By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Questions came from all corners as business owners gathered to meet with Liberty Hill Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Lance Dean over coffee last week.
What has become a regular event, the Liberty Hill Business Owners Forum drew more than 20 to hear an update on EDC and city projects and take an opportunity to ask questions.
Dean outlined current growth numbers, saying that the City issued 33 building permits in January, compared to only 15 in January 2017 and only one in January 2016.
In addition to the growth evident in the permits issued, he shared projections that would mean explosive growth in the area in the next few years.
“The City is projecting we will have about 1,200 new wastewater connections each year for the next five years,” Dean said. “We are the regional wastewater provider for the area, so this is not just the city limits, but our area. Again, that translates into almost 18,000 people who could be here in the next five years.”
He added that the school district is anticipating 10 percent annual growth and currently has over 4,000 students.
After discussing city infrastructure projects in broad terms, Dean opened the floor for questions. Ranging from why there were no city staff members present, to infrastructure needs and plans, to broad strategic goals, those present took the opportunity to ask them all, which is exactly what Dean hopes these forums accomplish.
“I want to create an environment where the owners get together,” he said. “They can celebrate and complain at the same time and someone can relate to them. I want it to be interactive and I want it to be open. This was a good group and they asked good questions.”
The owners were reminded of the new sign grant and demolition grant programs available through the EDC to assist businesses.
“The sign grant program, the demo program, those were built off of feedback that came out of one of these sessions,” Dean said of the importance of the forums.
The sign grant program, focused on improving the facade around a business sign, offers as much as 50 percent or up to $5,000 of the cost to make the improvements or repairs.
“What we’d like to assist with is to upgrade the facade around the sign, whether it be stone, stucco, architectural foam, that’s what we’d like to assist you with,” Dean said. “It also applies to removal of old signs or broken signs, so we can also help with that stuff.”
The sign grant program has been expanded to include all of the Liberty Hill business district.
The demolition grant, which helps with the cost of removing old structures from commercial property, is also available at up to 50 percent of the cost or $5,000.
“If you own commercial property and want to sell it, but need to get rid of an old barn or something, we can help with that,” Dean said. “We’re trying to assist with the beautification and turning over property in the city.”
The EDC has a facade grant program available for downtown businesses as well.
Business owners new and established enjoyed the opportunity to meet one another and learn about what’s going on with the city.
“I think this is huge and important,” said Austin Moon with Mojo Coffee, slated to open a Liberty Hill location as early as May. “It really kind of guides us as to how we are going to develop our property. Meeting other business owners is great.”
This was Moon’s first business forum. Mojo Coffee has closed on its new property and secured permits to begin remodeling at 100 Brown Bridge Road.
Don Weckler of Starlite Vapor has been to three EDC forums.
“I think this is a great forum for business owners to at least meet each other, to communicate on issues that matter to them, as well as getting the information from Lance on what’s going on in the city,” he said.
Learning what can and can’t be used to help his business is important.
“It’s really great that we have these meetings because the programs are beneficial to business owners, but they are more for the property owners,” Weckler said. “A place like Starlite Vapor, we don’t own the property we’re in, so it doesn’t apply to us, but this allows us to understand that and communicate to them that we need things for those who don’t own the property.”
The opportunity to stay in touch with and offer information in an open setting is something Dean said is critical to the EDC mission.
“This goes right in line with part of the EDC’s mission to attract, retain and develop (business),” he said. “The city would not be where it is today without the businesses that are already here. I want to help the businesses here, because the new money that is coming in, has backing behind them, and the companies that are here are small to midsize businesses that may not have those resources.”