Texas Rising

A Tale of Two Cities

by Clint Shields

Zapata and Hutto share much in common. Both are small towns facing booming growth in population and economic expansion.

Hutto's Help

Jim Aanstoos, interim executive director of the Hutto Economic Development Corp., said Hutto has tapped into the following resources in its economic development efforts:

  • Office of the Governor, Economic Development and Tourism Division – It disseminates prospect leads to designated community economic development directors; and
  • Opportunity Austin - A regional economic development program under the auspices of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce that provides prospect leads.

Local Government Tools that Made the Difference

for Zapata

Zapata County officials are preparing for eventual economic slowdowns and diversifying by improving the county’s infrastructure and developing its natural resources and tourism offerings. Initiatives include:

  • addressing infrastructure, including street-paving projects and a new water treatment facility;
  • offering two-and four-year plans through an education center on a donated campus;
  • addressing public transportation needs;
  • implementing county-wide WiFi; and
  • developing parks along the Falcon Reservoir

Local governments can use Section 4A and Section 4B sales taxes for a range of economic development activities and infrastructure
improvements, including street, water and sewer projects. For more information, visit the Comptroller’s Local Government Assistance and Economic Development Division’s Economic Development Sales Tax report.

Local Government Tools that Made the Difference

for Hutto

The Hutto Economic Development Corporation (EDC) focuses on attracting quality employers and jobs with higher wages and solid employ­ment opportunities to Hutto citizens. Hutto EDC offers the following economic development incentives to business and industry:

  • tax abatements offered by the City of Hutto on case-by-case basis;
  • foreign trade zone, which provides customs
  • procedures to plants engaged in international trade-related activities;
  • freeport exemption, or tax incentives offered to promote trade;
  • enterprise zones, where appropriate;
  • cash incentives to defray costs of moving and/or start-up, based on number of jobs, payroll, capital investment and other considerations;
  • assistance with selecting and acquiring qualified workers; and
  • assistance with training employees

Learn more about how local governments can use tax abatements to attract industry and com­mercial enterprises by reading the Comptroller’s 2006 Biennial Reports of Reinvestment Zone for Tax Abatement Registry and Tax Abatement Agreement Registry or call (800) 252-9121, ext. 3-4416, or direct in Austin at 463-4416.

Zapata is planning for the future — preparing for eventual slowdowns by investing in street and water projects, developing its parks and tourism offerings and training its workers of tomorrow.

Located just north of Austin, Hutto has a population of 17,200 and has witnessed explosive growth as folks move to its affordable housing and land. Faced with an influx of residents, Hutto leaders work to attract business and industry that can offer its residents skilled, higher-paying jobs.

Zapata’s master plan

Peggy Umphres-Moffett grew up in Zapata County. When she moved back to serve as president of the Zapata County Economic Development Center, she was ready to help county residents with life in the 21st century.

“Zapata County has never had a strategic or master plan,” she said. “We’ve done a lot, starting with surveys on needs in the commu­nity and then working on a strategic plan – looking ahead three-and-a-half years and then 10 years down the road.”

With a population of around 17,000, Zapata County has no incorporated cities, although the unincorporated town of Zapata has about 14,000 residents. For this reason, the center is spearheading economic develop­ment efforts for the entire county.

Named for rancher Antonio Zapata, the county’s traditional economic mainstays have been farming and ranching. Oil was discovered in 1919 but, with recent jumps in oil and gas prices, the industry has reached “boom” status in the county. Feeding this industry with the skilled laborers it needs is a big part of Umphres-Moffett’s plan.
“We’re developing an oil and gas technol­ogy center, working with major energy companies,” she said. “That’s come out of the demand of the energy cluster here – they have a real need for skilled employees.”

County officials recognize oil and gas are finite resources, and for every boom there is a bust. The county is undertaking a variety of projects including countywide WiFi and parks development along the Falcon Reser­voir, which offers world-class bass fishing. Zapata’s parks offer recreational activities and attract tourists. More hang gliding world records have been set from Zapata than any other location in the world.

“Community leaders, plus more than 100 residents have come together to work on the strategic plan,” Umphres-Moffett said. “If we’re all working in the same direction, we can’t help but succeed.”

Hutto is hot

The town of Hutto is known for its unique mascot, the hippo. According to local legend, a circus train stopped in Hutto in 1915. A hippo got out of the railcar, made its way to Cottonwood Creek, and townspeople had to prod the hippo from the mud and water and return him to the railcar. Hutto High School adopted the hippopotamus as its mascot and proclaims itself “Home of the Hippos.” Various colorful hippo statues dot the town.

Today, Hutto is bursting at the seams.

“Our population grew more than 800 percent between 1995 and 2005,” said Jim Aanstoos, interim executive director for the Hutto Eco­nomic Development Corporation (EDC).

Residents are flocking to Hutto for its affordable land, housing and proximity to Austin and Round Rock.

That explosive growth outpaced both Williamson County’s — the nation’s fastest-growing county — and Austin’s, Aanstoos said. The city grew from a small town of 630 residents in 1990 to approximately 17,200 people in 2007.

Home builders have built, and families have flocked to Hutto’s affordable housing and small-town way of life. At least 15 housing subdivision developments are under construc­tion within and just outside the city limits.

Hutto EDC embraces this growth and the retail explosion that has come with it, Aanstoos said. Total sales tax collections were about $30,500 in 1995 but ballooned to more than $1 million in 2006.

The city is looking to enhance its appeal for industries such as light manufacturing.

Precision Engineered Ceramics, which supplies components to the high-tech industries of nearby Austin and Round Rock, and Trim Tech, a custom molding manufacturer for homebuilders, are examples of the high-skilled, higher-paying jobs the EDC works to bring in.

“Those are relatively high-paying jobs at about $43,000 a year, plus benefits,” Aanstoos said. “Highly trained [workers] are needed in both of those. We know the growth is going to occur, we’re just trying to help it, and at the same time, keep it somewhat under control.”

For more information on Hutto’s economic planning strategy, visit the Hutto Economic Development Corp.