The state of Texas has what is undoubtedly one of the nation’s fastest-growing economies and has for decades, according to D Magazine. (D CEO 2018). Much of this thriving economy takes place in the Texas Triangle, the region that encompasses Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. The D Magazine article goes on to note that the Texas Triangle is ranked an impressive seventeenth among world economies.
Located in the middle of this triangle is the city of Brenham, in Washington County, with a population of roughly 16,000. Located at the halfway point between Houston and Austin, the city is in a prime location for economic growth and is ramping up its ongoing economic development efforts.
Brenham can attribute its beginnings and its economic development opportunities to the investments made by local businesses and other partners since its establishment in 1844. The railroad from Galveston to Brenham, which later connected to Austin, was possible through financing from the Giddings brothers, a pair of Washington County businessmen. “That investment is what sparked the boom years for Brenham,” says Susan Cates, City of Brenham Director of Economic Development, adding that, in 1953, another group of businessmen established the Industrial Development Foundation, now known as the Brenham Economic Development Foundation (BEDF), which continues to be a strong community partner for Economic Development.
“The partnerships we have with our existing businesses are one of the biggest assets to doing business in Brenham,” she states, noting that community support for expanding existing businesses and relocations “is one of the things that make us unique. We have great respect for and support our local entrepreneurs and small businesses. One of our local businesses, Independence Coffee, has been recognized as 2019’s Texas Small Business Persons of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Brenham’s largest industries, in terms of employee numbers, are retail, healthcare, and manufacturing. “Retail is a growth sector for us. We have a retail trade area of about 60,000 that regularly shop in Brenham. Retailers see this as advantageous. We’ve become something of a retail shopping hub,” Susan says.
“We would like to see additional growth in healthcare,” she continues, explaining this is a regional hub with a growing population. “We will see continued growth in our healthcare sector as we continue to expand the different specialties our physicians provide in our community. I think we will continue to see an upward trajectory in this sector,” she shares.
“Brenham has historically been a manufacturing hub,” Susan says. “We have cluster industries in the food manufacturing sector, metal fabrication, plastics and rubber fabrication, and the oil and gas industry,” all of which are seeing positive growth and expansion.
Blue Bell was founded in 1907 when a group of local businessmen established the Brenham Creamery Company to make butter from excess cream brought in by area farmers. In 1930 the name of the company changed to Blue Bell Creamery. The primary product was butter until 1958 when the focus turned to ice cream.
More growth is encouraged “in the supply line of our existing employers,” says Susan, and Stanpac USA is an example of one such company. Stanpac is a Canadian company that supplies food packaging. “They chose Brenham because of the existing relationship they had with Blue Bell Creameries.” Stanpac has continued to thrive in the city and expanded its customer market throughout the United States, “which they serve out of this Brenham location,” she notes.
Another growing target industry is distribution because “of our location on Highway 290, equidistant between Austin and Houston.” Brenham has easy access to four ports less than three hours away, including the Port of Houston, “which happens to be the number one U.S. port for imports and exports and is under 100 miles away from us, allowing easy access to port supply or distribution lines,” says Susan. Brenham has BNSF rail access in the city as well as BNSF and Union Pacific Intermodal facilities in Houston.
There is also, “great access to air – both international passenger transportation and cargo,” says Susan. Brenham has a municipal airport with runway capacity that can land any corporate jet. Regionally, Easterwood Airport is thirty-six miles from Brenham and Houston’s two international airports are less than 90 miles from the city.
Certainly, employers know that having a skilled workforce readily available is an asset. Brenham Independent School District is a great partner with, “a strong career and technical education department,” she explains. “Not only do they help us with workforce development from the aspect of skills development, but [they’re] also very active in growing a co-op program to get real-world experience for the student population.”
Other education assets in the community are Blinn College, the oldest two-year college in the state, and Blinn’s A.W. Hodde, Jr. Technical Education Center located in the Brenham Business Center. “For our workforce education and certificate programs, they have been a valuable partner,” adds Susan. Texas A&M University is only forty-five minutes out of the city, and within two hours’ drive of Brenham, there are nine four-year degree universities. “We do have strong education infrastructure in Brenham,” she says.
Brenham has a long history of partnerships, like the one between the city and the county. Both offer tax abatements and, “work closely together, in unison, to support our businesses receiving this tax abatement,” notes Susan. “That’s kind of a unique thing to see – cities and counties working so closely for the good of economic development in the community.” The strongest incentive for business attraction has been the abatement program which is used for both new businesses relocating as well as those that are established and expanding their operations.
She also notes taxes are both low and stable, which, “gives businesses the ability to plan year to year – to know what to expect doing business in Washington County.”
Susan says the Brenham Community Development Corporation (BCDC) owns land in both of the city’s business parks: Southwest Industrial Park and Brenham Business Center. The BCDC “is willing to offer low-cost land acquisitions for businesses locating or expanding in those business parks.”
The Texas Enterprise Fund also helps. This “deal-closing” grant is awarded to companies whose projects contribute significant capital investment and new employment opportunities to the state’s economy.
In addition, the Texas Skills Development Fund “is a job training program in partnership between the Texas Workforce Commission, local businesses, and community colleges.” When training needs are identified by a business or a trade union, the Fund pays for it, through grants to the college or technical school.
Brenham has two significant developments underway: a thirty-five-acre retail development and a fifty-one-acre mixed-used development which has “significant retail aspects that will add to the continued growth of our retail sector,” says Susan.
The first is a thirty-five-acre $20-million shopping center for developer Baker Katz which will include over 200,000 square feet, giving it a vast amount of retail space and will be located south of highway 290 at Chappell Hill Street. The project is expected to open retail businesses in 2021. “It will generate additional revenue and create wealth in our community,” she says, “but it will also provide amenities for our residents [considering that] currently a lot of residents leave to purchase certain types of products. Many of those needs will be met with this project where people will be able to shop locally for a larger variety.”
The second is Brenham Market Square, a fifty-one-acre mixed-use development located just north of 290 and is already in progress. “They’re underway and actively working with prospective tenants,” Susan says. This development will include multi-family housing, retail, and commercial office space. The expected time to see businesses open in this development is late 2020.
As Susan has mentioned, the city has much to offer in terms of quality of life. Live music almost nightly, breweries, wineries, festivals, and unique restaurants are just some of the activities that draw people to Brenham. “People drive from Houston to eat at restaurants in our historic downtown because of the quality and unique menus,” she says. “Our downtown is really a hub for community and tourism. Tourism is one of our major industries as well.”
There is no shortage of park space in Brenham, with over 191 acres currently and 106 acres still to be developed, making almost twelve acres of park space per one thousand residents. “This exceeds the nationally recommended number by 5.7 acres,” says Susan. “The community has invested, long-term, in the development of our parks,” she says, adding there are established recreational fields for a variety of sports and other activities as well as hiking trails. “Having these quality-of-life amenities helps attract talent, and it helps keep them.”
Houston and Austin are continually expanding toward each other. Susan says, “Brenham is right in the middle of that growth. We want to embrace that growth, encourage it, and invest in it. But we want it to be part of controlled and sustainable growth. We want to grow in the area of our target industries in a way that allows our community to maintain our ‘small town feel’ and the unique traits that make Brenham special.”