Cuero uses tools to fill economy’s holes
Eagle Ford Shale provides customers for subdivision developer
> A small community’s major businesses and industry are its lifeblood. And when one fails or moves, the impact can have wide repercussions, leaving vacant buildings and workers with few new job opportunities. For economic development leaders in Cuero, population 6,800, the tools approved by Texas voters and state leaders are there to help do the job of growing and continually revitalizing their community.
Located in the Eagle Ford Shale Play less than 30 miles from Victoria, Cuero is benefiting from the oil and natural gas drilling boom. It also has become a tourist draw and is working hard to replace lost manufacturing jobs.
“Cuero is a strong manufacturing community, we have a fair amount of retail, and we’re somewhat known for the quaintness of the community and its uniqueness,” says Cuero Development Corporation Executive Director Randall Malik. “In 2010, the Budget Travel website named Cuero one of the top 10 coolest towns in America.”
The increased Eagle Ford activity has prompted community leaders to position Cuero as a regional hub in the east of the shale play.
“We’ve seen a lot of producers and, of course, the service companies move to Cuero due to the oil and gas industry,” Malik says. “Now we are seeing a big spike in hospitality, hotels and restaurants.”
The other need for a growing community is homes.
“There is a shortage of housing in Cuero even without the oil boom.” Malik says. “We have quite a few people working in Cuero and traveling from other communities. Most of our existing housing stock is older with a few custom homes.”
That has attracted the attention of Austin developer Charles Medcalf, who has opened up a residential subdivision for sale. Homes in The Quarry’s first 77-lot phase could be built and occupied by summer 2012, Medcalf said during an interview in late March. He added that the first two homes were sold even before any of the infrastructure construction was under way.
He was spurred to invest in Cuero by the economic development in the area, particularly the prospect of Eagle Ford servicing companies that expect to be operating for many years.
“I was contacted in August 2010 by the Cuero Industrial Foundation to look at some land and do a feasibility study to see if it would be possible to build a subdivision,” Medcalf says. “They were trying to get ahead of the oil and gas boom. What started as a residential subdivision morphed into a mixed-use development.
“In general, there is a shortage in commercial property around the city of Cuero,” he says. “By incorporating that into this plan, it provides more of a long-term sustainable option when you are potentially adding 10 percent to the city’s population.”
In addition to single-family homes and some commercial acreage, some duplexes and apartments are planned to provide options across the housing spectrum.
Economic development tools aid recruitment
> The search for new community investment has encouraged Cuero leaders to examine tools available to attract investment by existing and new businesses. A half-cent Type B sales tax is funding economic development activities and resources.
Cuero’s successful efforts to be seen as more than an oil and gas support center has drawn support of the state government’s economic development fund, the Texas Enterprise Fund, which has already paid $125,000 of a maximum $360,000 grant to idX. The company, a St. Louis-headquartered manufacturer of wood and metal shop fittings and furniture, has replaced jobs previously lost in Cuero when a similar operation closed its doors.
“idX came in due to our existing woodworking abilities,” Malik says. “It acquired the former Lancaster Industries operation and retooled it and has already hired 35 workers from an anticipated workforce of 125.”
Success comes from combined efforts
> “Primarily, what we try to do is promote the region but try to sell Cuero,” says Malik. “Existing Cuero businesses are getting to take advantage of newly enacted smaller grant programs to improve their businesses’ aesthetics.
“We are promoting business retention and expansion by providing matching grants geared toward existing retail, he says. “We are starting to use this tool and businesses are expressing an interest.”
Providing workforce training also helps keep jobs in Cuero.
“We have a school of nursing through Victoria College in Cuero,” Malik says. “They have their own training facility next to the hospital, which acts as a feeder system to staff it.” TR