Travis Kunkle

Travis Kunkle, of Newcastle Manufacturing, speaks at Thursday’s Envision Mineral Wells forum.

Now four years into their efforts, Envision Mineral Wells on Thursday took time to look back on accomplishments to date and ongoing projects, and look ahead at the next steps to keep their positive momentum moving forward.

Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce interim President Raymond Greenwood led the meeting, hosted at First Baptist Church. The chamber several years ago reorganized to bring Envision Mineral Wells under its leadership wings.

First to speak were Texas House District 60 Republican candidate Dr. Glenn Rogers, of Graford, regarding his campaign effort to win the seat from incumbent Mike Lang, R-Granbury.

“When Randy (Nix) said in five years Mineral Wells will surpass Fredricksburg as a destination city, I believed him,” Rogers said. “If you are not excited about where Mineral Wells is headed then someone needs to check your pulse.”

He was followed by Strawn Chamber of Commerce official Jeff Hinkson about Palo Pinto Mountains State Park and asking people to vote yes for Proposition 5 on the Nov. 5 constitutional amendment ballot to ensure the state’s sporting goods sales tax goes specifically to funding state parks development, improvements and maintenance.

Envision Mineral Wells is comprised of five councils – economic development, community development, tourism and hospitality, workforce development and government affairs. While there have been successes within all five councils, it is within economic development where arguably there has been the most success with the biochar and unmanned aerial systems initiatives.

“Four years ago we made development of our airport a priority,” said council chair Ryan Roach, who then was chamber president.

He said by January, UASWERX should be operational. Backed by economic development funding and logistics support from the city and Palo Pinto County, UASWERX is expected to have in place an unmanned aerial systems training and testing center and have operational the Texas Advanced Technology Center at the airport, providing meeting and office space for UAS businesses and related activities.

Roach introduced Travis Kunkel, president of Newcastle Manufacturing which has established operations adjacent to Mineral Wells Regional Airport. With patents pending, the company is building UAS components for the U.S. military. Kunkel says his company is hiring in a number areas, including machinists.

“We need all the resources Bell Helicopter would need,” Kunkel said. “We can’t find the people we need to run our machines.”

Kunkel said with Mineral Wells poised to become a major regional unmanned aerial flight training and testing center, he hopes to develop educational programs that help high school graduates move directly into the UAS industry.

“We are on the cusp of becoming a big player in the UAS industry,” Kunkel said. “I believe we are in the next industrial revolution.”

He said today there are more than 300 commercial applications for UAS craft, which doesn’t include the many military applications. He said today UAS is a $29 billion industry that is projected to grow to $89 billion.

“The world is moving toward UAS,” Kunkle said. “It is irreversible at this point.”

Russell Julian of UASWERX also spoke, assuring the community the company is on its way to fulfilling its agreements to establish UAS flight, testing and education operations based at the airport.

Roach said the biochar initiative is also moving forward. He said in 2016 Envision Mineral Wells made the biochar initiative a priority. In 2018, Mineral Wells became the first region to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the ATIP Foundation to establish a model for rural economic development using federal research, market assessments and patented technology discoveries.

The goal is to make a Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County a regional biochar center. The bioeconomy essentially collects various forms of agricultural waste and natural organic matter and converts it to consumable products. One example is the use of cow and horse manure that is burned and made into biogas. Doing so helps protect and restore watersheds, while providing a share of proceeds to area farmers and ranchers where the manure is collected at no cost to them.

Roach said they are in talks with nine prospective biochar companies.

“We expect to announce a major corporate partnership in the near future,” Roach said.

Rev. Eric Douglas talked about community development achievements to date, especially the redevelopment and restoration of properties downtown, led by the Crazy Water Hotel and Baker Hotel projects now under construction.

While the Crazy Water Hotel project is not as large financially as the $65 million Baker Hotel restoration project, Douglas noted it is financed by local investors through a public benefits corporation that puts community benefits ahead of returns on investment.

“It’s a group of local investors putting their money back into the community,” Douglas said. “I think that is huge.”

He said housing and infrastructure needs are other areas his council is addressing.

“There are a lot of people outside of Mineral Wells taking an interest in our community,” Douglas said.

Workforce development council chair Naomi Lemmons referred to the $180,000 JET grant awarded Mineral Wells ISD to purchase the equipment needed to implement a certified logistics training program at the high school as part of its broad career and technology training offerings. She said Ranger College and Texas State Technical College are showing interest in Mineral Wells.

In government affairs, chair Cayler Banks said the trips Team Mineral Wells made to Austin during the past two legislative sessions to speak to representatives and agency officials have resulted in $1.5 million in state assistance coming to the community. A trip to Washington, D.C., is planned for 2020.

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