Mike Slye speaks on where Kaufman was and the progress made since six years ago.

Population growth, workforce training, broadband, and city and county issues are all going to effect how Kaufman County grows into the future. 

To examine those issues, the Kaufman Chamber of Commerce held its first annual Economic Summit on Aug. 13 at the Kaufman Civic Center.

The event was attended by business owners, media, investors and contractors, as well as local and regional elected officials. It was designed to bring public and private sectors together to see where and how to move Kaufman County and the region forward.

Cody Craig opened the event on behalf of Rep. Keith Bell, noting that a $248.5 billion state budget was passed for the next two years. This 2022-2023 biennial budget is a 5.2% decrease from the current budget cycle. State representatives are continuing to make improvements with reforms to ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, as well as Broadband for Texans, which ensures that rural Texas counties have access to high-speed internet. 

Crais stated that upcoming generations will be responsible for continuing a legacy for Texas.

“We’ve got to be sure we are raising a generation of leaders,” he stated. 

Aaron Demerson, a commissioner representing employers for the Texas Workforce Commission, witnessed the chaos following the loss of jobs for many Texans during the start of the pandemic. The commission received 8.3 million claims following the start of the pandemic, which was equivalent to one year’s worth of claims that had to be solved and met within a one-month time frame. 

“Our job is to provide Texans with another day of work and another week of work,” Demerson said. While some businesses did not survive the destruction of COVID-19, many were able to survive and come out on top. Not only did large chain retail business survive, but many smaller chains and local businesses toughed out the pandemic.

 Texas is currently bringing in the largest numbers of businesses regionally thanks to the businesses starting on the local level, Demerson said, noting that these small business on the local level are pebbles that are creating ripples of change for the state.

Chris Wallace, president of the North Texas Commission, spoke extensively on population growth in Texas and how the population number continues to impact everyone within the state. 

As of now, there are 7.5 million Texans in the region of North Texas, which is larger than the population of most states in the U.S.

“Population counts,” Wallace stated, noting that only six of the states will gain an extra seat for a U.S. representative in Washington D.C. Texas is the only state that gained two additional seats for representatives because of population growth. 

Providing housing for all of these new residents is going to impact all communities in North Texas. 

Kaufman County has more housing being built than Dallas County, according to David Brown of Zonda, a company that provides data-driven housing market solutions to the residential building industry. 

In 2020, 4,000 housing jobs have started within Kaufman County, and the number has continued to grow and doubled since the last calculated estimate. 

“I’m seeing things I’ve never seen in my career,” Brown said. The rehousing demand comes from the affordability of land and building in the county, as well as being a low-crime area with high-ranking school districts, as well as retail services. 

So where will these new residents work? Trinity Valley Community College offers workforce programs for those looking to find work, or move into higher-paying fields. 

As of July, the top jobs for Kaufman County are transportation-logistics, construction, and administration support, explained Kelly Townsend of TVCC. 

Looking at population breakdowns for Kaufman County, numbers in 2021 show there are not enough people in the workforce to replace those retiring, Townsend said. More jobs are requiring skills beyond a high school degree, so college and vocational education are becoming increasingly important for jobseekers. 

TVCC works to guide students who apply at their school to reach success. TVCC is opening a computer lab for students who need internet access to further their studies as well as career. Additionally, they have scholarships and grants available for students and future students. TVCC also has a Small Business Development Careers program that assists small businesses and guides student who have inquiries about starting a small business.

On the business development side of the growth equation, Retail Strategies  is a national recruiting firm that works with local officials to bring businesses into Kaufman. 

Company representative Christopher Bontrager said Retail Strategies helps governments decide what businesses truly belong in smaller counties, such Kaufman County, based on demand, amenities that will draw people to move, as well as the major traveling points. Not all business fit into smaller rural communities, he added, noting that some are a better fit in an urban area. 

Developer Jim Meara said he and his staff also work to see what improvements and business would benefit Kaufman County.

The Meara Company developed the Kings Fort area,  Kaufman’s growing retail district.  Meara said he foresees a future when “Highway 175 will create its own identity like Highway 80.” 

The Meara Company is looking to expand business in Kings Fort, noting negotiations with Wingstop, a chicken wing restaurant; Kaufman Salon;  a full tunnel car wash service; and Integrity Healthcare. Also, more apartments are being planned at Kings Fort, and possibly a Lowe’s or Home Depot. In addition, the Meara Company is adding another 66 lots to the current 58 lots in the Bloomfield housing subdivision in Kaufman. 

At the county level, the Kaufman County Development office oversees land plots and where land owners can and cannot build. Director Monique Hunter explained her office has added 5,628 addresses within the county since 2020. 

Her staff also oversees the county’s 18,000 septic systems and works with homeowners on education about what they can put into a septic system and what they can build around one. 

When homeowners do not keep systems in compliance with county regulations, it can become an economic liability to the rest of the community, Hunter explained. An example would be if a septic system had a leak and kept being used, the septic contents would leak out into the soil, which would have a chance to leak into public waters which can eventually end up in drinking water. 

Kaufman City Manager Mike Slye concluded the economic summit.

“We are growing,” Slye said.  Kaufman has grown from a small town because of new amenities and retail businesses; and it’s an area that families are looking to move to, including from out of state. 

“Six years ago we were tearing down more buildings than handing out building permits,” Slye said. 

Slye announced the city will build a $1 million dollar inclusive playground for all children to play together, including those with disabilities, at Kaufman City Lakes Park. Children who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities should be able to swing with the kids the child goes to school with, Slye said. This playground will allow for that, with many new features that will be unlike anything within Kaufman County. With the project being so expensive, the city is looking for citizens’ help. Every month there will be an option on city utility bills to donate $5 towards park renovations. 

Overall, “It’s a great time to be in Kaufman,” said Slye.

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