Saturday, February 24, 2018

Marples: The strength of regional economic linkage

By James A. Marples
Jan. 12, 2018 at 11:44 p.m.

I am delighted that Oklahoma-based Braum's is considering Longview as well as Kilgore, Henderson, and Marshall for future store locations. My late mother in Kansas considered Braum's her favorite store for ice cream and other delicacies. Most retailers tend to eye properties in towns along interstate highways so it is refreshing that towns such as Henderson are being mulled as locations, too.

In past years, when I would take trips to my roots in Kansas and Nebraska, I would often drive on Gilmer Road (Texas 300) and catch U.S. 271 at Gilmer and shoot straight up to Paris to catch the Indian Nation Turnpike near Hugo, Oklahoma. It avoided a lot of Dallas congestion. For many years, I have advocated that Longview Economic officials see that it's in their and our best interests to work with communities along that route to draw new business and new industry to our general area. It doesn't all need to be dependent upon Interstate 20.

We need a growth tentacle from the north easily connecting Longview to that Indian Nation Turnpike on which traffic is almost non-stop, unimpeded clear up to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Right now, between Longview and Paris, a Braum's store exists in Mount Pleasant, but that's all. By adding lucrative businesses along that business corridor, as I call it, would stimulate not only visitors but permanent growth too. That adds to the tax bases, adds new jobs, and enhances the cultural and economic attractions to the greater Longview area.

Braum's is only one such example. It illustrates that highways already exist but inducements for locals and travelers to patronize along that route is what will help steer long-term economic vision. Travelers want known commodities they can rely on. While it is great to enhance opportunities along I-20 east-west, Texas economic development officials need to cultivate an attractive investment growth potential for properties running north-south from Longview. In other words, let's put Longview at the cross-hairs of new economic development.

I congratulate Braum's, Dollar General Corp., Eastman Chemical Co. and scores of other firms for investing here. However, we cannot rest on laurels of a new business opening here while another business closes. If we retain the static mindset of only focusing on I-20, Longview will remain just an overnight stopping-point or a blip where only a few businesses are attractive and travelers move on. If a cross-hairs strategy is devised, Longview can more effectively compete. For example, Shreveport has the luxury of having I-20 run east-west and it has I-49 dissecting the city north-south. Their options come from all four directions.

While we need to be boosters of development of Longview, residents should urge elected officials to have liaisons with chambers of commerce in other adjacent towns slightly beyond the current status quo. Adding a business such as Braum's is great, but helping even more and bigger corporations to build or move into the regional area is even better. It may prompt other companies who would previously only consider the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex as their choice to ake a second look at developing Longview's full potential by viewing such a corridor. A band of cities working together could enhance the Longview area even more.

We must think of business expansion beyond our city limits. The broader, long-term vision should be cooperatively creating a business corridor, allowing chains such as Braums to have a network of stores running north-south from Longview filling a void and giving consumers the confidence that the "route between Hugo, Oklahoma, and Longview, and beyond, has the stores, motels, attractions and amenities to induce them to venture our way — in more ways than one.

Facilitating greater economic linkage of towns between Mount Pleasant, which lies on I-30, and Longview, which lies on I-20, would put a new leg on travel options as well as adding more economic development options.

The north-south possibilities should be explored more in depth. Braum's internal plan utilizes a region economic plan similar to my idea. The company has 128 stores in Oklahoma, 99 in Texas, 27 in Kansas, 13 in Arkansas and 13 in Missouri. That company, to its credit, has a base with its clientele reaching into adjoining areas. It is the adjoining that breeds success and prosperity. It's a firm base with room for prudent expansion without overreaching. Many city planners could learn from that principle.

— James A. Marples, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.



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