27 Jan 2013
Sherman is a town of 38,000 inhabitants in Northern Texas, situated close to where the state borders with Oklahoma, but over the years the town has fashioned itself as something of an industrial hub. The town is in the vicinity of the scenic Lake Texoma, a popular fishing and water sports destination. For decades the town of Sherman has been harnessing the lake’s resources and their own entrepreneurial spirit to reinvent itself as a focal point for business in north Texas.
By cleverly investing in its resources, Sherman has been attracting major manufacturing plants to its business parks. The town is conveniently located close to the Dallas-Fort Worth business hub, but at enough of a distance to benefit from lower costs. “Because of our proximity to the Dallas area we have access through highways, rail and air to the Central part of the US,” says Scott Connell, president of the Sherman Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO). “We also have an experienced and cost-effective workforce. Sherman has been in manufacturing for over 50 years. We are very fortunate to have companies like Texas Instruments, Tyson, Emerson and Caterpillar here already. So we have some great experience.”
Business has boomed in the region, as the town continues to attract swathes of big businesses to its streets and business parks. “I think our advantage is cost, the cost of doing business and the cost of living. Our real estate and labour costs, although we are only an hour from downtown Dallas, are around two-thirds of what it be would there,” says Connell. “We have non-union wages, they are less expensive than what you find in the major metropolitan areas, or just a couple of counties over really.”
Because of the lake and the rural environs surrounding Sherman, the town also has more business-friendly environmental permit rules, which incentivises businesses to settle in the county. “We don’t have advanced permitting process for environmental permits,” explains Connell. “Every company must undergo an environmental permitting process, many similar urban areas are limited in their ability to permit, but because our environment is a little cleaner here, we don’t have the restrictions that other areas might have. So this process is a little bit faster and you can permit certain things that might not be viable in other urban areas.”
A diverse investment
Lake Texoma is really at the centre of Sherman’s business model. “Sherman is very fortunate that the city acquired the water rights to the lake many years ago,” says Connell. “The city really planned in advance a long time ago to be able to maintain our ability to keep growing today.” As a result the area has attracted many water-heavy industries like food and beverage processing. Today, major players like Sunny Delight and Tyson have facilities around Sherman and enjoy their abundant water resources.
But the town is always looking to diversify and has been pursuing other avenues of investment. “We have a history of supporting the food and beverage industry here, they are big water users for the processing they do. We are very much focused on continuing to grow these industries but are also looking at a broader industry, like data centres where they use water for cooling processes.”
The lake has been an important asset, especially this year, as a savage drought ripped through many parts of the US. “In other parts of the state there has been much residential growth, which exerts pressure on the water supply and has been causing water shortages,” says Connell. “These areas are curtailing a variety of types of industry growth. Because of Lake Texoma, our ability to have water to support our population growth does not curb our ability to support the industry with resources. We have invested in water treatment capacity and are mindful to manage this important resource.”
Since its inception SEDCO has been the main acting agent working towards furthering Sherman’s employment and its business sector. “We are a relatively diverse economy here in Sherman. Healthcare; higher education – we have two colleges here, Austin College and Grayson College; leisure and hospitality – as we are very close to a major lake, there is a tourism component to our community; and then there are a number of business processing and back office operations,” explains Connell.
SEDCO is financed by a small sales tax for economic development. “We generate around three million dollars a year from that. The tax is only about three-eighths of a cent,” says Connell. “We use that to invest in infrastructure, to develop business parks. We also do tailored grants for companies that are investing in job creation and capital expenditures.
“With these developments, we have helped attract over $700m of investments to the area; including some key companies such as the major energy company, Panda Power. It is one of the new natural gas generating plants in Texas. It is banking on the growth in north Texas, and the plant is under construction now.”
An important part of SEDCO’s revenues have been invested in education initiatives to train and develop the local workforce. “One of the big issues that we have focussed on over the years has been work-force training,” says Connell. “We are the leading entity focusing on connecting the needs of business with academia. We partnered with several groups to launch the Centre for Workplace Learning at Grayson College, which focuses primarily on the trade side of education. There are two components to the training programmes, some of it is ongoing classes and coursework, but some of it is specialised training. For instance if a company needs a new process and needs to work at their own time schedule, the college will develop a whole programme for that. And they have both the facilities and the instructors.”
Connell explains that companies are also able to outsource their training to the centre. “They can either use company trainers, or call in outside trainers, but it is a way of providing new skills for incumbent workers or if a company is looking to employ new people, they can do some training ahead of time to determine if they are apt for the work. The Centre has facilities to train people in anything from culinary skills to machine work. And it is a great support for the labour force of Sherman.”
SEDCO also uses some of its resources to help local companies or larger businesses to settle in Sherman or to develop their operations. For the company the most important thing is to make its town as attractive as possible to outside investors and to make sure people understand its market. “We at SEDCO use our financial resources to help companies regardless of their size. We have done everything from providing assistance for companies that are investing $10,000 in a new piece of equipment, to $100m worth of investment,” says Connell. “We have the resource and capacity to look at lots of avenues of support.”
Some of that investment has been made towards launching a new and modern business park on the outskirts of the town. Progress Park is an area of about 2,000 acres primarily owned by the company. It is already home to many large industries, including semiconductor manufacturers Texas Instruments, but SEDCO is developing the auxiliary systems in the area to make Progress Park one of the most desirable business hubs in the region. “We have been acquiring property in and around our industrial area for quite some time and we are master planning Progress Park to be a leading business area for all of North Texas,” says Connell. “We are planning it as a coordinated investment. There is already leading industry located there so our focus is how to build on that and make the area into a world-class facility. SEDCO has been acquiring a number of sites on a one-by-one basis for some years. We are planning to incorporate new infrastructure to the business park, new signage, managing the roads; these are all the types of things that have not been fully coordinated over the years but that we will be taking over.
“We are preparing for a different type of development. Traditionally, Sherman has attracted larger campus type facilities, and now we will also be looking for some smaller, more diverse operations, including office and research technology plants to take advantage of the Austin College students.”
Business and pleasure
Connell is also keen to reaffirm that Sherman is not only a prime business destination; it is also a pleasant town that has much to offer its inhabitants. “I think that you get the best of both worlds in Sherman. You are a one hour’s drive away from the Dallas nightlife, the Symphony and the professional sports facilities. But you also have an easier commute to your work and the ability to get to your children’s events at school. Lake Texoma offers year-round boating, fishing and a natural wildlife refuge. So in Sherman you have the great outdoors and a great place for families, but also really quick access to some of the finest in arts and nightlife in Dallas. We are never where we need to be, we are always looking for ways to improve.”