Local economic outlook showing signs of continued growth, expansion
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

January 16, 2004 -- 2003 was a year for dramatic growth and development in Sulphur Springs and 2004 holds the promise of continued growth, judging by increases seen in retail sales, new businesses and new industry.

Industrial development this past year is credited with bringing more than 350 new jobs to the community along with another 126 new jobs in service fields such as education, fire and police protection, and other areas as a result of more people moving into the community.

Even more significant is the fact these figures do not reflect the number of jobs created with the opening of the Owens Country Sausage plant and Starplex Cinema. Both of these businesses are already employing more people than was originally projected.

The industrial and commercial development, along with retail development, is already having an impact on sales tax rebates to the city and an increase in the numbers of building permits issued by the city.

Building permits issued by the city increased by about 40 percent over previous years, according to city finance director Peter Karstens.

"Hopefully, it won't be just a one-year spike," Karstens said. "Hopefully that will continue and other things will follow and we can get some other facilities built."

Along with growth in this area, the past eight months have also shown a 5.7 percent increase in retail sales in the community.

The city uses the monthly rebate on the city's portion of sales tax collected on retail sales as a measuring stick to gauge retail sales activity.

The city's chief financial officer said the most recent figures show a slight drop to 3.4 percent above previous years. The slight drop is, however, consistent with a healthy, long-term rate that can be sustained.

Looking ahead to the rest of this year, Karstens says things look favorable for the continued growth.

"I think there is a real good chance we will just keep growing this year at 3.5 to 4 percent," he said. "As these new businesses come on line, not only will we sustain that growth, it should add to it."

Even if this growth in retail sales is what Karstens termed "in a bubble," a major part of the increase will be sustained.

The increase in sales tax rebates to the city, at 3 to 4 percent, will mean an additional $60,000 to $80,000 in revenue to the city budget for additional services.

"The growth, in terms of valuations, as it comes on line, the new facilities will mean another $70,000 to $100,000 of appraised values," he said. "Of course, that has to work in conjunction with everything else, so we will see what the numbers look like when they come through."

Along with the growth in retail sales and retail outlets, significant growth has been seen in industrial and commercial areas that has added to the local economy and is expected to continue this year.

Sulphur Springs-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation has played a major role in the growth spurt through its work in attracting new industry and jobs.

EDC Executive Vice President Randy Thomas said 2003 was a good year in a number of areas, including retention and expansion of existing industry along with new industry that has begun operation this year and the resulting direct and indirect jobs.

In terms of expansion, Thomas said Morning Star has just completed the addition of 60,000 square feet to the existing plant, a $5 million project, along with another $1.7 million expansion to a filtering system.

"So they have added quite a bit and several employees," Thomas said. "I think they jumped to over 25 [added] employees and have a lot of good things in the future over there."

The addition of 34,000 square feet of manufacturing and distribution space at M&F Western Wear will mean the addition of another 10 employees.

The EDC played a major role in the expansion at M&F with the addition of 3,900 feet of 12-inch water line along Interstate 30 that can also be used to supply water for other industrial development along the interstate.

Jeld-Wen, formerly known as Challenge Door, has added 40,000 square feet to its plant which added about $1.7 million to the tax rolls. The expansion also is responsible for the creation of 10 new jobs.

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