Photo by Samantha Bryant
City explores diverse ways to bring investment
Although development has been slow the past several years, the City of Georgetown is taking advantage of the downtime to prepare for when the economy gears up again, ensuring that the city is prepared for new development projects that come its way, including those from the manufacturing sector.
Mark Thomas, Georgetown economic development director, said the city qualified an area of town in March for the federal Immigrant Investor Program, also known as EB-5, a program in which foreign investors can obtain citizenship through U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services by investing in certain projects in the United States.
“The No. 1 reason why we haven’t had as many projects over the past few years is because the funding hasn’t been there,” he said, adding that the EB-5 program gives developers another financing option.
Offering the EB-5 program, going to trade shows and having detailed site plans for available properties are all ways Thomas said the city is making sure it is prepared should a manufacturing company decide to locate in Georgetown.
“[We are] trying to make ourselves as desirable and competitive as we can, knowing that it’s been a little bit of a slow time,” he said. “That’s why we’ve worked on these toolkit kinds of things when we didn’t have as many projects that were out there, because we know that once the tap turns back on, we are not going to have as much time to work on that.”
Tools in the toolkit
Georgetown is a part of Opportunity Austin, an economic development initiative of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. Thomas said Georgetown sometimes gets leads for manufacturing companies looking for a location in the area through that organization or partners with it to go to trade shows.
Dave Porter, senior vice president of economic development with the Austin Chamber, said manufacturers are typically searching for existing buildings when they consider locating in Central Texas.
“Last year, we had 52 industrial project leads,” he said. “Ninety-two percent were looking for existing buildings. There’s a definite lack of existing buildings outside of the Austin/Travis county area.”
Thomas said Georgetown has several buildings available, but most of the industrial buildings in the city are already in use.
However, he said the city has worked to make sure the areas within Georgetown that are identified as a fit for a manufacturing company are “shovel-ready,” meaning the site has the necessary infrastructure so construction could begin immediately.
For those sites that do not have the water, wastewater or roads, Thomas said plans are in place to implement those if there is interest by a company.
Another tool is the EB-5 program. To qualify for EB-5, a project must be in the Targeted Employment Area —where unemployment numbers are at least 150 percent of the national average. In Georgetown the targeted zone is located west of I-35 on either side of Williams Drive.
Although the EB-5 program has been in effect since 1992, Thomas said it has recently gained more momentum since the downturn in the economy and the lack of available capital, and Pflugerville has created a similar zone.
Thomas said foreign investors can use the EB-5 program to invest in projects such as those in the manufacturing, hospitality or medical industries. If the projects are successful and meet certain requirements, the investors can receive an immigration visa and can obtain full U.S. citizenship and permanent residency.
Each year, the federal government allocates 10,000 EB-5 immigrant visas for foreign investors seeking lawful permanent investment status. Of the total, 3,000 can go to foreign investors who invest in Targeted Employment Areas, according to USCIS.
Thomas said the foreign investors who participate in the program want to invest in quality projects so they can meet the program requirements, which include creating or preserving 10 jobs for U.S. workers.
Another potential enticement to manufacturers is the recently expanded Central Texas Foreign Trade Zone, an area that includes Williamson County and is considered outside of U.S. Customs territory. Manufacturers can import certain types of products into the zone without going through formal Customs entry procedures or paying import duties.
Manufacturing in Georgetown
Manufacturing jobs make up roughly 15 percent of Georgetown’s economy and employ somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people, said Mel Pendland, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.
Some of the larger manufacturers in Georgetown include AirBorn Inc., which produces electronic components, and Tasus Corp., a supplier for the automobile industry.
Thomas said the city also works to retain its existing manufacturers and assist them if they need to grow.
Tasus is one manufacturing company that has plans to expand, said General Manager Walt Barkalow. He said the company plans to reorganize its existing facility so it can add 10 more pieces of equipment as well as 30 to 40 employees over two year’s time.
“Manufacturing jobs are critical for almost any growing economy,” Pendland said. “They tend to be relatively highly paid, and they are producing something that is being exported to other places. And the money that is earned from that manufacturer comes back into our community through those companies and their employees to be spent in our local economy.”