Aransas County Commissioners, at their workshop meeting Monday, June 22, heard a presentation from an exploratory committee about leveraging the Aransas County Airport, as well as other economic development opportunities, including the possibility of building a TEAM Center, Business Park, and Hurricane Dome on airport property.
Del Mar College has already sent a letter to the committee, supporting educational and workforce training if a Technology, Entrepreneur, Arts, and Maker Space (TEAM) Center is developed.
The exploratory committee, which was approved by the Aransas County Alliance Local Government Corporation (LGC), is charged with pursuing an Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant, which could fund the TEAM Center, either at the airport or in a suitable existing building.
Exploratory Committee members are Chairman John Jackson, Russell Franques (Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi and IC2-UT Austin), Del Mar College Executive Vice President & COO Lenora Keas, Kim Foutz (Long Term Recovery Team), County Surveyor Jerry Brundrett (Brandi Karl (local civil engineer), Aransas County Airport Manager Mike Geer, Aransas County Long Term Recovery Project Manager John Strothman, Emergency Management Coordinator Rick McLester, Richard Dias (Dias Construction), Rockport Center for the Arts Executive Director Luis Puron, ACND Harbor Master Keith Barrett, EDC Treasurer James Creekmore, Steve Haynes (Port Fabrication – Designing), former Rockport Councilwoman Barbara Gurtner, and ACISD Superintendent Joey Patek.
Geer opened the presentation noting the airport has property available that can generate non-aviation revenue, which is outlined in the airport’s master plan.
“There is a lot of land at the airport that’s not being used for anything,” said Geer. “We’re going to have to improve our revenue stream. General aviation is on a downward trend (across the nation).”
He supported a TEAM Center on Airport property, as well as Business Park. He said a five-acre tract at the entrance to the airport would be ideal for the TEAM Center. Two other tracts (17 and 38 acres, on the west side of Airport Housing) could be used as a Business Park.
Geer said the committee is talking to commissioners because there needs to be a sponsoring entity for an EDA grant.
(Note: The City of Rockport is the sponsoring entity for the Rockport Center for the Arts’ $5 million EDA grant.)
Franques said a TEAM Center fits Aransas County well.
“This all came out of our post-Harvey work,” he said. “It (TEAM Center) would be the first one in the Coastal Bend.”
Foutz, who has experience with EDA grants, will write the grant proposal. It must be submitted in July.
Jackson said if the TEAM Center is built it will be a model for the entire Coastal Bend.
“It will have a major positive impact on workforce development,” he said.
Keas talked about what Del Mar can offer, noting the education can be done via continuing education certifications or college credit.
“We will design the programs you need,” she said.
Local Aransas County Partnership EDC CEO Neill Amsler said, “I have a challenge coming to work in Aransas County. We’re working to diversify the economy with small, light, clean industry that is environmentally compatible with our ecosystem.
“We do not have the skilled workforce to attract these type jobs,” said Amsler.
He also noted other areas offer incentive packages to attract businesses.
“So, how do we attract business here?” he asked.
Amsler talked about the benefits of having a Business Park as an attraction.
“We can build for them, or let them build,” he said.
“If on airport land, a lease is something we can offer that others can’t offer.”
He noted there is a lot of heavy industry moving into neighboring counties, and Aransas County can take advantage of that opportunity, without having those industries in our county.
Foust talked briefly about a possible Hurricane Dome, noting the Long Term Recovery Team is looking at funding sources.
“The reason it is being brought up today is the airport (because of its elevation) was brought up as a possible site for the dome,” she said.
County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills said the committee’s presentation was “exciting,” noting he has known for many years there is a lot of land at the airport not being used.
Jackson said the Aransas County Independent School District stands to benefit tremendously with dual credit classes and certifications in several fields if the TEAM Center is funded.
“These opportunities will allow students to learn valuable life skills that hopefully will encourage them to stay in our community and be able to provide for their own families,” said Jackson.
The committee’s first goal is site assessment and evaluation, which can either be new construction or an existing building. The committee is studying both options.
“If we can find a suitable existing site, that could surely result in having more money for programming and equipment,” said Jackson. “We are definitely on the fast track. We are pushing hard to collect all the information we will need for a successful EDA grant application.”