Located in Central Texas near major transportation routes, the city of New Braunfels is one of the fastest-growing communities in America. The city has become a popular destination for businesses, tourists, and residents alike. Now, as it approaches its 175th anniversary, local officials plan to mark the city’s founding by highlighting its unique heritage and contemporary appeal.
New Braunfels is expanding at an explosive pace. In year 2000, the city counted roughly 36,500 residents, and the number has nearly tripled since then.
“The latest Census Bureau estimate lists New Braunfels’ population at 84,612 as of December 31, 2018. We think that we will be close to a population of 90,000 by the end of 2019. If you apply the average growth percentage of the past five years, New Braunfels will have a population of over 100,000 by 2022,” states Chester Jenke, Vice President of Economic Development with the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce and the New Braunfels Economic Development Corporation (NBEDC).
German immigrants, primarily artisans and craftsmen, organized by one Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, founded the city in 1845. These settlers formed an urban nucleus in what was, at the time, an overwhelmingly rural territory. By 1850, roughly 1,300 people were living here. The German settlers thrived, and the community grew.
“Pretty much overnight [the settlers] had a very diverse economy, and that culture, that pro-business attitude, has carried forth these 175 years,” notes Michael Meek, President and Chief Executive Officer of the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce.
Traces of this German heritage linger in the form of community events such as Wurstfest, a ten-day salute to sausage in New Braunfels. “You will find many of the residents in full German dress. Lederhosen and dirndls are considered normal dress during the festival. It’s like Oktoberfest in Germany,” notes Jenke.
As befitting its hard-working heritage, there has been a surge of commercial investment worth $400 million worth in recent years, according to city sources.
“The financial investment made by companies such as Canadian General Towers (CGT) have been impactful within the city, not just in building and equipment capital, but [in terms of] jobs as well. There have been some public/private partnerships (P3) that have helped jumpstart this investment. Partnering with USAA Real Estate and Stream Realty to build a 400,000-square-foot logistics center, Titan Development to build industrial speculative [facilities], and the Koontz Corporation to build class A office space, are a few examples of how partnerships within New Braunfels have been successful,” says Jenke.
“I think it all goes back to those three famous words: location, location, location,” Meek says, of what is driving this commercial investment. “We can be at San Antonio International Airport in twenty-five minutes. Same with Austin. I can be at the Austin airport in forty-five minutes. So, transportation mobility is really good. A lot of companies have put distribution facilities in this area because of that fact.”
New Braunfels is located along the I-35 corridor, a chief north-south transportation route, and near I-10, an east-west distribution route. Companies can use the I-10 highway to travel to the Port of Houston.
Walmart established one of its first Texas distribution centers near or in the city back in the 1980s, a move that “really put us on the map,” affirms Meek. More recently, car maker Toyota’s decision to build a manufacturing plant roughly forty-five minutes from the city has encouraged automotive suppliers to set up in the area, he continues.
The area’s climate entices residents and companies. New Braunfels gets very hot summers and mild winters with minimal snow. While the arid weather might not be for everyone, New Braunfels is sheltered from other climate extremes that sometimes plague the Lone Star State. The city is located outside of Tornado Alley – the swath down the middle of America where twisters are most likely to occur. “We’re far enough away from the Texas coast that we don’t have to deal with hurricanes,” notes Meek.
Companies also appreciate the city’s commitment to workforce development. In 2004, for example, the city established the Alamo Colleges – Central Texas Technology Center (CTTC) to offer “both workforce training programs and college credit programs,” says Jenke.
In 2013, the New Braunfels voters approved an expansion of the CTTC as part of a bond proposal. The center was “expanded from the original 50,000-square-foot facility to over 100,000 square feet and offers all the services you would find at a college main campus. The center has been extremely important in providing workforce upgrade training and basic workforce programs to fulfill employers’ needs,” he adds.
Under state law, cities in Texas can vote on whether to implement a local economic development sales tax, and citizens approved a half-a-cent sales tax measure back in the 1990s. As a result, the city generates healthy sales tax revenue – nearly $7 million a year at present – which it earmarks for economic development activity.
“That gives our city-appointed board quite a treasury. We can be very targeted on how those funds are allocated. We have an economic development strategic plan, and we have targeted industries. We go after them pretty strongly,” says Meek.
Targeted industries include distribution facilities, advanced manufacturing, medical device manufacturers, data centers, and aerospace.
There is “one other very unique targeted industry for us: the music industry,” notes Meek. The city is home to Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall, and the place where George Strait got his start. “A lot Americana country and western music artists live in this area, and their support staff and infrastructure follows them. New Braunfels has a very developed and growing music entertainment industry,” he says.
Its reputation as a music hotspot is one reason why roughly three million people visit the city each. Visitors are also attracted to the area’s retail and recreation centers. It boasts ample water sources, including the Guadalupe River and Comal Springs, the largest natural water spring in the state.
The presence of so much water has long made this a magnet for tourists. The Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort New Braunfels – a world-famous local attraction – was recently purchased by the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, a theme parks corporation.
In one year, the city will mark its 175th anniversary, and local officials have been planning for this occasion for some time. “We are going to use the 175th anniversary in tourism and marketing pieces,” in addition to the celebrations, says Meek. “When you go back to our 150th anniversary, half the town wasn’t here. So, there’s a lot of internal education that needs to occur. We have a great story to tell site selectors and companies and visitors as well.”
The city’s lightning-speed growth is not just due to nice weather, water, and economic opportunities. The city happens to be a relatively inexpensive place to live.
“The cost of living in New Braunfels is very low compared to many Texas metropolitan areas. A late 2018 housing study conducted by a third-party research firm lists the median home sales price below $300,000, with the bulk of home sales in the $200,000 to $279,000 range,” says Jenke.
A big development called the Veramendi project will see the construction of new homes for new residents. This is a master-planned development with a mixed-use focus, according to Jenke.
The city’s momentum comes with its own set of problems. “The biggest challenge facing New Braunfels is staying ahead of infrastructure requirements in a rapidly-growing city. As you can imagine, providing utilities, water, and broadband services to areas that are projected to have future growth takes planning and public funding,” states Jenke.
A five-year strategy, released in 2017, also notes the need to build affordable housing. Despite developments such as the Veramendi project, housing might be out of reach for newcomers in a city with such a burgeoning population. “We’re working on several initiatives to provide more affordable housing, and we’ve got to make sure that we stay ahead on transportation and mobility,” notes Meek.
Along with housing, city planners are focused on providing local amenities for its residents. “We have built a huge, new, indoor recreation center for our citizens. We’re now in the process of building an outdoor sports park, with soccer fields and baseball fields. That’s just for our residents here to use,” says Meek.
“One of the main goals is to continue to remain focused on improving the quality of life in New Braunfels through support of hiking and bike trails, access to local parks, and improved transportation options. We want to make strategic investments that benefit the community and attract more and better jobs and put New Braunfels on a continuous improvement pathway that will benefit the community as a whole,” adds Jenke.