STATE OF THE LAKE: Step into the Economic Garden of League City
Oct 06, 2010 09:50PM
● By Sue
“State of the Lake” presents its fourth part of a multi-part series that introduces you to Clear Lake area communities that are growing and prospering. This month, check out League City.
It is a city where you can linger under 100-year-old majestic oaks where townsfolk used to “bide a while”—or fast forward to this century and watch the Jonas Brothers play softball at Big League Dreams Sports Park where they appeared last month.
Designated as one of the “100 Best Small Cities in America” by Grey House Publishing, (2007 & 2009) League City has some exciting economical development plans on the drawing board that will carry them into the future and beyond.
"We have a very natural progression of development occurring,” says David Benson, Chief of Staff. “We know we are heavy in the residential arena, but our focus is to shift that mix by bringing in more retail and small businesses so that we are not putting the majority of the tax load on the backs of homeowners.”
Due to city government turnover, and the rapid growth pattern of the city, which nearly doubled since the year 2000, League City has had its share of problems. “We have a great group,” says Benson, who came on board in July. “We’re building trust and working on goals.” Presently soliciting feedback from key businesses in the community, Benson says they are working on the market niches they want to develop. The economic development experience of new city manager Marcus Jahns, whose resume includes work with destinations like San Antonio and New Braunfels, will play an integral part in helping League City reach common goals and focus on performance and customer service.
"Economic development is becoming more of a way of life with League City as opposed to an activity,” says Benson. “It is a discipline that will affect almost everything we do. It’s about streets and parks and broadband access and customer-friendly permitting. We need to be doing things for people who are here—our residents, people who work in the city and their families. So we want to create things that they and other people will want to come and enjoy.”
Mainly, Benson is energized about developing and fostering growth of small businesses within the community of League City rather than pursuing giant corporate entities. It’s called “Economic Gardening,” which embraces the fundamental idea that entrepreneurs drive economies. The model seeks to create jobs by supporting existing companies, connecting entrepreneurs to resources, encouraging the development of essential infrastructure and providing entrepreneurs with needed information. The concept of Economic Gardening originated in Littleton, Colorado in 1987. Since that time, the nation has been watching Littleton and measuring their program's success, noting that they have completely revitalized their local economy and have become a model for economic development around the globe.
“There is a pool of people in League City who are uniquely suited to start these small businesses,” says Benson, “some of which could grow into big businesses. We have access to a lot of talented people here. If layoffs do occur at NASA (or with any large entity in the Bay Area), this is the kind of strategy we think we should be pursuing, because then we could help those who have been laid off. Instead of creating another big environment for them to work in, we would offer them some help with developing whatever ideas they may have on their own. Even in a strong economy, small businesses are an important economic driver, and we believe we can do more to support them.”
One of the perks of Economic Gardening is that the city has resources that your average small business does not. For instance, cities have access to demographic databases that can help many small businesses become aware of their target market. So are the days of big conglomerates moving in and hiring hundreds/thousands of people over? Well, maybe not over, but the trend is definitely changing. Benson also pointed to the City Council’s commitment to focus on progress, not politics or personalities, and the fact that their budget recently passed unanimously on first and final reading—a rarity for League City. “We have a City Council that is totally focused on planning—like the five-year long range financial forecast, a five-year capital improvement plan, plans regarding streets, drainage, water, sewer, and infrastructure,” says Benson.
“Recreation is a theme that is big in League City,” says Benson, “with its huge concentration of leisure boats, nice weather, our location halfway between Houston and Galveston, upscale neighborhoods, and lots of land still open for development—that means you have the potential to develop a network of trails and quality parks.”
“A planned addition to the park system is the Eastern Regional Park on Highway 96 that will have a series of soccer and football fields, a community center with gym, and eventually an Olympic-size competition pool. The city is working on getting LEED Silver Certification for the park. Meanwhile, the City is moving toward construction of a trails plan that includes 212 miles of hike, bike and paddle trails. One of the first to be constructed is the Clear Creek Paddle Trail, which could allow users to visit the Butler Longhorn Museum, rent a canoe, put it in the water and paddle down Clear Creek as far west as Challenger Park on the other side of the freeway. Another new park is Boundless Playground, designed for special needs children, but is for all children. The playground will include three universally accessible playscape units and a music and activity center. Ramps throughout the playscapes will allow two wheelchairs to travel side‐by‐side.
The Recycling Center is a welcomed perk that residents enjoy. “Many people utilize the recycling center,” says Kristi Wyatt, Public Information officer. “Our City Council came up with a ‘lean, clean and green’ initiative this year to keep our neighborhoods clean, keep our residents healthy, and encourage recycling.” If there is something the city doesn’t take, like computer parts, Wyatt says there is a section on the city’s website providing links to other places that do.
“The center itself is well maintained and organized with bins for paper, plastic, cardboard, etc., all labeled,” says Wyatt. “Other surrounding cities may have curbside recycling pickup, but I don’t know of any other Bay Area community where you can drop off glass.” Green building is going strong in League City with ACU Credit Union having built the first LEED certified structure, and JSC Credit Union recently opening their first LEED certified branch.
Benson states that League City has a new project stewing that may come to fruition soon that will absolutely turn heads, but the facts can’t be revealed at this juncture. Can he give us a small hint? “Well,” he says, “it will definitely put League City on the map.”
By Sue Mayfield Geiger