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Hamilton County Struggles With Talent Retention, Poverty, Report Says. What Can Officials Do To Change That?


Hamilton County has spent time figuring out how the area economically thrives and struggles, and officials are now ready to start diving in to address some of the targeted issues. Local agencies, residents and government officials weighed in on the findings.

"It is a document that provides a blueprint for handling the county's economic development strategy for the next five years," said Harry Blanton, senior vice president and manager at HCDC.

Liz Blume, director of the Community Building Institute at Xavier University, presented the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to Hamilton County commissioners during a staff meeting this week. She says some of the high points for the county include a strong Fortune 500 company presence, market competitiveness, successful urban core revitalization, and a "climate safe zone." She says the latter is a newer issue to consider.

"We don't have the same kind of climate problems that other communities do, we certainly have our own heat and flooding. But in a lot of ways, I think corporations are looking to places that are off of coasts (and) away from fire zones, to do business expansion, and that is us," she said.

She also said urban core revitalization was ID'd by participants as a major economic win.

"I think in a lot of ways this region looks to be a model for other Midwestern cities around core revitalization," she said.

They said four public meetings and interviews with stakeholders helped inform the strategy. It's used by the county when applying for federal employment and training administration grants.

Some of the downsides the report pinpointed, Blume said, included a "poor transportation system;" high property tax rates; high poverty rates and job growth in low-wage jobs; low number of immigrants; uneven market performance; and economic liabilities around infrastructure, like bridges.

"There are plenty of infrastructure needs that need to be addressed to make sure that we have a strong economy for the businesses that locate here," she said.

There are a variety of solutions suggested in the report which were divided into human, physical, business and regional developments. Retaining local talent is one issue Commissioner Alicia Reece spoke about personally.

"One of the things that has bothered me, and I've heard from a lot of people, of voters, out there, is that you come out of our education system — both from a collegiate or the K to 12 — but we can't move up. We always go out of town," she said. "Always the first thing we do is say we've got to do a national search. And we go out of town and we walk past the talent that we have here. There's no upward mobility. And so many people say they have to leave."

Blume said it's a balance to revitalize areas while keeping people in their communities.

"We understand that creating livable communities is a part of an economic development strategy. It might have sounded like fluff or icing on the cake to say we want to concentrate on parks and open space and walkability. But I think, to attract talent, which our corporate sector is telling us we need to do, we understand that this becomes a more important part of an economic development strategy," she said.

The entirety of the recommendations are extensive, but include improving public transportation, working with current schools to expand local talent pools, and supporting small start-ups, especially by women, minority and LGBTQ founders.

The entirety of the strategy is below:

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.