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As the search for a new director for the Paris Economic Development Corp. gets under way, one board member is encouraging the organization to seek a “potential superstar” — rather than a star already made.
“Our economic circumstances have changed so drastically from four or five years ago when we were flush with cash,” board member David Turner said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re no longer flush with cash.”
Turner is part of an ad hoc committee on PEDC’s organizational structure, along with City Councilman John Wright and Bill Strathern, a former councilman who publicly questioned the direction PEDC made under former Director Steve Gilbert last year.
The committee has been charged with fashioning a job description for the new director. Turner said the committee has spent a great deal of time discussing the traits PEDC needs in its next hire.
Until one is found, Assistant Director Shannon Barrentine was named interim director effective Feb. 1. During the course of her expanded duties, her salary is increased by $1,500 a month.
“We do not want to just put an ad in some journal. We want to contact people we know who might possibly know someone who would work,” Turner said. “To put it in baseball terms, what we’re going to look for is some potential superstar at the 2A level. We’re not going to get a superstar on what we can afford.”
He said PEDC should look for someone young and “aggressive” who would be eager to get a few years of experience with an organization like the Paris Economic Development Corp. before moving on to something bigger.
In November, Turner said something similar about finding a person who was “young, bright, bushy-tailed and aggressive” to steer government contracts to Paris.
The committee’s discussion apparently also ventured into the sorts of projects PEDC needs to go after.
“We think of industrial jobs; non-farm industrial jobs only make up 10 percent of this country’s jobs now,” Turner said. “It’s more of a service, digital economy.”
He said PEDC needs to look for companies that could work in conjunction with existing employers, such as a cheese manufacturer to work with Daisy Dairy. He also said Paris needs an inpatient drug rehabilitation center for women. The closest such is south of Waco, and a 100-bed facility would provide 60 jobs and a payroll in excess of $1 million, he said.
The ad hoc committee should have a draft of the director’s job description by the next meeting, Turner said. How much the job might pay is unknown, he said, but Wright has advocated an incentive system to go with a base salary.
“We’re all of a mind to pay a nice, living wage where you can live and raise a family, but there’s a nice gold ring out there if you hit a home run,” Turner said.
The board also officially accepted Bruce Carr’s resignation, effective Jan. 28. With his departure, the board needed a new vice chair. That office fell on the board’s newest member, Stephen Grubbs — who was not at the meeting.
“I want to table that until next meeting, because I want Steve Grubbs in there,” Turner said. After some discussion, he changed his mind: “I withdraw that motion, and I nominate Brother Grubbs.”
Board member Vicki Ballard seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
Paris ISD’s Department of Safety and Security is looking for some extra money from the state.
“Anything we can get, we’re going to apply,” DSS Director Brad Ruthart told the school board. “We’re going to be looking for anything we can.”
The Paris Independent School District board of trustees approved two resolutions Monday to allow the DSS to apply for grants from the Criminal Justice Division of the governor’s office.
The first resolution “finds it in the best interest of the students of Paris ISD boundaries of Lamar County that the School District Campus Police for Paris ISD Department of Safety and Security be operated for the 2014-2015” school year. The grant would be for police vehicles and protective gear.
The second resolution says that it is in the students’ best interest that the “Department of Safety & Security adds additional Police Officers be operated for the 2015 grant cycle Year.”
The grant is a one-time offering that will be awarded competitively via a points system.
Trustee Dr. Bert Strom noted that recent presentations from campus administrators included mentions of how much they appreciated the officers.
“As a board, we appreciate what you’ve put together,” he said.
“It’s officially that time of year,” Business Manager Tish Holleman told the school board Monday. “This is to get us in the mood to think about what’s ahead in the next couple of months.”
Early projections show PISD stands to get about $34.01 million, or $464,000 more next year. That includes $21.32 million from the state, $10.57 million in local revenue and $2.12 million from federal sources.
Expenditure projections at this point total $34.13 million – a $111,656 shortfall. The operating side of the budget has a $228,213 surplus, but debt payments show a $339,869 gap.
