NCCC highlights growth even in pandemic

Northern Caldwell County Coalition meeting highlights growth and development even in pandemic
Posted on 11/13/2020
District News Release

DATE: NOVEMBER 13, 2020

Northern Caldwell County Coalition meeting highlights growth and development even in pandemic

The Northern Caldwell County Coalition (NCCC) hosted its 4th annual “State of Northern Caldwell County” public meeting at the Gerry Ohlendorf Performing Arts Center Thursday evening. The event provides community and business members and leaders an overview of developments in the region from representatives from Caldwell County, the City of Lockhart, and Lockhart Independent School District. 

Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden, City of Lockhart Mayor Lew White, City Manager Steven Lewis, and LISD Superintendent of Schools Mark Estrada shared highlights from the past year indicating continued growth and development even as each faces challenges resulting from the pandemic.

NCCC at GOPAC

Caldwell County
Judge Haden began the panel discussion by sharing the impact of COVID-19. Caldwell County’s cumulative total for confirmed cases is 1,752. With mask orders still in place to mitigate the risk of the virus, businesses continue to operate with restaurants now at 75 percent capacity and bars now at 50 percent capacity. However, Haden shared the pandemic caused several businesses to close. He also noted the pandemic revealed the true and real need for rural broadband service. 

Caldwell County has continued to experience growth with an estimated population in 2020 of 43,665 residents. Haden noted the majority of the growth and new mobility demand is westward from Lockhart towards San Marcos. Residential construction permits increased from 180 in 2019 to 441 in 2020. Caldwell County’s population is expected to grow to 103,815 in the next 25 years.

Of benefit is the affordable cost of housing in Caldwell County. According to the National Association of Realtors, the average price of a home in Caldwell County is among the lowest in the Austin market at $134,389.   

“Transportation demands are going to be one of the most critical things we are going to be facing as far as economic development. We are trying very hard at the County to get ahead of what we believe is going to be explosive growth,” said Haden.  To support a projected growth rate of 164 percent in the next 25 years, Caldwell County has identified over a half billion dollars’ worth of needed transportation projects through 2040, the majority of which are new roadways or upgrading existing roads. 

Construction is underway on Highway 21 Super 2, which will have long stretches of roads with passing lanes on one side and shoulders on both sides for safety.  Additionally, the County is paving county roads at a good rate, having paved 7 country roads in the past year with plans to pave an additional 7 this year. We are stabilizing our existing gravel roads, preparing them to be paved in the future. Future projects include plans to expand Yarrington Road to SH 130. Additionally, the county has approved a half a million dollar engineering and environmental study to widen 142 into a four lane road with turning lanes to get ahead of the expected growth.   

To further support Caldwell County in its growth and development, the Caldwell County Community Services Foundation achieved 501c3 status, enabling the foundation to identify opportunities for grant funds to support economic development. The County built more capacity by increasing the staffing in the grants and purchasing departments. 

The United States Census 2020 concluded with a 59 percent self-report rate for Caldwell County, compared to 62 percent national self-response rate. 

City of Lockhart
Mayor Lew White opened the City of Lockhart’s presentation by sharing, “I want to say how important that the Coalition has been as far as keeping lines of communication open on a quarterly basis between the County, the City, and the school district, and organizations such as the Chambers of Commerce have been very important and helpful as well.”

White noted that economic development is the City’s number one goal--creating jobs and retaining jobs. The City has collaborated with the downtown business owners, property owners, and the Chambers of Commerce to successfully revitalize the city’s downtown. 

The City is working to continue to develop utilities to assemble parcels with rezoning tracts along SH 130 and 142 for development, making these ready for development when prospects come to Lockhart. The City is also creating a business retention and expansion program to make sure businesses are healthy and able to get the assistance they need. Additionally, the City shared that its industrial park has been purchased and is prepared for development, but White added the need for developing new buildings by stating, “If we don’t have a product, we won’t have a project. If we don’t have property or spec buildings, we are going to be behind our competition, so we are looking to invest in more property for growth and exploring possible sites for a new industrial park.” 

The population within a 30 mile radius of Lockhart is 1.2 million and 4.7 million within a 60 mile radius. This equates to a possible labor force in those same areas total 663,645 within a 30 mile radius and 2.4 million within a 60 mile radius. The potential to draw those workers to Lockhart helps prospects to feel positive about selecting this area to do business.

Between 2010 and 2018, Lockhart experienced 5.2 percent growth, bringing the total population to 13,319. The projected growth for the area is anywhere from 1 to 3 percent in the next 5 years.  

