City of Kerrville and Kerr County, Texas
“Lose Your Heart in the Hills”
Business View interviews representatives of the City of Kerrville and Kerr County, Texas for our focus on Economic Development in U.S. Communities
Ideally located in the Texas Hill Country region, the City of Kerrville is a community rich with rural charm, scenic landscapes, and miles of trails along the picturesque Guadalupe River. The county seat of Kerr County, Kerrville is situated on Texas State Highway 16, 65 miles northwest of San Antonio. With a population close to 25,000, Kerrville is the largest city in the county of 53,000 people.
Only an hour from San Antonio Airport, and less than two hours from the Austin International Airport, City Manager E.A. Hoppe, describes Kerrville as, “a community with an extremely high quality of life. We’re just outside of both of those major metropolitan areas, and we continue to see an influx of folks looking for a higher quality of life and a place to raise a family. We’ve got a great school system and a great university. We are a community that is known for partnerships, and a community with a long history of supporting entrepreneurship and business.”
Gilberto Salinas, Kerr EDC Executive Director, adds his perspective on the community. He relates, “If you’re an entrepreneur, or you’re interested in working in a huge corporation, this is definitely an area that can help you get that done. That pioneer spirit is very well and alive. We are wide open for business. We are right on the periphery of the Austin and San Antonio mega economic corridor, so that puts us in a very strategic position as far as project activity – from high tech, to aviation, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, even to heavy industrial.”
Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, specializing in electronic components for military and aerospace industries, has recently located in Kerrville’s Airport Commerce Park adjacent to the Kerrville Airport. Salinas reports, “They are already retrofitting their building to move into later this year. They’ve also amassed a few other acres around there for some of their suppliers that they’re anticipating to bring into the area in the next few years. They’re a tier one supplier, so they’re able to bring in some of their tier twos, and tier threes. That was our plan when we started working with them.”
Not far from Airport Commerce Park is James Avery Artisan Jewelry, a jewelry design and manufacturing company that has been in Kerrville since 1954 and has grown to include 600 employees. All Plastics, a company creating products for the pharmaceuticals, medical, industrial, and consumer markets, is another growing Kerr County employer. Healthcare is the other major source of employment in the community. As Hoppe explains, “Medical is our largest industry here in Kerrville. We have over 1200 employees that work for Peterson Hospital, as well as the Kerrville State Hospital, and the Veterans’ Association that also has a hospital facility here in Kerrville.”
Workforce development is at the forefront of many conversations in the community. As Salinas suggests, “There’s this label of the great resignation, but in Texas, we are calling it the great re-evaluation. People had time on their hands, and because of COVID, they took a step back and had time to re-evaluate where they were at. A lot of them started upskilling their talents and getting better jobs. So that created a void, especially in the service sector, and that’s exactly where we are at.”
To rectify this, Kerrville is partnering with the Texas Workforce Commission, the governor’s office, Shriner University, and Alamo College, to attract and develop a skilled workforce in the area. Salinas adds, “In the last 18 months, we’ve imported $1.5 million for workforce training, for school districts and for some of our local companies, from the state. That’s one of the things that came out of COVID, it accelerated the whole process, and made it a lot more urgent for us to work on it. Workforce has become front and center for economic development for our organization in the last 18 months, and will probably be the case for the next five years.”
Making the community more attractive for those who have left to pursue a college education is an area that Kerrville Mayor Bill Blackburn would like to see focused on. He acknowledges, “They live in a metropolitan area, and now they’re married and have kids and Kerrville looks really good to them. I think we could see more done to attract them back.”
Housing is another issue the community is working to improve. One project, which the city is working on with Lennar Homes, will bring 130 workforce units to Kerrville. Other plans include two, low-income units – one for families and the other for seniors. As for how the city is going to meet ongoing housing challenges, Hoppe offers, “Housing has been a strategic focus of the community for over a decade. It’s been particularly acute over the last five years. It’s a whole chapter within our comprehensive plan. We are really cleaning up and aligning and clarifying our codes to make it very clear what is expected of the development community. We are also actively engaging with development partners to bring that housing product to market here in Kerrville.”
At the forefront of water management and sustainability, Kerrville is able to pull water from the surface of the Guadalupe River, while also tapping into a local aquifer system. Hoppe explains, “Thirty-five years ago, Kerrville invested in one of the first aquifer storage and recovery systems in the state. We now have over a billion gallons of water stored in that aquifer system. In addition to that, we’ve also proactively utilized reuse water for irrigation purposes.” This reuse is a necessary step in the community, which is home to three golf courses and 26 parks. “We just built a 100-million-gallon reuse storage facility. We utilize that reuse water for irrigation for those golf courses, as well as our newly renovated $20 million sports complex, and a number of other facilities across the community, again for irrigation purposes,” he adds.
Home to many small and independent businesses, Kerrville saw an increase in calls for information and support during the pandemic. This influx of calls prompted the city to introduce an entrepreneur center, something which Mayor Blackburn shares has been on his agenda for some time. Aptly named Kerr Edge Center, it has been available virtually, offering mastermind classes on subjects such as marketing and finance. “We have a membership of 50 plus members, which are typically small businesses, as well as entrepreneurs that are looking for help to get their businesses started,” says Salinas. “The vision is to eventually have a brick and mortar facility, perhaps a reuse of an older building.”
Historic downtown Kerrville is home to many of these small businesses, bringing a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment options, merged with the ever-changing backdrop of the Guadalupe River. Downtown is also home to the recently restored Arcadia theater – a hub of music and cultural events within the community with a 1400-person capacity. The city is becoming an increasingly popular location for live music. Mayor Blackburn boasts, “The Kerrville Folk Festival is here for 18 days from May into June, bringing fantastic talent. That festival started in 1972, but the live music venue is getting stronger.”
As Kerrville and Kerr County continue to grow and thrive, there is much to look forward to. Salinas shares, “I’ve been asked the secret to the success that we’ve been having here in the Kerrville, Kerr County area, and I can sum it up in one word. Alignment. From economic development, to the Mayor, the City Manager, the county, and a lot of our community leadership. We are very excited to see what the future is going to look like, knowing that this alignment is going to continue.”
Looking to the future, Mayor Blackburn would like to see a continued focus on economic development. He shares, “I am a Baptist minister, my training is in theology and biblical studies, but I’ve had a real heart for economic development, and a lot of that had to do with the needs of low-income citizens of Kerrville that just needed a better place to work that paid more and provided some benefits. It’s been very exciting to see what we’ve been able to do in the last several years.” Hoppe adds his thoughts about what comes next for the community, offering, “I think there’s a palpable sense of momentum that we’re feeling coming out of the pandemic. It’s a really exciting time to see our vision start to come to fruition and to see folks getting excited about it out in the community.”
Indeed, Kerrville and Kerr County offer all the charm and vibrancy of a thriving community. A friendly and welcoming place to “Lose Your Heart in the Hills”.
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AT A GLANCE
City of Kerrville and Kerr County, Texas
What: A close-knit community of 53,000
Where: Texas Hill Country region
Website: www. www.kerrvilletx.gov
HCTC – https://hctc.net
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