New businesses, new development and new growth were the topic of discussion at Coffee with the Mayor on Tuesday morning. Waxahachie Mayor Kevin Strength showcased these achievements in his State of Waxahachie address to residents and Chamber of Commerce members.
“We really do live in a great city. Over the past four or five years, we have asked the (city) staff things that they normally would not do. They have risen to the occasion,” Strength said. “We have kind of looked at area and we want to draw everyone here. We are a retail center. We have the new hospital and we want it to be regional hospital and not just a local hospital. I think that it is turning out to happen that way.”
The city is looking to be a leader in employment, a leader in housing and we have a moderate size and diverse tax base, Strength said.
On the commercial side during 2013-2014, there were 24 permits that were pulled valued at $113 million. Some of these new developments include Hobby Lobby, Cowboy Chicken, Akins Seafood, QuikTrip, Waxahachie Architectural Salvage, the reconstruction of RaceTrac and the expansion of U.S. Aluminum.
Strength added that U.S. Aluminum went out of business three years ago, but through the efforts of community leaders, got another company to purchase the facility.
Economic Development Director Doug Barns told the audience that currently U.S. Aluminum has 105 jobs and over the next three years, because of the expansion will be adding 95 more.
To help bring the new development to the city community leaders got together and created a strategic plan. This plan outlined areas that could be improved to help market the city to outside investors. Some of these areas include the downtown, the city’s image along I-35E, economic recruitment, marketing efforts and education.
“We developed this strategic plan in 2011. This has turned out to be a really good thing for us, a really good tool. Normally those plans sit on the shelf and collect dust. They are just ideas,” Strength said. “We have put most of the ideas in the whole book into fruition. It has been amazing how many people have responded. It is uncanny how things have fallen into place.”
Members of the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Council have been working to make this plan come to life. Though this plan the city has worked to improve its image along I-35E.
Council members have worked with the Texas Department of Transportation to make the efforts to beatify the entrances to the city a reality. Some of the ideas that are looking to be implemented include landscaping improvements, architectural features and lighting.
“You will see a vast improvement in the next two years of the way that we look at the city,” Strength said.
Another item identified in the strategic plan was to make the city a destination for healthcare services.
One of the new developments that Strength pointed out was the new Baylor Scott & White Medical Center. The hospital located at the corner of U.S Highway 287 and Interstate Highway 35E opened for business Dec. 6, 2014 and replaced the existing facility located on West Jefferson Street.
“They (Baylor Scott & White) took a chance and it is still growing. It is a six-story facility. They were not planning to open the fifth floor until eight months after they opened up, but they have already opened up the fifth floor and it is full. The whole hospital is full,” Strength said. “They are talking about spending $4 million to finish out the sixth floor and they are talking about building a second bed tower in three to five years. They were worried that it was not even going to work.”
There have been 86 new employees hired since they opened, 75 new doctors with 75 open positions that they are currently filling, Strength said.
Along with the new business development, Strength told the audience that, in the past year, there have been a total of 304 new residential permits that have been pulled. These permits represent a value of $45,139,686. Strength added that there have been a lot of other housing developments that have not come online who don’t have lots available for purchase yet.
The city has also worked to improve its existing infrastructure. One of the ways the city has done that is through its street rehab program.
“Waxahachie is special. When I drive though Mansfield, I don’t know what they are about. They don’t have any identity. Here, we have something worth preserving,” Strength said. “It is really hard to spend $2 million on one street that runs four blocks. It almost hurts to do that because you know what you could do with that $2 million in another area. We took that chance and we said ‘OK we are going to rebuild the old part of town because that is our authentic quality of place.'”
A street that is a reflection of the city's street rehabilitation program is Kirven Avenue. The work on the street included the replacement of non-only the pavement but the water and sewer lines, installation of sidewalks, new streetlights and preservation of mature trees.
Strength told the audience that there have been many efforts to market the city and showcase what it has to offer. The Crossroads of Texas Film Festival is an event that has helped to do that. This festival shared Waxahachie’s rich film history to the area. It showed not only films made in Waxahachie, but films made in Texas. The public also got the chance to meet with cast members from these different films and filmmakers got to see what the city has to offer.