Why We Aren’t Planting Palm Trees in East Texas
Nacogdoches citizens are very vested and INVESTED in our community. This is progressively apparent as I scroll through local social media sites, read Everything Nac and overhear conversations at the coffee shop. More often than not, the rhetoric I hear is in regards to the local economy and it’s “lack of growth.”
However, if you were able to read last Sunday’s edition of the Daily Sentinel, you may now know economic development (i.e. growth) is much more than just new businesses coming to our community. The article explains how building a good foundation for future businesses is the key to Nacogdoches’ economic success. It is important to look at new businesses as economic indicators, not the sole measure of health in our economy. The editorial notes one of the most tangible and current examples of this is the partnership and revitalization to re-open the Technical Training Center to ensure we can supply a skilled labor force of Nacogdoches citizens to new businesses coming to town. Most potential new businesses want a guarantee we have a facility where we can train workers they will need to keep their business afloat.
This example gleans toward a broader concept called “economic gardening.” Economic gardening continues to come up in my mind as we discuss economic development with the citizens of Nacogdoches. Economic gardening is the perfect analogy for the Garden Capital of Texas to employ that echoes Sunday’s paper and the work being done at the City of Nacogdoches and the Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation each and every day.
Economic gardening is defined as an approach to economic development which seeks to grow the economy from within by utilizing current assets, human capital, and “fertilizing” existing vibrant businesses. This is all done while considering a community’s unique needs and resources. Similarly, in advertising, there is a term called the “unique selling proposition” and it is utilized to articulate a product’s uniqueness in the market. Since our product is the City of Nacogdoches, I would venture to say our unique selling proposition is our healthy, and vibrant small businesses—something we should continue to fertilize. Small businesses are a wonderful thing for a rural economy as small business owners are the largest type of businesses across the United States. The small retail and service businesses (aka mom ‘n’ pops) seen throughout our community may not bring extra wealth into the community but recirculate the local dollar throughout Nacogdoches. Therefore, the sentiment of supporting local businesses is not just a #shopnacfirst campaign, but a true message to the importance of “growing” what’s local, unique, and successful in our area.
Since local businesses are the unique selling proposition for our community, they are the cornerstone of economic gardening in Nacogdoches. The recirculation of dollars in our community is similar to ensuring your soil is healthy before planting spring vegetables. If we take care of our soil, the crop will be plentiful.
Additionally, we always want to continue to grow our garden with new crops (aka new businesses). No one would claim new business recruitment isn’t a top priority. However, this should be done in a methodical way to ensure we are capitalizing on our unique selling proposition as a rural East Texas community. This is purposeful to also ensure the businesses we are recruiting are successful in our community and that the businesses are good for Nacogdoches as whole. For example, an Amazon distribution center would be great in theory, but the community could not supply the labor force, due to our small population, needed to ensure Amazon’s financial success.
Therefore, economic development is not a one-size fits all philosophy but a strategic effort to ensure current businesses are successful and new businesses will remain successful for years to come. After all, it’s East Texas, we plant pine trees—not palm trees.
Amy Mehaffey began her work with the City of Nacogdoches in July 2015. Prior to this, she worked as a 4-H Specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. In this role she did marketing and promotion for the Texas 4-H Youth Development Program and served as the event coordinator for Texas 4-H Roundup, the agency’s largest event. Amy graduated in May 2015 with her PhD in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Sciences with an emphasis in youth development. During the pursuit of this degree she also received a certificate in Prevention Science and a Certificate in Non-Profit Management from the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Previously, she completed a Master’s of Science in Agricultural Communications at Texas A&M University and a Bachelor’s of Science in the same field at Texas Tech University. Amy is also a freelance photographer and enjoys Texas A&M football in the fall. She is married to John Michael Mehaffey who is a professor of Animal Science at Stephen F. Austin State University. They are proud parents to Hattie Mae Mehaffey, born September 1, 2016 and are expecting another, Hunter Leigh Mehaffey in July 2018.