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After less than a year as director of the Red River Region Business Incubator, Hank Betke is resigning.
“The incubator has gone through some difficult times in the past few months, and some challenges are ahead,” he said. “I think my resignation gives the board an opportunity to go in a different direction. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and very grateful of the support I’ve received from the board.”
The board accepted Betke’s resignation Monday. In a statement, R3bi board President Sydney Young said he is stepping down “for personal reasons.”
“While his resignation comes at a difficult time, we will continue business as usual with our building and support services, including our administrative staff and volunteer mentors,” she said. “The board believes in this organization and the long range benefit to our area.”
In his resignation letter, Betke said he has “enjoyed working for the board and appreciates the support provided during my tenure. You may be assured of my full cooperation during the transition.”
Betke took over the reins in October 2012 after the resignation of Fred Green, the incubator’s first director. He volunteered with the incubator as a mentor for nearly a year before that. A self-styled “serial entrepreneur,” Betke has had a great deal of business experience, from owning high-tech companies to building an FM station from the ground up.
R3bi has faced a great deal of “adversity” in recent months after Paris Economic Development Corp. Chair Rebecca Clifford questioned the legality of PEDC funding a mixed-use incubator, Young said. The City Council ultimately directed PEDC to remove the $89,000 it had for the incubator in its budget. The council has agreed to pick up the funding for the next fiscal year.
“Although it has been difficult, the questions have actually raised good points which will eventually make our organization and services better and more relevant to the needs of our area, as well as to the legal use of PEDC funds.” Young said. “I have been grateful for the ideas offered by Rebecca, as well as for the support of past Chamber of Commerce Chairperson, Dr. Pamela Anglin, in our committee meetings regarding a vetting process for R3Bi.”
The city’s funding will help R3bi buy the time it needs to implement the ideas the group is developing, Young said. The controversy hit hard at a point when the incubator had started building momentum with its clients and was trying to wrap up a local sponsorship campaign, she said.
On the positive side, she said the issue has raised public awareness about the incubator and what it does in the area and has helped spread the word about the services R3bi offers.
“The bottom line is that our clients need the incubator – indeed, Paris, Texas, needs the incubator,” she said. “Accordingly, we will continue to provide support and pursue funding opportunities with PEDC and/or the city. The three biggest industrial employers that we have in this area have come around 50 years apart from each other. We believe that the next big industry could come from the incubator itself. Our continued existence is vital to the area.”
By Jeff Parish, eParisExtra
One would expect to see a lineup of hot dog carts around the streets of NYC or Chicago, serving up a quick bite to eat for busy folks. Here in Paris, the market for mobile food stands hasn’t quite developed. With a slow-cooked idea, Casey Jordan brought that charm to town, opening up his hot dog stand, A la Cart.
Jordan was born and raised in Paris, moving away in 1995 to attend college. He moved back in 2011 and is now a mathematics teacher at Paris High School. He didn’t expect to be a teacher; in fact, he didn’t expect to dive into the world of hot dog carts, either. But, his family background with business has served him well.
Jordan’s grandfather started a grocery store some time after World War II, eventually moving to what is now La Familia.
“He had produce and some staple goods,” Jordan said. “He had a meat market, and what he didn’t sell as a product to clients, he had a hamburger shack there attached to it, so he would make hamburgers for the lunch crowd and for dinner.”
As a baby, Jordan said he was pushed around the store. When his grandfather passed away, his father managed it and ran it in the summer since he was also a teacher.
“I always grew up in a restaurant-style business” he said. “It centered around the hamburger shack. That was the main income of the place.”
When he was in high school, his father then changed the entire building into a restaurant called Crabtree’s. It then went through several changes until it became La Familia in the late 1990‘s.
Jordan said he never really thought of his upbringing around a restaurant-centered business as a main driving factor into his new hot dog endeavor, but he did credit it as something he was familiar with and had an influence. Rather, his inspiration came from an actual hot dog stand owner.
“When I lived in Austin, I worked downtown. One of my jobs was to take money and checks to the bank every day. There was a hot dog stand there, and I had a snack on the way back to work. I loved them.”
After moving to Midland, he came across the exact same hot dog cart that he bought from in Austin. With an interest Jordan began to learn the beef used in the hot dogs: Vienna beef sausages, which have been around for more than 100 years. His curiosity — and a constant craving for the hot dogs after moving back to Paris — had him more than intrigued.