“This is a projection of revenue. That’s kind of hard to estimate right now,” Superintendent Paul Jones said. “A district this size, it’s hard to estimate revenue on last year’s numbers because our expenses increase. Eighty percent of our budget is salaries. If 80 percent of our budget gets step increases, that’s a large number.”
The numbers are very preliminary, Holleman said. They include not only an increase in debt payments, but also a step increase in pay for teachers and aides according to the district’s hiring schedule. Other employees not on that schedule haven’t been figured in yet, she said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said.
PISD also faces a roughly $300,000 bill from the state for a new charge the Legislature put on school districts to cover a cost of living increase for retired teachers – the first such hike in more than a decade.
“Thank the school districts,” Jones said. “That was an easy vote for any legislator.”
This year’s budget has $20.86 million in state revenue, $10.57 in taxes and other local revenue sources and $2.12 million from the federal government. That totals $33.55 million in revenue.
Proposed expenditures for this year come in at $33.65 million. The $99,243 shortfall is from the debt fund. Rather than raise taxes to cover the entire cost of $3.28 million in debt payments, the district elected to use money left in the interest and sinking fund to offset expenditures.
In other business:
Former Paris Mayor Jesse James Freelen is seeking the Republican nomination for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2.
“I think most people who interact with the judicial system will do so through the JP office,” Freelen said. “I can have a positive impact on the people who come through the court system and make a change for the better.”
He faces Gene C. Hobbs, Jr. and Curtis Garrett in the primary. The winner will not have a Democrat challenger.
Freelen has worked for Kimberly-Clark for 25 years in a variety of roles, including logistics, operations, special projects and maintenance. He has also been the emergency response team coordinator for more than 10 years.
This is not his first foray into politics. Freelen was elected to two-year terms on the Paris City Council in 2006 and 2008, representing city council District 3, and served as mayor from 2007 to 2010. He said his experience on the council prepared him for work as a justice of the peace.
“It is the responsibility of the mayor to know the city ordinances — which are the laws of the city — and to enforce those laws,” he said. “My success rate as mayor was really high. We had some racial issues our community was struggling with. I think we handled it really well and our community is better for it.”
Freelen also has experience in community service. That includes participating in the Leadership Lamar County fundraiser Dancing With the Stars, Tour de Paris, Kids Safe Saturday, and the art fair. He has served on Northeast Texas Council of Governments and the Paris Economic Development Corp. board. Freelen is also the current president of Paris EMS Reserves, where he has been a member for about 15 years.
He hopes to extend that service to community relationships. Paris, Reno and county government have not always worked well together, Freelen said. He hopes he can help change that.
“With the relationship I have with those entities, I can help offer mediation between them,” he said. “I think it’s important for the betterment of our community.”
A Paris native, Freelen said he wants to give back to the community.
“Through the court, I can put together programs to help nonprofit organizations with labor resources, as well as being proactive with truancy issues in the schools,” he said. “That’s a big part of the JP’s duties. I think before kids come to you, you know they have a problem and you go to them.”
He and wife Tina Freelen have been married 18 years and have a 13-year-old son, Jake, who is an eighth-grade student at Paris Junior High School.
Gilbert’s last day after four years as director of the Paris Economic Development Corp. came Jan. 28. He started work with HWH Group as a vice president Jan. 29.
“I turned the light off there, packed up my stuff and turned on the light here the next morning,” he said. “Didn’t miss a beat.”
HWH Group helps with site selection, which Gilbert said is a major part of economic development. The company also helps with finding incentives and new market tax credits.
“All EDC people want to develop a relationship with site consultants because they bring deals,” he said. “I’m just working on the other side of the table.”
Gilbert often refers to economic developers and city managers as the country’s highest paid migrant workers.
“That’s a joke, but not too far from the truth,” he said. “Those jobs in the public sector and public spotlight are important jobs. If you’re doing something, and you’re affecting changes, you’re going to step on toes and offend some people.”
