Texans love Texas, and have never been shy about letting everyone know it.
We’re opinionated, and not just about our hamburgers, ice cream or craft brews.
“I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could,” is the mantra among those who had the misfortune of being born elsewhere. It probably originated with one such poor soul who had the foresight to recognize a wonderful marketing idea.
Now, Lufkin residents have a similar opportunity, if they’re willing to share their opinions.
Lufkin Economic Development Corporation director Bob Samford approached the Lufkin City Council in October regarding an agreement between the Lufkin Economic Development Corporation and Asakura Robinson, an architectural firm known in big cities nationwide for revisioning cultural centers.
The LEDC and city hope to work with the firm to further expand revitalization efforts downtown.
Samford explained the project to Lufkin/Angelina County Chamber of Commerce investors during this month’s First Friday luncheon.
It grew from a conversation Samford and city manager Bruce Green had to discuss what they wanted Lufkin to look like moving forward. They envisioned the city becoming a leader in economic development when the COVID-19 pandemic finally ends.
“We talked about positioning Lufkin during this pandemic to be prepared for when we come out of it,” Samford said. “We knew, we had the conversation, we’re going to come out of this. It’s just a matter of time. So why can’t we be better prepared than cities who are sitting around on their hands and doing nothing?”
That’s a valid and intriguing point. And it dovetails nicely with Lufkin’s newly established foreign-trade zone.
The Department of Commerce approved Lufkin’s request to establish an FTZ within the city and a portion of its extraterritorial jurisdiction on Dec. 20, 2019. It took roughly two years of work for the city to receive that designation. It stalled a couple of short months later because of COVID-19, grinding to a halt before we could realize the fruits of that labor.
The FTZ designation ‘‘will forever change the economic landscape for Lufkin and the surrounding areas,’’ Mayor Bob Brown wrote in a letter making the announcement at the time. He said the designation would allow Lufkin to compete with larger metropolitan cities vying to attract domestic and foreign companies and their associated manufacturing jobs.
That’s what makes the Lufkin Forward survey so crucial.
“People come to Lufkin, and the first thing a CEO or a CFO asks me is to show them around,” he said. “The revitalization of downtowns across America is not only driving the economic engine of the community from a retail monetary position. But it’s allowing people to move into a new city they’d have never thought of.’’
Of course, that also requires developing the downtown area into a well-built and managed cultural center that would be attractive to the employees of any industry looking to expand. That means giving residents a sense of belonging by creating a place to celebrate and congregate.
“We need help prioritizing where and on what downtown should invest in improvements,’’ Samford said. ‘‘We also are looking for creative ideas and solutions from community members.’’
While intended to be accessible to all ages, the Lufkin Forward project is primarily focused on the opinions of the 30-somethings, Samford said.
“We need to get the input of young people, of people who are going to be driving this city in the future,” he said. “And what is it going to take to keep young people in Lufkin?”
The survey will be open until Dec. 23, and can be taken online at lufkinforward.com or in person upon individual request, Samford said.
Samford believes the project is an opportunity to make something happen that’s positive, with long-term results that could change the trajectory of Lufkin for generations to come.
He’s right. The opportunity is ours for the taking.