Throughout Brazoria County, Texas, industry is thriving as companies invest billions of dollars building new plants and expanding facilities. The Economic Development Alliance for Brazoria County has worked to promote and diversify the county’s economic base for the past three decades. We spoke with its CEO Sean Stockard and Vice President Gary Basinger to learn why so many companies choose to invest in Brazoria County.
Stretching from suburban Houston to the Gulf of Mexico, Brazoria County contains dozens of unique communities. For more than seventy-five years, this county has been home to the petrochemical industry as well as a group of related companies. With a location, a skilled workforce, and access to natural resources, it is clear that Brazoria County offers an optimal setting for industry.
It is not hard to see why Brazoria County is attractive to industrial development. The county boasts multiple community colleges that offer curriculum and workforce development programs to suit the needs of the county’s industries and new employers. The county’s proximity to Houston along with its transportation infrastructure and strategic position on Port Freeport make it ideal for doing business.
Located just south of the Houston metro area, Brazoria County contains twenty-four incorporated cities as well as many unincorporated communities in its nearly 1,600 square miles. The county is home to more than 342,000 residents.
Pearland, at the northern end of the county, just fifteen miles from downtown Houston, is a booming suburban community that offers convenient access to all the amenities of the city. Many employees of the Texas Medical Center reside here and Pearland being near the medical center makes the area perfect for medical manufacturing companies including Merit Medical and Cardiovascular Systems, Inc. Kelsey-Seybold recently completed a $15 million project to build an administrative office in Pearland, creating eight hundred local jobs.
To the south, Brazoria County stretches to Port Freeport and the Gulf of Mexico. Port Freeport has just undergone major expansions and improvements. This deep-water port has been expanded to offer improved infrastructure for industrial importing and exporting. Southern Brazoria County holds many businesses in the flourishing petrochemical industry.
The petrochemical industry has been the heart of the county’s economy since 1940 when the Dow Chemical Company began building a plant in Freeport. “Dow has been, and hopefully always will be, a large presence in the community,” said Alliance CEO Sean Stockard.
The company’s operations have grown, drawing thousands of workers to the area, which led to the founding of the town of Lake Jackson as a home for plant workers and their families. Today, Lake Jackson has become a community of more than 27,000 people, many of whom are employed in the chemical industry. In time, the success of Dow Chemical’s operations in Freeport led to the development of the Brazosport industrial community as other companies, seeking convenient access to Dow’s products, established operations in the area.
Activity in Brazoria County’s petrochemical industry is escalating. “What’s so amazing is that in 2008, they were saying [the domestic petrochemical industry] was dead. Nothing’s ever going to be built again; it’s all going overseas,” Gary Basinger recalled. “Now foreign companies are coming here and wanting to build plants here.”
The county has experienced an unprecedented scope of investment, with Dow Chemical Company investing more than $2 billion in facilities in Brazoria County in 2013. In 2014 alone, more than $19 billion was invested in development by companies including Phillips 66, Chevron Phillips, and Freeport LNG.
Stockard credits the petrochemical industry for the stability of the local economy. The relationship of petrochemical production to the oil and gas market shelters the local economy from the volatility of the oil industry upon which so much of the state’s economy relies. “Right now, while oil and gas prices are relatively low, we are still doing very well,” Stockard noted.
The source of this dramatic turnaround of the petrochemical industry is the Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas formation. The Eagle Ford Shale produces a wet natural gas, a key component of which is ethane. Ethane is used to produce ethylene, which in turn, is used to make plastics. With a source of inexpensive fuel and feedstock nearby, Brazoria County’s petrochemical and manufacturing industries are experiencing explosive growth.
This tremendous expansion presents challenges, however, and the Economic Development Alliance for Brazoria County strives to meet those challenges. In response to the ever-increasing demand for trained industrial labor to complete construction projects, the Alliance began hosting job fairs to connect companies with workers. Since 2014, the Alliance has held two job fairs each year, which have been highly successful. It also works to address the need for housing for thousands of laborers, working with developers to create subdivisions, single-family homes, and RV parks. “It’s very impressive how many RV parks have been put in, and they’re basically full,” Basinger said of the efforts to provide housing for workers coming into the county.
Growth in the area also brings the issue of meeting the need for water for residential and industrial use, especially in times of drought. Brazoria County sources its water from the Brazos River, so the Alliance formed the Lower Brazos River Coalition, partnering with municipalities, businesses, farmers, and other organizations to advocate for the management of the river’s limited resources.
Looking to the future, the Alliance has a strong strategy to support the retention and expansion of existing businesses and recruit new business to the area, offering demographic information and analysis and support through the tax abatement process. The Alliance also works with individual municipalities throughout the county.
“We’ve started to really focus on the local level with assisting our member municipalities to help them achieve their economic development goals. They’ve really appreciated the extra effort that we’re starting to put forward as far as helping them generate leads, helping develop strategic plans, whatever help they need from us,” Stockard said.
The Alliance’s recruitment efforts target specific industries to form synergistic relationships with existing local businesses. Among the targeted industries is plastics manufacturing. “A lot of the product that is produced here is produced specifically for the plastics industry,” Stockard explained. The Alliance is actively seeking companies that manufacture plastic products to consider doing business in Brazoria County, because so much of the feedstock for plastics manufacturing is produced locally. Being in the county would offer efficiencies for both manufacturers and suppliers.
With more than $4.5 billion worth of announced projects slated for completion by 2020, the Economic Development Alliance for Brazoria County anticipates that the county’s industrial property value will double within the next six years. The Alliance continues to increase its pipeline of prospective new developments, anticipating that a subsequent wave of investment will follow the current development projects, as customer companies seek convenient access to the many different products produced in Brazoria County.