Waco Chamber: setting plans in motion

Leaders hope to implement economic reforms with transportation

By Ade Adesanya

After the Challenge Waco plan, a five-year economic development campaign to revitalize the Waco economy, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce is now shifting gears to focus on the implementation of the extensive planning completed over the last five years. Before any projects can commence, however, urban development consultants have to research and analyze the rationality and objectivity behind the project to determine if it will be successful.

“Within the next year, we will be investing in mass transit feasibility studies, which will inform the future stages of infrastructural investments.” Chris McGowan, director for urban development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said.

In a poll, two-thirds of Waco residents ranked public transportation development as a priority, McGowan said.

The urban development team at the chamber is advancing the idea of developing public transportation for economic development.

The Chamber is working on increasing investment in intermodal transportation. Intermodal transportation is the transit of passengers using multiple means of transportation; park and ride systems, for example, allow drivers to park their cars at transportation hubs and take a train.

“Additional investment is needed to expand the current capacity and modes of mass transportation in Waco,” McGowan said. “Developing Waco’s transportation system has been on the agenda for the last three years.”

Investments in research and consultation with experts will dominate the agenda in the coming months, McGowan said.

To fund the infrastructural projects in the greater Waco area, the chamber is concentrating on fundraising. Raising funds to revitalize the Greater Waco economy is a prerequisite for the success of the Next Level Strategic Plan for economic development, McGowan.

The “Next Level Strategy” is a five-year plan, from 2010- 2015, to emphasize marketing the greater Waco economy, riverfront development and developing Waco as a living and working community of professional talent.

Over the next five years, chamber will establish direct connection between the community and the educational institutions in the area to improve talent retention in the local area.

“The next level strategy is going well; our fund-raising effort is going well,” McGowan said.

When it comes to investment in modernized public transportation, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce will not have to convince Waco residents of the benefits.

“There is no need to market the project development idea; it is very important to the community,” McGowan said. “This works for everyone; families can save over $1,500 annually by using public transportation in cities with developed transit systems.”

For every dollar the city invests in public transportation, the return on investment spans between $10 and $20, McGowan said.

“The streetcar concept, as we specifically see it, is an effort to entice new development; it is marketing,” Scott Connell, senior vice president for strategic development at the chamber, said. “It is almost like saying your business is on … Interstate 35.”

Portland and Eugene, Ore., are benchmark cities used by the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce as reference points for improving Waco’s transportation system.

“We traveled specifically to Eugene, Oregon to study their transportation networks,” Connell said. “When we look at the gap between the Waco downtown and Baylor, there is not much business activity; a streetcar system will drive business development between downtown and Baylor.”

The streetcar system will transport individuals, while marketing the real estate on streets that connect Baylor to the downtown. This infrastructural development will attract businesses and residential property developers, Connell said.