Here’s the two-headed animal that economic development officials are facing in Galveston County.
Some large companies, such as Amazon.com, look at infrastructure items such as light rail, universal access to the internet and satellite data in choosing where to locate a headquarters.
But public support in Galveston County for those improvements is lukewarm, officials said.
While Amazon’s decision last week to go elsewhere to build its second headquarters was disappointing, it can also serve as a litmus test for how far the area has to improve to attract new industries and startups.
We can understand the difficulties these officials whose job it is to peer into a future with an eye to economic development, but also deal with the problems of here and now.
As for mass transit, three of the questions facing officials are funding, coordination with other counties and public support.
League City Mayor Pat Hallisey noted that the Interstate 45 and state Highway 3 corridor between Galveston and Houston never got serious consideration for a commuter rail line, he said.
“That, coupled with strategically placed park and ride locations with direct access to rail and bus lines, would go a long way to address mass transit concerns that Amazon or other corporations would have,” Hallisey said.
It would seem, judging by the daily, and historical, traffic jams in League City, improving mass transit would seem like a logical part of the solution. But with a significant number of League City commuters working in Harris County, it would take coordination with Metropolitan Transit Authority’s service area.
Last year, the authority began discussing regional bus and rail priorities. Where cities in north Galveston County stand remains to be seen, because authority officials are not expected to have updated plans until late this year.
And if those cities are in the plan, how much would it cost Galveston County? For the county to pay for the cost, it most likely would take support from taxpayers.
Certainly, a light rail system was not the only factor in League City being passed over.
Bob Harvey, CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, told Houston Public Media, while the Houston-Galveston area has a deep pool of STEM graduates, it is not producing nearly enough in digital fields.
“I think this is going to provoke a conversation within the region,” Harvey said. “Do we have the number and depth of academic programs that are producing the specific kinds of graduates that these companies are looking for?”
Striking a balance between the needs of the here-and-now and of the future is a two-headed animal with which local and regional economic development officials are going to have to wrestle.
• Dave Mathews