This time last year we were all digging out from Harvey. A record rainfall had put water in about 80 percent of the structures in Port Arthur and much of the surrounding area. When the chamber staff was finally able to return to work we set about preparing to assist those members that needed help. As it turns out, only about 6 to 10 members asked for our assistance. Volunteers flooded into the area, helping to rebuild. Those with insurance rounded up contractors to begin repairs. FEMA began the long process of helping those without insurance but, a lack of contractors and materials has slowed the process.
The Golden Triangle was not alone in its struggles. The gulf coast, from Corpus Christi to Lake Charles, was flooded. Rockport was almost removed from the map. City services in all cities suffered but Port Arthur was hurting because many of our city vehicles were flooded. Replacing these specialty vehicles takes a long time and is very expensive.
A year later many of our storm drains and ditches remain clogged with debris and silt. The city is addressing these issues as manpower and money becomes available.
As with all disasters there are those pointing fingers and trying to blame someone. The blame game is easy. It is usually from people that think the government can protect them from everything.
The chamber is continuing to offer any assistance, within their resources, to any business. We do not take tax money, so we must rely on our business members for funding. Our biggest assets are our members. Gradually our city is being repaired and, as we look back on August 29th, 2017 the spirit of Port Arthur survived and is moving forward and the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce will continue to look to the future.
As the end of 2018 draws nearer, the chamber begins to concentrate on electing new directors and appointing new officers for 2019 – 2021. The officers for 2019 shall be, Chairperson Elizabeth Cravens - MidAmerica Contractors, Chairperson Elect, Ron Fletcher - Entergy, Vice Chairperson - Ron Arceneaux - Arceneaux, Wilson and Cole Architects, Treasurer, Stuart Salter – Salter Insurance, Members at large Randy Sonnier - Total, Art Thomas - Texas Gas Service and Immediate Past Chairperson, Jeff Hayes - Hayes Real Estate. These seven will comprise the 2019 Executive Committee. The chamber will also have 21 board members.
The chamber is planning a new event, targeting area contractors. The SETX Industry Show will be held in the Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center on September 18, 2018, 4 pm – 6 pm. The purpose of the industry show is to allow area contractors to meet industrial clients to discuss upcoming projects and gather all information required to become eligible to receive request for bid packets. The event is free, but reservations are required. You may register by going on-line at www.portarthurtexas.com.
The board will participate in a half day planning retreat in October for the purpose of finalizing the budget, planning the next year’s events and board training.
The 119th annual banquet will be in January 2019 at the Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center. This fund-raising event for the chamber will also see the awarding of the Ambassador of the Year, Business of the Year, Retiring Directors and the Arthur E. Stilwell Award. Although new directors take office, per the by-laws, on January 1, 2019, they will be recognized at this event. The exact date and speaker are yet to be determined but incoming chairperson, Elizabeth Cravens promises it will be entertaining.
On February 11 – 12, 2019, Golden Triangle Days will be held in Austin. Rooms may still be available at the Driskel or Intercontinental SFA, but you had better call now because they were filling up fast. You may go to the chamber website at www.portarthurtexas.com and register online. All events will take place on Tuesday the 12th. There will be no reception on Monday night. Tuesday will begin with a breakfast, followed by legislative sessions and end with the party that evening. If you don’t need a hotel you are required to register for the event. Our legislative committee and transportation committee has already begin meeting to map out which issues needing our attention. Since Golden Triangle Days in Austin is a collaborative effort we will work with Beaumont and Orange chambers to find common ground. It appears TWIA and school finance will be on the agenda once again. We will also be looking at highway funding in an effort to get some of our highway projects funded.
In 2019, The Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce will continue to focus on economic development through its education foundation, transportation committee and legislative committee. If you wish to be part of a Five Star accredited chamber and make a difference in your community, or make a difference in your business, call Paige Snyder at 409 963-1107 – Extension 3.
Every chamber is challenged with getting and keeping new members. We are constantly asked to prove why a company should join or remain with the chamber. Of course, we can point to the networking and advertising opportunities such as lunches, breakfasts, morning mixers, on our website and in the Resource Guide. But some companies just don’t take advantage of these obvious and easy benefits.
What is most difficult is to prove the indirect benefit. For example, it is not unusual for a restaurant to tell me “The chamber hasn’t done anything for me.” What is frustrating is to have them tell me this in the middle of a restaurant filled with Valero, Motiva or Total employees. In its 118-year history this chamber has been responsible for helping locate the forbearers of these industries and keeping or expanding them here. These industries are responsible for the success of every business in Port Arthur and the only reason Port Arthur has a tax base.