Job growth was positive for Lockhart even during the pandemic. In the 2nd quarter of 2020, Lockhart had a total of 4,655 jobs with a 1.3 percent growth rate in the last year. The growth rate over the past 5 years totals 6.5 percent.

Also of note from the City’s presentation, the poverty level for children under 18 in Lockhart decreased by 11 percent between 2013 and 2018.  Nationally, the poverty rate decreased by just 2.1 percent during that same time.

City Manager Steven Lewis continued the presentation by noting the adoption of the new 5-year strategic plan for economic development. Lewis stated, “This plan was really the first that Lockhart has really had in its economic development activities. It’s important to be focused. This puts us in the best position to be successful.” The City asked a firm to take a look at Lockhart in the eyes of a site-selector, and identify the City’s strengths and challenges.

The plan focuses upon four optimal targets:  auto parts, metal, and electronic manufacturing; food and beverage processing; logistics and distribution; and pharmaceutical, medical supplies, and medical device manufacturing. The plan creates a strategy that is unique to Lockhart’s specific strengths and needs. 

The auto parts, metal, and electronic manufacturing target takes into consideration Lockhart’s proximity to vehicle assembly plants such as Tesla GM, Peterbilt, and Toyota. The average national earnings in these industries is $70,145 with a projected job growth of 2.2 percent over the next decade.

Lockhart’s agricultural products in the region, 75-100 million square feet of industrial freezer/cooler space needed to meet demand generated by online grocery sales, and ample water supply makes it optimal for the food and beverage processing industry. The average national earnings in this industry is $51,619. The projected job growth over the next decade is 5 percent.

The logistics and distribution industry continues to grow due to E-commerce. Because of Lockhart’s proximity to Austin, other Texas metropolitan areas, and Mexico, and because the transportation and warehousing industry employment has grown locally by 11 percent in Caldwell County, Lockhart is well-positioned for logistics and distribution. The average national earning in this industry is $69,763. The projected job growth over the next decade is 7.9 percent. 

As the pandemic reshapes supply chains for pharmaceutical, medical equipment, and supplies, the opportunity is significant for pharmaceutical, medical supplies, and medical device manufacturing. The skill sets for associated metalworking is similar to manufacturing medical equipment. Additionally, the skill sets for food and beverage processing is similar to working in pharmaceuticals. Also, Lockhart has the availability of water necessary for pharmaceutical manufacturing. The average national earnings in this industry is $97,776 with a projected growth rate of 7.5 percent over the next decade. 

To be competitive in luring businesses in these industries to Lockhart, the City must develop its sites and buildings inventory. This includes extending infrastructure to make shovel-ready sites, acquiring a 100-acre site for an industrial park, and developing industrial shell buildings of at least 50,000 square feet expandable to 100,000 square feet. Additionally the City must create a “culture of yes” within its permitting and regulatory process. This will include obtaining and examining stakeholder feedback about both real and perceived barriers, resulting in deeper communication about perceived issues and deeper examinations of true barriers. The City must also develop and sustain a coordinated effort for workforce training. Currently, there is no vocational or community college.  

Lewis shared news of Iron Ox selecting Lockhart for the company’s expansion from California. After reviewing numerous sites around Texas, Lockhart was selected because it had an available site and utilities, enabling the company to move quickly. This is the largest economic development win in 45 years with a $10 million initial investment using a 1000,000 square foot facility, which will expand over time.

To support continued growth, a new 500,000 gallon elevated storage water tank recently went into service. The tank increases capacity for the community and future growth on the SH 130 corridor. Additionally, the City acquired a 2,373-acre portion of a water service area that borders Lockhart, ensuring future water utility development. A few years ago, the City and a number of other communities developed the Carrizo Groundwater Supply Project, and the project’s design is now 50 percent complete. The water delivery from this project will begin in 2023.

In response to the COVID-19 impact on businesses, the City and County, working with the Chamber, made loans and grants  available to businesses to help them through the pandemic. There have been 18 loans totaling $110,000 and 15 grants totaling $37,500. The Texas economy is growing again, but it is difficult to forecast how long it will take for Texas to return to its previous economic level. On a positive note, sales tax revenue during this pandemic actually increased as people ordered supplies, ordered online, and  shopped closer to home. 

Lewis spoke of the future of housing development and shared developers are recognizing opportunities in Lockhart and setting the stage for future housing. With transportation access, population growth, infrastructure, retail, and a strong city identity, Lockhart is viewed by developers as having the building blocks for further growth. 

