Jefferson Economic Development Corp. seeks to partner with Texas A&M group for strategic plan

Texas A&M University’s Texas Target Communities Director John Cooper Jr., standing, speaks Friday to members of the Jefferson Economic Development Corp. during a strategic planning meeting for the city.

JEFFERSON — The members of the Jefferson Economic Development Corp. met with a group from Texas A&M University recently to learn how to develop a strategy to help the city develop its industries.

Texas A&M University’s Texas Target Communities Director John Cooper Jr. spoke Friday to the JEDCO board members and community members during a public strategic planning meeting at the Jefferson downtown fire station.

Cooper said Texas Target Communities is a university organization that partners with rural cities or counties. It uses students and faculty to study the entity, then help build a task force of community members to create a comprehensive plan for the area, with the goal of creating a sustainable community.

“Tourism is big here in Jefferson, and I recognize the value of timber in a place like this,” Cooper said, who grew up in Jefferson. “I’d love for Jefferson/Marion County to be ushering in the next big thing in the timber industry.”

JEDCO members also agreed they needed to work to take advantage of tourism in the city’s prime location, nestled between two major lakes in East Texas, Lake O’ the Pines and Caddo Lake.

Cooper said Texas Target Communities could help the city develop its tourism industry, timber industry and apply for grants.

Cooper said the task force would ideally be made up of community members who are often not in the spotlight.

“We don’t want to make things political, and we want to maintain objectivity,” he said. “We want to get people who are interested and caring when it comes to the community. There are some people that like to contribute in different ways. We try to get a feel for the area. We do a fair amount of reconnaissance work on the front end of the project to get the task force, and we don’t want the usual suspects. We want a good mix of voices that represent the community as a whole. I’ve learned even the most everyday people can make great decisions.”

Cooper said the organization will then take the comprehensive plan and tailor a plan specific for the city, based on its budget.

The JEDCO members, including president Bob Avery, said the next step is to talk with Jefferson City Council members about the program and get them on board, because the council approves JEDCO spending and would need to approve its decision to partner with Texas Target Communities.

The project and partnership could last between 18 months to two years and cost no more than $50,000, Cooper said. The payment could be broken down into installments.

JEDCO members said they hope to meet with the City Council about the proposed partnership in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Cooper told the members to research his group’s work in other Texas cities and counties.

Cooper also encouraged the JEDCO members to check out the work and comprehensive plans from other Texas communities that have partnered with the university’s organization, including recently in Nolanville.

“We need to have the city and county buy in to this project,” he said.

Avery said Friday’s meeting was the introductory meeting for JEDCO members about the program, which JEDCO secretary Robin Moore first learned about earlier this year.

“We reached out to Texas Target Communities because they work with rural communities on planning and design, and they provide technical assistance through their students and faculty,” Avery said. “This is a targeted program for small towns.”

Avery said the organization will help JEDCO and the city plan for the city’s future, rather than responding as things happen.

“Instead of reacting, we want to determine what direction the city is going,” he said. “This organization helps you determine your goals and then helps you move towards those goals, while having the resources of the whole A&M system.”

For information about the Texas Target Communities, go to ttc.arch.tamu.edu/index.html .