Economic Development in the Houston Bay Area
 
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People helping people is the bottom line in economic development
8/27/2015

Economic development.  This concept doesn’t get discussed much around the dinner table, but it affects each and every one of us in a multitude of ways. Precisely defined, economic development refers to the sustained, concerted actions of policymakers and communities to improve the standard of living and economic health of a specified area. Jobs, good schools and health care, availability of quality food and merchandise, and reliable infrastructure are all dependent upon these sound economic development principles.   
 
"Most people get pretty excited when they hear about a favorite restaurant being built near their neighborhood or a company moving into the region that will create good jobs. However, they don’t really know about the ‘behind the scenes’ effort it takes to make that happen. We do, because we work at it every day,” stated Bob Mitchell, BAHEP president.   
 
BAHEP’s priorities during the recent 84th Texas legislative session represented a microcosm of the organization’s economic development efforts throughout the year. During the session, BAHEP worked with state legislators in support of education and workforce development, the Texas recreation marine industry job initiative, Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, storm surge protection, transportation funding, the state franchise tax, the Spaceport Development Corporation, the Spaceport Trust Fund Expansion, the Texas Aerospace Scholars, the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, and more. "During the session, it was not unusual to be on the phone with one of our representatives at any given hour of the day or night. We have great support in Austin, and they know what’s important to our region,” Mitchell commented. Many of BAHEP’s staff and members met with those legislators prior to and during the session and provided important testimony before many committees in Austin to support key initiatives. 
 
Classic economic development
There’s a stock phrase that pops up from time to time. It goes something like, "Well, it’s great that you saved the world and brought 1,000 jobs to the region, but what have you done for me lately?” Economic development, it seems, is a 24/7/365 job.    
 
Just during this quarter of 2015, the Citizens for Space Exploration group, led by BAHEP, conducted a record 376 congressional office meetings in Washington, D.C., in support of human space exploration. BAHEP’s Ellington Field Task Force is continuing its collaboration with Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base to retain as many jobs in Houston as possible. Showcasing the opportunity for growth that Bay Area Houston offers, BAHEP hosted delegations from The Netherlands, Germany and India, as well as site consultants who advise client companies on their next expansion location.    
 
The organization’s marketing team is currently working to bring 32 companies / projects to the region that include manufacturing, health care, retail, mixed-use development and recreation. Through the Bay Area Houston Advanced Technology Consortium, formed by BAHEP, military veterans, displaced aerospace workers and other unemployed are receiving cyber security and communications training through a Wagner-Peyser grant from the state of Texas.   
 
While all of this activity falls under the classic definition of economic development, people, in general, have a difficult time relating to how this helps them on a personal level. It’s not easy to see the benefit of this activity "at 30,000 feet” when you’re more concerned about paying the mortgage and getting the kids ready for the start of a new school year. 
 
Biggert what?
In July 2012, the U.S. Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12) which called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies, to make a number of changes to the way the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was run.    
 
Key provisions of the legislation required the NFIP to raise rates to reflect changing risk tolerances, make the program more financially stable, and change how the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) updates impact policyholders.   
 
Home insurance rates began to skyrocket. Home values were set to decrease. Homes were becoming more difficult, if not impossible, to sell. BAHEP met with local mayors, county, state and federal officials to formulate a plan.    
 
It joined forces with a national coalition, because BW-12 would have affected homeowners all across the country. In January 2014, BAHEP met with others in Washington to state their case before Congress.  In March 2014, the president signed H.R. 3370, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, into law, repealing much of what was wrong with Biggert-Waters.   
 
Locally, the repeal of BW-12 saved homeowners an average jump in flood insurance premiums of $625 per household per year. Those who lived nearer water have saved considerably more. Conservatively, but for BAHEP’s success, homeowners in one of the organization’s member cities, Friendswood, would have paid out almost $5 million more dollars to the National Flood Insurance Program each year, in perpetuity!   
 
An economic impact study, The Effect of Changes in Flood Insurance Premiums on Economic Activity in a Sub-Region of Harris County Precinct 2, was completed on the behalf of Harris County and prepared by Norex Engineering and Quanticon, LLC.  It analyzed the effect of BW‐12 on the constituents of Harris County. The following is a summary of the study’s findings:
  • Loss of real estate value - $270,269,940
  • Loss of annual Ad Valorem Tax - $5,829,712, includes $3,264,639 in school taxes
  • Reduction in annual business volume - $43,127,257, immediate loss - $12,249,147
  • Annual reduction in personal income - $10,514,422 
 
It’s personal
The BW-12 example makes economic development very personal for a whole lot of people.    
 
The hundreds and potentially thousands of dollars saved by individual homeowners and businesses have surely made their way into retail and entertainment venues throughout the region.    
 
The taxes paid on purchases have benefitted BAHEP’s 14 member cities, as well as cities across the country, making it very personal for them, too.   
 
Economic development. Sometimes the issues and the politics get interwoven and very complicated. The bottom line is not complicated, however. It’s just people helping people to live the best lives possible.


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