Lockhart ISD
Superintendent Mark Estrada opened by stating, “I would add one thing to the City’s presentation about the strengths of the community, and that’s the collaboration and cooperation between the County, the City, the school district, and the entire community. It is a wonderful thing to work in a community like that.”

Estrada thanked Trustees Carl Cisneros and Becky Lockhart for their years of service on the LISD Board of Trustees. He also welcomed and congratulated Dr. Barbara Sanchez, Rene Rayos, and Sam Lockhart in joining the Board. He then recognized the contributions of The Education Foundation for Lockhart ISD. Especially during the pandemic with uncertainty in the state budget ahead, he voiced how the Foundation’s support is critical and appreciated, providing grants to LISD teachers annually.  

Lockhart ISD’s current enrollment is 6,100 students. Estrada noted that the pandemic impacted enrollment, particularly in the district’s pre-K program with 100 less students this year. Across Texas, school districts experienced drops in enrollment by 3 to 5 percent. LISD’s decrease is closer to 1 percent. 

As a District of Innovation, one of the key strategies used by LISD is the ability to recruit, hire, and retain Career and Technical Education teachers who may not have a teacher’s certification but have the professional expertise to teach our students skills valuable in the current workforce.  Estrada invited everyone to listen to the December 14 meeting of the LISD Board to hear an extensive presentation about the district’s CTE program.

Estrada described LISD’s COVID-19 response this year. The district provided over 800,000 meals to children in Caldwell County, distributing breakfast, lunch, and dinner at campuses and using the district’s buses to deliver meals across the district’s reach of 300 square miles. While the school began the year with all students learning online for the first three weeks, the district welcomed back students who opted to return to campus with safety protocols in place consistent with recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and TEA. So far, LISD has spent approximately $2 million on expenses related to COVID-19 to ensure student and staff safety. The district is expecting to offset some of this cost through Federal, State, and County reimbursements.

To mitigate COVID-19 risk, LISD also invested $800,000 in HVAC improvements at Lockhart Junior High School to improve the air flow and quality for student and staff safety. Additionally, the district installed UV lighting systems to improve air quality in nurses’ offices and special education classrooms. 

To ensure equitable access to education for Lions during these challenging times, LISD also launched the Lion Link to provide free internet to families without access to make sure learning would not be interrupted, provided school supplies for all LISD students, and distributed a Chromebook or iPad to students without a device--becoming a 1:1 district. 

Estrada shared the district is tracking COVID-19 cases closely and providing this information daily on the LISD COVID-19 Dashboard on the district main website. This dashboard tracks both active cases and cumulative totals. As of yesterday, the district has zero active cases and a cumulative total of 14 cases over time.

In presenting highlights from the past year, Estrada shared the district once again received an A rating from Texas Education Agency (TEA) for its budgeting practices with a perfect score of 100. The Board of Trustees worked to further decrease the tax rate from $1.26 in 2019-2020 to the current rate of $1.16. It was $1.33 in 2018-2019. In Central Texas, LISD has one of the lowest school tax rates. 

The school district’s celebrations from this year also included the launch of Lion Link for families in need, something the Board is recognized for in moving swiftly and urgently to meet the needs of our students; continued invitations to the LISD Board from the Texas Association of School Boards to present to other school district boards regarding the eXcellence in Governance (XG) training; and the growth in CTE programs where the goal is for more students to graduate with a certificate, ready to work in high demand fields.  

Also, the district launched its first orchestra program at Lockhart Junior High School this year, and as the students progress, the program will extend into Lockhart High School over time. The fine arts program continues to thrive, even during the pandemic, ensuring a focus on the whole child and providing a quality education. Finally, student athletes in cross country, tennis, and volleyball all advanced to playoffs this season, even with the extra challenges of playing with safety precautions due to COVID-19. 

Moving forward, the district is focused on ensuring students and staff are safe, continuously monitoring data and recommendations by the CDC and TEA. The district is continuing its focus on growing our students by 1.5 years each year, especially due to loss of learning due to what is referred to as the “COVID slide.” Finally, as the portables purchased to accommodate growth are already full, LISD must continue planning and partnering with stakeholders to prepare for the expected growth. 

Those unable to attend the NCCC event can click here to view the video recording. To view the presentation slides from the event, click here or visit the district website at www.lockhartisd.org to view it under the “Community” tab. 

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