With time on his hands during the summer months, Jordan decided to purchase a cart from Florida. He drove all the way to Dallas to purchase the best Vienna beef for his stand. According to Jordan, the size and flavor of the beef is exceptionally better than a typical Oscar Meyer wiener.
“It has a much bolder spice,” he said, “and a more peppery flavor.”
Jordan stocks sausages and franks, which differ in taste and cooking application.
Currently, A la Cart can either be found where the Skinny Grille formerly stood at 23rd and Clarksville or in the parking lot of Texas Car Title and Payday Loan. Jordan plans to experiment with various locations downtown. A la Cart is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
By Matthew Ablon, eParisExtra
Red River Region Business Incubator has a new graduate. Jazzy Frog Interactive plans to leave the nest next week.
“There’s always a little bit of nervousness with a change like this,” owner James Wallace said. “We feel pretty good going out on our own. It’s the right time, and our business will continue to succeed.”
Jazzy Frog was R3bi’s first client. After two years with the incubator, the firm is ready to open its own office at 116 1st Street SE by the first of the week.
“It’s bittersweet,” R3bi Director Hank Betke said. “We’re happy they progressed to the point where they’re ready to go out on their own. At the same time, we’re not only losing a wonderful company that has been a pleasure to work with but we’re also losing friends.”
When Jazzy Frog first came to the incubator, Wallace and wife Rana had taken over a business spun off from a previous employer. He had years of experience and a reputation in Paris, but little else.
“We came from downtown upstairs,” he said. “We’re going to downtown downstairs in the same building. We’re looking forward to being part of downtown. We missed it.”
Today Jazzy Frog averages a dozen new web design jobs a month. The new space is larger and ideal for Jazzy Frog’s current and projected growth. The company has three part-time employees and Wallace sees more coming as the company continues to expand. He has taken steps to branch out into other markets with billboard advertising in the Austin area.
The incubator worked with Wallace from square one, developing a business plan, setting up a limited liability corporation, developing skills in time management, setting up accounting and managing cash flow.
“It helped us get on our feet,” Wallace said. “If I compare where we’re at now to w here we were two years ago, we are in a much better position in every way to continue our business.”
That’s what the business incubator is all about, Betke said.
“We’re losing a relationship that you build here at the incubator. But that’s a good thing,” he said. “They’re well prepared, well equipped and have all the skills they need to flourish on their own.”
Jazzy Frog Interactive has learned a great deal and found success from R3bi. Wallace hopes to pay that forward. Just as he began with little knowledge of running a business, he said companies trying to establish themselves on the Internet often know what they want to say but aren’t sure how to do it.
“Our goal is to help other businesses succeed,” he said. “We want to help them create a web presence that reflects well on their businesses.”
By Jeff Parish, eParisExtra
Paris Economic Development Corp. Director Steve Gilbert has developed an action plan for the remainder of the fiscal year.
“The Paris DC has a lot of work to accomplish in the coming months to successfully close out FY 12-13,” he wrote in the plan, submitted to the PEDC board this week. “I recommend the following immediate action plans between now and the end of September.”
Gilbert stressed the need for board relationship management.
“The past several weeks remind us that we all have an important role in managing our relationships, and I’m respectfully asking the Paris EDC board to consider how they can cultivate good working relationships with our local, state and federal elected officials,” he wrote. “More than anything, we must all be pulling the rope in the same direction, not trying to push it uphill. We can’t take ourselves too seriously; we can’t worry about politics we can’t control; and at the end of the day, we all want the same thing – what is best for the citizens and businesses in Paris and Lamar County.”
The PEDC should focus on business retention, expansion and industrial recruiting. Gilbert said the corporation would continue to focus on recruiting food and consumer goods manufacturing and water-using industries.
Gilbert wants to develop a return on investment/economic development report card. The business plan calls for an evaluation to measure success and determine the return on investment to taxpayers. Other things to grade include job retention, new jobs and capital investment.
PEDC is working to supplement sales tax receipts with state and federal grants. There are three pending federal grant proposals worth $300,000 – two for R3bi and one to support existing manufacturers.
Paris Economic Development Corp. needs to resolve incubator issues, Gilbert said. That includes helping R3bi develop a five-year funding plan; finding facility options, including an action plan, timeline and cost; and unraveling the PEDC/R3bi relationship, including the incubator’s bylaws, facility lease and the director contract.