Things were frequently tense for Gilbert in his last months with PEDC, and he actively sought other employment. He was a finalist for a job west of Fort Worth that didn’t pan out. The week he was to interview for a job in Oklahoma, he got offered the job at HWH Group.
“My family and I came here here not knowing much about Paris, Texas, but we like it here,” he said. “Usually when you finish a job like PEDC, you move on. My family and I feel really fortunate and blessed that this opportunity came open at HWH Group and we can remain part of this community.”
Gilbert said when he started in 2010, the first thing to do was to finish separating PEDC from the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce and create a standalone entity with its own budget and financial reporting.
“When I arrived at PEDC, there wasn’t a lot of ‘deal flow’ — there weren’t projects in the pipeline,” he said. “Paris wasn’t really on anyone’s radar screen. We went about reestablishing relationships and putting Paris on people’s radar.”
Since then, Paris Economic Development Corp. has done quite a bit that he is proud of, such as the effort to get about $5 million in local matching funds needed for the Texas Department of Transportation to greenlight the $34 million widening of Highway 24. PEDC spearheaded the effort to secure commitments from Paris, Lamar County, Delta County and Cooper.
“It’s neat to be part of a project that will last forever,” he said. “it showed everybody could come together for a common goal.”
Finally getting the last 10 miles of highway turned into a four-lane divided road will make a big difference, Gilbert said. The highway will be safer, and Lamar County will benefit economically, as well, he said.
“One of the criteria we would see time and again in competition for economic development projects was ‘are you on a four-lane highway?’” he said.
PEDC has helped with other matters, such as capital investments at Kimberly-Clark, two new lines at Campbell Soup and expansions at local manufacturers like T&K Machine, Potters Industries and Bodyguard Truck Accessories.
“These are projects we spent a lot of time on,” he said. “These will pay dividends to our community for a long time to come.”
Gilbert said he was also glad he was able to participate in two Lamar County Days events. The Chamber of Commerce will continue with planning and execution of the event, and he hopes PEDC will stay involved.
“It’s important we let our elected officials in Austin know we are here,” he said. “As a community, we set priorities for the legislative session, and we go down there to make it happen. That’s how things get done.”
The former PEDC director said he was proud and a little disappointed in the way the corporation’s business plan evolved. PEDC worked with the community to develop the plan in 2011, he said.
“We gathered a lot of input, and ultimately through that process, we put together an economic development plan we put into practice in 2012,” Gilbert said.
The business plan focused on food and consumer goods marketing for the city’s economic development efforts. Many of Paris’ existing industries, such as Campbell Soup and Kimberly-Clark fall into that categories, and the local work force is geared to support them, he said. The plan also looked for ways to take advantage of local resources, such as an abundant water supply, and helping small business through a business incubator.
Changes in the board of director’s makeup resulted in a new focus for PEDC, and many of those efforts were abandoned, particularly the incubator.
“If you pay attention to what the economic development world is talking about, for a year or two, Paris was doing all the right things. We were focusing on business expansion and retention. We were focusing on small business in the incubator.”
A similar shift in focus came with PEDC’s marketing efforts through Retail Attractions. PEDC cannot spend money on incentives for retail projects, but previous boards decided to use marketing funds to hire Rickey Hayes’ firm to market Paris to developers. As with the incubator, the board more recently felt such expenditures were beyond the corporation’s legal purview. However, Gilbert said he was proud of what the effort accomplished.
“We were marketing Paris and the strength of our community and local economy to developers and real estate brokers and retailers,” he said. “We told Paris story over and over.”
He recounted a recent meeting with with a real estate broker for a restaurant chain out of Dallas. In discussing available sites, the broker started hinting at details at another project in the works. It turned out he had heard about it in a conversation with another professional at a meeting in Dallas.
Such word-of-mouth experiences show that Paris is getting more attention as a place to do business.
“In the time I’ve been in Paris as an EDC director, I made an impact in some ways, so it was all worthwhile,” he said. “I hope the PEDC finds a good director and continues to do what they’re there to do.”