A new water well and tower were installed at the Houston Industrial Park in 2016. 

The Houston City Council received a detailed update Monday on efforts to improve the business climate and attract new jobs to the community.

Rob Harrington, economic development director, gave updates on progress related to job development education in the community. He praised TCMH’s administrators and the Houston School District leadership for their work in developing the Piney River Technical Center that hopes to operate from a building on Spruce Street.

Harrington reported that health services classes are targeted first at the building that already is partially occupied by Drury University. He said he hopes discussions with Mineral Area Community College and Cox College would eventually allow students to use their A+ scholarship dollars at Mineral’s outpost before receiving a bachelor’s degree from Drury University without leaving the community.

The report was one of several given by Harrington, who began on the job last fall.

He outlined several other projects his office is involved:

•Expansions with four local companies. The specific details were not discussed.

•Development of incentives for housing and jobs and approval by the council.

•Completion of a labor market survey and requests for proposals to assess it. It is targeted for completion in late May or early June.

•A housing study will examine areas ready for development and look at areas for growth and annexation. That is targeted for early to late August.

•Fiber to the home – Talks continue with the city’s consultant.

Harrington also highlighted a recent visit by a Dallas assessment team that judged the city’s readiness to address jobs and conduct industry searches. Harrington said the team was impressed by the community’s offering for a town whose population is about 2,000.

Harrington said judges praised the availability of a hospital in the community, and cited figures that show each doctor hired has a $2 million impact as an economic driver. Healthcare is a key consideration for industry prospects as it keeps those costs down, he said.

Other highlights:

•Houston’s street system was praised.

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•A tour of the community brought compliments for the condition of the downtown, school district, Drury University, fire and police services and healthcare. “We all have to row in the same direction,” Harrington said of the various entities who must work together to reach community goals.

Harrington said a final report will be available in a few months. It is expected to highlight the need for fiber to homes, development of technical training and working with Fort Leonard Wood as it develops a regional airport that can be used by corporate clients.

In other matters, members:

•Purchased two John Deere mowing tractors for the grounds department from Heritage Tractor as part of a trade-in deal. The cost was $29,900. Joe Kirkman, supervisor, made the presentation. The cost is below budget.

•Heard from Kayla Sloan, parks and recreation director, about activity in her department. Enrollment is up slightly over last year for flag football and soccer, she reported. A splash pad at West Side Park is set for installation the week of April 22, weather permitting. If all goes as planned, she said it will take  one week to complete.

The council also learned that Healthy Schools Healthy Communities grant will pay for an obstacle course at the same park.

•Heard from George Sholtz whose comments and questions brought a rare pushback from some council members. Sholtz questioned expenditures at the Houston Memorial Airport and where revenue from a proposed April sales tax, if passed, would be used once it arrives in the city’s general revenue fund.

•Heard Dr. Allen Moss, Houston superintendent, say the addition of a school resource officer on campus was a “great asset” that had increased communication and safety on campus. Moss provided information on the district’s no-tax bond issue that will be on the April 2 ballot. Phase I includes a new gymnasium. Later phases call for connecting the current gym and middle school to the proposed gym to create a safe, controlled space.

•Heard David Adkison, a downtown property owner, ask the council to review its billing procedures for buildings that have multiple renters. The procedure creates hardships for landlords, especially when space is vacant, he said.  Mayor Don Tottingham promised to review the policy concerning single meters serving a location with multiple tenants.

•Learned that the county’s collection of city taxes continues to improve. In 2018, the city received $111,613 in collections from Collector-Treasurer Tammy Cantrell. It allows city and county property owners to pay taxes at a single location.

•Adjourned into a closed session.

“We all have to row in the same direction,” Harrington said of the various entities who must work together to reach community goals.

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