Ryan Roach and David Hawes told those attending Friday’s annual State of the Community luncheon about the current endeavors and positive projects taking place. So Mineral Wells City Manager Randy Criswell spoke about something else.
He received a standing ovation afterward.
“I want to talk about the 800-pound gorilla living in Mineral Wells,” Criswell told approximately 200 people inside the First Baptist Church gym. “Some of us are afraid of it. Some of us talk about it. Some of us don’t talk about it. Some of us feed it.”
Criswell said he was speaking of lies, misinformation and vitriol spewed by some about the city, officials and ongoing projects over social media.
“We let that happen. We don’t do anything about it,” he said, adding, “that bothers me.”
He said rather than just being happy they or their business weren’t targeted or attacked on social media, he asked people start standing up to those lies and “preach the sermon of Mineral Wells every day.”
Criswell said those engaging in the lies and misinformation paint “a picture that isn’t real. It’s a complete fabrication.” He said it can lead mislead people – potential businesses and investors – who might see those posts and not know the difference between the misinformation and the truth.
“Let’s stand up for each other,” said Criswell. “Let’s fight for each other. Let’s paint the positive story. Today, let’s take back our city. Let’s go ahead and go forward.”
Criswell came to Mineral Wells last May from Canyon where he led and oversaw the Amarillo suburban city’s redevelopment. While he was a unanimous selection by city council, he soon began having falling outs with then-mayor Christopher Perricone and some of his supporters, which became apparent with open and pointed criticisms at some council meetings.
In bringing a new economic development structure to the city, implementing a Main Street program and overseeing the town’s redevelopment and capital projects, Criswell said he remains as optimistic about Mineral Wells as he did when he first arrived.
“When I first came here I really believed the potential of Mineral Wells was beyond anything I would conceive, and I still feel that way,” said Criswell in his opening remarks.
Economic Development Director David Hawes, a Mineral Wells native and resident whose dad was a business and civic leader and helped form the Industrial Foundation decades ago, said today the city is in an economic transition.
“The time is now,” said Hawes. “It wasn’t 50 years ago. It wasn’t five years ago. It isn’t five years from now. It’s today.”
He vowed to create a diversified local economy, one that won’t rise and fall to one or two economic sectors like oil and gas.
“We are not going to ride off the cliffs we’ve ridden off of in the past,” Hawes said. “We have to diversify our economy. Times change. Economic times change, so we have to change with them.”
Among the initial tasks Hawes has been dealing with creating a new economic development corporation and renewing and reformulating the city’s decade-old Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. It was voted into place in 2008 by city council and then-mayor Clarence Holliman with the vision capital improvement dollars would be captured and reinvested into projects like the Baker Hotel or other economic development projects.
While Hawes said there are some businesses looking at coming to Mineral Wells that he is working with, he said housing remains the city’s top issue and priority. On that front, a new market-rate townhomes project is under development adjacent to Mineral Wells Junior High School, and Hawes said there are several housing projects being discussed in the city – one 118 acres and another 128 acres in size.
He said the main housing need is what he calls “workforce” housing but he said another developer is discussing higher-end new homes.
“We have about 1,000 (housing) units coming to Mineral Wells,” Hawes said. “We don’t want cookie cutter. You can go to Weatherford and get that. You can go to Fort Worth and get that. We want unique.”
He said while there some prospects for manufacturers coming to Mineral Wells, Hawes said a concern is developing a skilled, reliable workforce to fill those jobs. He said there are four companies currently looking at coming to Mineral Wells Regional Airport.
Hawes said while the Baker Hotel redevelopment is good for the city, he reiterated, “It is not the savior of Mineral Wells.”
He commended investors and developers Randy and Misty Nix for the risks they have taken with their personal monies and invested in downtown development projects, including the Crazy Water Hotel and Baker Hotel, and creating new businesses.
“Without the downtown revitalization, the Baker doesn’t happen,” said Hawes.
Former Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Ryan Roach is now in the private insurance business, and was selected to head the Economic Development Council of Envision Mineral Wells, the citizen-led initiative absorbed by the chamber during Roach’s tenure.
Roach said the UASWERX project is operating at the airport with a major test date scheduled for Feb. 25 with a company.
He said the bio-economy effort is moving forward, a regional project in partnership with neighboring counties and communities with more than 30 bio-companies looking to locate in the area.
He said the North Texas Central Council on Government is conducting studies of the area, especially Wolters Industrial Park. Roach said the Department of Defense is looking at the former military base, which today remains home to a Texas National Guard unit, to bring back certain military training operations.
“Can you imagine having 1,000 people visiting our community every weekend,” Roach said.
He said while to some it may seem as though nothing is happening on the economic development front, he said, “something is always going on.”
“We are reclaiming our destiny,” Roach said.
The Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce organizes the annual State of the Community event. This year Natty Flats provided a barbecue lunch for those attending.