Gilbert also recommended a review and update of incentive policies and tax abatement criteria.
“The goal is to be fair to existing employers looking to expand, as well as to new companies looking to locate here,” he wrote. “For our abatement policies, we have begun the process with the city, county and PJC leadership to find a happy medium where companies can benefit, but also where the city, county and PJC can benefit from our growing tax base.”
EDC still needs to draft and execute previously approved incentive agreements – including Campbell Soup, Skinner, T&K Machine and Potters Industries – and complete current abatement requests.
PEDC recently received recognition from the Texas Economic Development Council and is currently pursuing national certification by the International Economic Development Corporation.
Other actions needed include launching a Work Ready Community Initiative, updating website content, securing reimbursement from Triton for $46,744 and reviewing documentation of the sites ready development.
By Jeff Parish, eParisExtra
Paris Economic Development Corp. has been “irresponsible” in giving money to the business incubator without an agreement for the last few years, according to one board member.
“There’s no agreement between PJC, PEDC and the incubator,” board Chair Rebecca Clifford said. “We have been operating on a handshake.”
The Red River Region Business Incubator was originally supposed to be a venture of Paris Junior College and PEDC. Fred Green was hired by Paris Junior College as a Small Business Development Center counselor and incubator director. When PJC had to end that because of complications with funding for SBDC, PEDC decided to step in and take over his employment. The same agreement and job description was used with R3bi Director Hank Betke, PEDC Executive Director Steve Gilbert said.
The only real agreement between PEDC and R3bi is Betke’s employment contract, Clifford said. She said she has a problem with someone who is a contract employee of the corporation but not part of the organization. PEDC should not have any responsibility or control over him, she said.
Any agreement should have some kind of performance requirements for the money PEDC gives, Clifford said.
“What we have done is gift money,” she said. “We are giving $100,000 of our organization’s money on a handshake. I have a real problem with that.”
The incubator has been a program of the economic development corporation, Gilbert said. The director’s contract has some specific requirements, and PEDC hasn’t simply been giving its money away, he said.
“We need to take action to unwind the PEDC from the incubator,” he said. “They need to unwind PEDC from their bylaws. They need to unwind PEDC from their facility lease, and they need to unwind PEDC from their director’s contract.”
Betke’s contract runs through Oct. 1, which gives PEDC a little more than two months to unravel all that, board member David Turner said.
Clifford, PJC President Dr. Pam Anglin and R3bi Board President Sydney Young met Tuesday for about two hours discussing options for keeping the incubator operating.
“We plan on meeting again to further our discussion on our options and opportunities,” Anglin said.
Board members Bruce Carr and Vicki Ballard were supposed to work with Gilbert and the R3bi board to find a way forward. Clifford said that will be put on hold while she and Anglin work with Young.
After attending a sales tax workshop in Houston, Carr said he got the impression PEDC has a fair amount of latitude in how it funds things such as Retail Attractions. Incubator clients receiving EDC funding should meet the NAICS codes required of a Type A corporation and be primary job creators, Carr said.
“There is so much gray,” said Ballard, who also attended the workshop. “It is not black and white.”
The board tabled action on a letter seeking an attorney general’s opinion on the incubator funding.
The central question in the letter, drafted by City Attorney Kent McIlyar, asked: “May a Type ‘A’ economic development corporation use Type ‘A’ sales tax proceeds to fund a non-profit business incubator under the parameters of the Development Corporation Act as codified under Chapters 501 and 504 of the Texas Local Government Code?”
Board members said the question was too general and didn’t address the real issue PEDC faces, particularly the kinds of clients R3bi serves.
Clifford suggested including the ballot language from the 1993 election that created PEDC.
That language, representing the will of the voters, is also part of the reason given for pulling Retail Attractions from the budget, since it created an economic development corporation focused on industry and manufacturing. The consulting firm run by Rickey Hayes has been marketing Paris to retail developers.
“If the council had said, ‘Yes, we’ll support the use of these funds for what Rickey Hayes does,’ I don’t think we’d have anyone rattling our cage,” Carr said.
Vice-Chair Toni Clem said Section 4.03 of the PEDC bylaws says the board’s general duties include business retention, expansion and attraction.
“I think we’re splitting hairs about retail,” she said. “Our bylaws specifically encourage us to attract business, not just manufacturing.”
By Jeff Parish, eParisExtra