would hold an executive session in their November meeting to “talk turkey” about the salary, and decide what to do.

“We didn’t have enough time to put that on the agenda this meeting,” he said.

A salary study of Liberty Hill’s city employees was called for earlier this year by the City Council, after a search for a new finance director appeared to be hitting snags.

The study, conducted by consulting group Ray Associates, ultimately compared the salaries of Liberty Hill employees to their counterparts in 13 other cities considered to be Liberty Hill’s competitors in the job market.

“We found that we were really far off,” explained City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann to the board.

Rather than issue immediate raises across the board, the Council has stated their goal as bringing the city’s salaries to a market median in phases.

“We can’t do it all at once,” she said.

Results indicated that the salaries for most city employees were well below market median.

The EDC Executive Director’s salary of $73,500 was well below the median of $96,844.

“It turns out that Lance is off of his mid-point,” Zwernemann said.

Director wants to see Sculpture Celebration finances
In other business, EDC Director John Johnston said he would like to see financial documentation from the organizers of the Liberty Hill Sculpture Celebration.

Specifically, Johnston said he wanted a profit and loss statement for the 2017 celebration, and to know more definitively how a reported $9,000 in profit from last year’s celebration was spent.

Previously, when one of the event’s organizers was present at an EDC meeting, the reported $9,000 was brought up as a question, but the organizer said she could not answer definitively how the funds were spent because she was not responsible for the finances. She believed it went into the assessment commissioned to determine the condition of the sculptures.

“They were supposed to get back to us,” Johnston said, “but they never did.”

Also last week:
– The Municipal Court building, where the EDC Board, City Council and other city boards meet for meetings, will soon have a full size screen, ceiling-mounted projector, microphones, recording equipment, and more. Installations were set to begin last Friday, and are expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
– Sign kiosks will soon be planted throughout Liberty Hill. The kiosks will give directions to local subdivisions and other locations of interest. The agreement with National Sign Plaza, the contracting firm, has been signed, Dean said. Locations have also been approved. The signs are now in fabrication.
– New officers for the EDC were announced. Johnston will stay on as the board’s secretary, and Chapman will remain president.
“I’m honored,” Chapman said, “And it’s been a lot of fun, but we also have a lot of work still to do.”
Director John Clark was elected to serve as the Board’s vice president, after the position was vacated by former director Eric Van Natter.
All votes were unanimous excepting the board member selected.
The terms for these offices will expire Sept. 30, 2018.

Waylon@LHIndependent.com

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