By Linda Spetter
Justin Jaworski, Executive Director of the Cisco Development Corporation, testified May 11 before a Texas Senate Committee about the needs of rural communities in business development.
Justin Jaworski (second from right) testifies before a Texas Senate Committee
Speaking by invitation before the Committee on Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs chaired by Senator Charles Perry, Jaworski made recommendations on (1) methods of rural business development, and (2) workforce needs. In his opening remarks,
Jaworski stated that “Who we are as a state, who we are as a people, is best encapsulated in rural Texas.” He said the rural area has been rediscovered, and that “it’s about opportunity.”
He emphasized the need to keep the flexibility of the “Type A and B” sales tax. He explained that unlike metropolitan areas, rural Texas does not have an abundance of private investment to support local business development. “For this reason, the sales tax for economic development plays a significant role in ensuring rural Texas has access to dollars to promote local businesses development,” Jaworski stated.
“Unlike any other resource, these funds are controlled at the local level and represent a fundamental principle in the State of Texas: local funding and local governance,” he said.
He explained that the sales tax funds provide access to capital for small business for land, building and equipment; provide working capital for small businesses; facilitate real estate purchases, development and re-development; and provide workforce training.
However, in rural Texas, these funds are typically limited compared to larger cities with larger sales tax revenue, and thus rural communities often have to search for additional resources to impact business development efforts.
Among other recommendations, he urged the committee to:
(1) Ensure the preservation of the economic development sales tax, in its current form.
(2) Ensure the preservation of Chapter 380 and 381 available to cities and counties.
(3) Consider the creation of a State-based lending program similar to the federal SBA.
(4) Consider a State-based incentive program for cities under 25,000 that provides matching funds for economic development infrastructure projects such as streets, water, wastewater, electricity, natural gas, and telecommunications.
He stressed the need for decentralization of state economic services through remote technology and internet connectivity.
He added internet connectivity has become essential for conducting business, but he said the cost of such technology in rural communities “can be a very cost-prohibitive endeavor for both the services provider and . . . the customer.” Jaworski’s recommendations regarding workforce needs include:
(1) Consider funding for increased internet access in rural areas for program delivery such as training and education.
(2) Consider incentives to encourage sharing of space among public and non-profit entities with similar purposes—i.e., waiver of procurement requirements to promote one-stop service hubs that house multiple agencies and priority access to funding for technology and renovations for shared service hubs in
(3) Consider the development of an API (application programming interface) for WorkinTexas.com that would allow individual communities to search and display jobs in their specific area using their own website resources,
(4) Consider block allocation funding to the local workforce boards to disburse at their discretion for funding training needs of the communities they represent, similar to LGC 501.101(K), utilizing institutions of higher learning.
(5) Consider allowing the JET grant to provide funding for equipment to public schools in communities less than 25,000 that have a formal agreement with a post-secondary institution that provides Dual Credit learning.
Jaworski has spent 17 years as an economic development professional, having worked in four Texas communities: Brownfield, Floydada, Abilene, and most recently, Cisco, Texas.
Asked about his experience testifying before a State Senate committee, Jaworski replied, “I think most of us in rural Texas sometimes feel we are overlooked by legislators in Austin. Thus, when an opportunity presents itself, it is always best to take advantage of it.”
“It was a privilege to speak to the committee about the challenges we face on a daily basis and to put Cisco on front-and-center stage as a prime example,” he said. “The committee was engaged and asked thoughtful questions.”
He expressed thanks to Senator Charles Perry and Senator Drew Springer, “who expressed their understanding of rural communities and our needs. I especially want to thank the Cisco Development Corporation Board of Directors for allowing me to take advantage of the opportunity. It was definitely worth the effort.