The Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce (RFCC) luncheon’s theme at the Rockport Country Club Tuesday, Sept. 21 was “What’s in Your Future”. It featured a panel of three, including Aransas County Partnership Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Marketing Coordinator Barbara Gurtner, Aransas County Independent School District (ACISD) Superintendent Dr. Joshua Garcia, and Rockport Police Chief Greg Stevens. RFCC President/CEO Diane Probst served as moderator.
Gurtner noted she has found people are looking for quality of place, and quality of life, over jobs. This has really become apparent with the uptick in the number of people working remotely.
She said in the next three years Aransas County can expect to see 5,000 more people move into the area, due especially to the growth in industry in neighboring San Patricio County.
“The EDC is here to help businesses,” she said. “What do you need to continue (operating) and to grow?
“I want to hear feedback from everyone.”
She outlined areas of need in Aransas County, including affordable housing, childcare services, fiber optic cable, workforce, and training for that workforce.
Gurtner said the EDC is working to attract new businesses to Aransas County.
“We are targeting (businesses) that fit in this area,” she said.
She also noted the EDC is working with local government entities to help people “get through the process” when considering a move to, or developing a business in Aransas County.
Gurtner closed her comments saying the EDC is interested in keeping and growing existing businesses, in addition to targeting new businesses that “fit” Aransas County.
Dr. Garcia said, “I’m in my eighth month living in Rockport. I love it, but you already know that.”
He acknowledged that some people don’t want the Rockport-Fulton area to grow, but added, “It is going to grow.”
“As a superintendent you walk into a community and listen. You learn what’s important to students and teachers,” he said.
“We’re trying to prepare our students for the future,” adding that more than half of school students struggle with reading in the third grade, and those that do struggle at that level, do not advance to college.
“We have a goal that all our students will read on grade by the third grade,” said Dr. Garcia.
In terms of math, he said, “You have to be able to do algebra. It’s a gateway.”
He noted Rockport-Fulton is a “fishing town” and the ACISD had no maritime program.
“We now have 20 students in a maritime program through our ACE Program,” said Dr. Garcia.
He also said the ACISD is talking to Aransas County and Aransas County Airport leadership about starting some type of aviation program.
He closed his comments saying the ACISD is seeking continuous improvement in everything it does, and noting all ACISD employees are now being paid at a level competitive with surrounding school districts.
Chief Stevens addressed some of the challenges his department faces with continued growth.
“We live in a great place, compared to other places … but we do have challenges,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s good that we’re growing.
“We have some problems, but man, we have it made (living here).”
He noted his friends now call him the “beach chief”.
(Note: Stevens moved to Rockport after serving as Lubbock’s police chief.)
“When you have growth in legitimate businesses, you have growth in illegitimate businesses,” said Stevens.
Noting the area does not have a lot of violent crime, Stevens said, “Our main issue is property crime. What we see is crime of opportunity.
“We have a good sense of security (as permanent residents).
“I want the good feeling of security, but don’t let your guard down.”
He said the City is experiencing few actual breaks-ins. Criminals generally go around checking doors (vehicles, homes, businesses), and when one is open, it’s easy to enter and steal things.
“One of the more common things to steal is firearms,” said the chief. “Almost all crimes we see involving a gun, involve a stolen gun.”
Addressing illegal drugs, Stevens said, “We don’t have a kingpin in a cartel living here, but there is (illegal drug) distribution through Corpus Christi.
“We live on a major highway from the Valley.”
He said staffing the RPD is unique due to the type of community Rockport is – one with a permanent population, as well as a high number of tourists and Winter Texans.
Stevens said the industry standard is about two officers per 1,000 population, and the RPD is at about 2.7 officers per 1,000.
“Tuesday night in December is much different than a Saturday night in July,” he said.
He noted policing isn’t as popular right now, due to calls in some areas to defund police, etc., but added, “This is what I do, and what I’ve always done.”
Stevens then said through the years police popularity has gone up and down.
“Everything in our life is cyclical,” he said. “Everything has ups and downs.”
Stevens closed his comments noting the RPD recently purchased a new police boat, paid for almost entirely with grant funds. He said such an asset was needed due to our marine surroundings.
“When you see our boat, know it’s more than just a boat,” he said.
Little time remained at the end of the program for questions.
One interesting question was directed at Dr. Garcia.
“How many kids would we need (in the ACISD) to get out of recapture?” asked one attendee.
Garcia responded, “About 4,500, and we are at around 3,000.”
(Note: Recapture is money paid to the state by “property rich” school districts in an attempt to equalize funding for “property poor” school districts.)