Waco needs to build beyond tourism sites

With new businesses coming to Waco, it can be a challenge to balance city development with the needs of a community. As the city continues to grow, the disparity between income levels will have to be an issue of continual consideration.

With a population of more than 130,194, nearly 29.4 percent of the population is in poverty, according to the United States Census Bureau. This statistic should come to no surprise to anyone who lives in the area. Lower-income areas are scattered all around the city and are especially stark in contrast to Baylor University’s expanse over one side of I-35.

And while local shops like Spice Village and Magnolia Market can provide a sense community and even add value to an area, they can also alienate those not quite in their target demographic. Often, businesses that cater to middle to upper income clientele are situated in financially disadvantaged areas. When businesses do not hire people from these neighborhoods nor sell anything that would be within their price range, these businesses can be a slap in the face to those just struggling to get by. However, a business being an independent entity of its own, the blame should not fall entirely on the sellers either. Rather, as access to basic necessities grow harder to come by in these neighborhoods, businesses that provide what could be considered “luxury” items need to be balanced with the introduction of stores that can be affordable to those who live there.

Nonprofit initiatives like the World Hunger Relief Inc.’s Veggie Van and Mission Waco’s Jubilee Food Market are making great strides to address these issues, but a successful city cannot be dependent on efforts such as these to provide for its residents. Introduction and retention of supermarkets needs to be a focused effort in itself when considering long-term sustainability.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that Waco’s unemployment rate is at about 3.8 percent, which is slightly below the state average, but has the same level of unemployment as the much bigger city of Dallas. As Waco gradually expands, efforts to combine both job opportunity and build a competitive pool of laborers through skill acquisition should be a priority. The Waco Chamber of Commerce is attempting to address this issue, but the nonprofit had been running into issues concerning competing markets. Julina Macy, director of communications for the Waco Chamber of Commerce, said that the organization aims to create financial security among lower income households, but is having issues bringing businesses to Waco due to similar markets in larger cities. Right now, programs like the Greater Waco Advanced Healthcare Academy and the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy are trying to create this labor force, but job opportunity must match the number of skilled people. Conversely, jobs based more on experience than specific skill sets must also be available for those who lack time to acquire these new skills.

Programs like the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development, which gives out cash grants for industry expansion and new businesses, are a push in the right direction toward building a stable economy. Moreover, the overall industrial incentive programs available can make building in Waco less of a risky investment. Points like these must be highlighted to possible investors rather than solely focusing on the glitz and glamour of tourist attractions around the area. An economy based on tourism is not a solid foundation for the city, as it varies with events and seasons. Growth in Waco must happen from the ground up through a stable job market and a deep consideration for income inequality in city planning.