Palestine: A Mirror Image - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

01/29/04 - Palestine

Palestine: A Mirror Image

Story By Wade Cameron

Over the last five years, the economy has been a roller coaster ride for city officials and business owners in Palestine. With more than 1100 jobs lost to plant closings five years ago, the city watched as its funds and businesses slipped away. Running out of options, the city looked into an economic sales tax; taking revenue out of the city's pocket, rather than the consumer's. It was a move that, at the time, seemed risky.

"Well, those are dollars and salary the city is used to," said former Mayor Bob McKelvey. "You have less sales tax revenue coming in either so it was a scary thing to look into to begin with."

Five years later, the city's gamble paid off.

Construction crews in Palestine are working hard to finish a 350-acre business park for the city. City officials say once it's completed they should be in the running for some big business and they're already seeing some effects. Since the tax plan has come into effect, the city has seen a boost in merchants, restaurants, and corporations looking for a way to call Palestine home. The city has been able to put out the welcome mat.

"We have a paid full-time staff member that can help give them statistics on the city, give them information on that labor study, help them figure out if it's right for them," said David Barnard, President of the Palestine Economic Development Board. "And getting that assistance, I think, is really important."

"We are very optimistic about the future here in Palestine," said First State Bank representative Brad Anderson. "With the new business park coming in, we want to be a major player of what's happening here. We feel very good about the new businesses that will be attracted here, as well as the current business expansion here."

One of those current businesses is L-and-P Paint and Body. Owner Benjamin Pinson was able to get a low-interest loan to expand just last summer.

"Oh, yeah, it's a boost. Without it, I don't know how I would have expanded my business last summer," said Pinson. "My business has grown. My business has tripled since then, and it's growing every day."

Growing so much, he's already looking at expanding again. But community leaders warn there are some growing pains.

"It can be a stress on the city as far as the economy goes," said McKelvey, "the economics of the city, the budget plans. But it's nothing that they can't work through or get by with."

Many of the people we spoke with about the plan say it's an investment, not a quick fix.

"By setting aside the dollars, you have the resources there to invest in the community to get the dividends," said Barnard. "Not necessarily in interest in dividends, but in interest in jobs."

With corporations already making plans to build in the business park, bringing jobs and more tax dollars for the city, it's an investment Barnard says just makes sense.

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