Some of the, not so visible, efforts at supporting economic growth in the area are our, behind the scenes, action taken in support for the EDC, Port of Port Arthur and local industries. Several times each year our board and many of our 620 members make calls to, communicate or visit with city, county, state and federal agencies or commissions expressing our support or opposition to new regulations, grants, program funding, or laws.
Last month I mentioned our efforts to support Valero at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality public hearing. We arranged to fill the room with supporters for their new project in Port Arthur. Its important that the TCEQ see our area does want and support our industries.
In July we wrote letters of support to General Land Office’s Commissioner Bush for the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation’s application for program funding for Implementation of an Economic Revitalization Program under the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program.
We also wrote a letter to The Honorable Elaine Chao, U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington supporting the Port of Port Arthur's: Berth 6 Expansion Project to improve our region's multimodal freight transportation capabilities. Part of the letter stated, our port is critical to our local employment, regional economy and our nation's transportation infrastructure. The on-dock rail and berth extension project produces desirable national, regional and local long-term outcomes. With increased transportation congestion and new export opportunities for Southeast Texas there is a need for added public dock capacity on the Sabine-Neches Waterway. Area business supports this project. The port is seeking a $20 million grant for a $55 million project.
On Friday, July 20, Chairman of the Board, Jeff Hayes and I attended Senator John Cornyn’s Flood Protection Round Table to discuss the 800 million dollars allocated for flood control in Texas. Our interest was the money to be spent repairing the levee that protects Port Arthur, Groves, Nederland and Port Neches. We were also excited to learn that our neighbors in Bridge City and Orange would be getting a levee. Included in the discussion were the mayors from those cities, the Corp of Engineers, local industries and the Regional Planning Commission.
A good education system is vital to economic development. The Port Arthur Education Foundation, created and administered by the chamber, is a conduit, through which hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given to Port Arthur schools and to Lamar State College Port Arthur.
All of these, ongoing, efforts provide major benefits to our members and all citizens of Port Arthur and the Golden Triangle. While these benefits may not be as visible, they are real and benefit members and non-members alike. But without businesses that are willing to pay their fair share and invest in the chamber, these programs it would not be possible.
To make our presence known to or Texas elected state officials we will be working the other area chambers to continue our visit to Austin for Golden Triangle Days. Over the next 7 months I will include an invitation to everyone to participate in our Golden Triangle Days in Austin. This event is a great opportunity to meet and visit with state elected officials and mingle with several hundred Golden Triangle business leaders. This is a coordinated effort between the Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur Chambers of Commerce. That event will be in Austin on February 11-12 of 2019. A block of rooms is available at the Driskel and Continental Hotels in Austin. To register for this event, you may go online at www.gtdatx.com. Of course, you may stay at other hotels but buses to and from the sessions at the capitol and to the Tuesday night celebration will leave from the Driskel. All events and sessions will be from Tuesday morning until Tuesday night. Get your reservation early.
I was proud to attend the dedication of the new Dick Dowling Elementary building on Jade Ave in Port Arthur, Texas. I sat and watched Superintendent, Mark Porterie, introduce members of the school board, past principals, teachers, architect, builder and construction company representatives and thank them for making this day possible. Everybody at this event were excited about this modern facility, designed to give our students every opportunity to obtain a good education.
Dick Dowling is one of the last projects in a multimillion dollar bond program. The passage of these bond issues, paying our teachers higher salaries and benefits and hiring the best superintendent in Texas, is proof of the high level of support for education, given by the citizens of Port Arthur, Texas.
Our school system does an excellent job of offering low income students an opportunity to be the best they can be. In too many cases, the school does this with little or no parental help. I highlight low income because our district is comprised of about 95 percent low income kids. This problem is multiplied by the overbuilding of low income housing. Because parents want their children in school with children of the same economic status this forces them to seek campuses outside of Port Arthur. They also move to live in economic equal housing.
The Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce is proud to have been one of the leaders in passing all the bond issues to make these new facilities possible. The local industry and business, that make up the membership of the chamber of commerce, generate and pays taxes to insure our schools are well funded.
The Chamber also created the Port Arthur Education Foundation and in the past year was the conduit through which $500,000.00 was given to Port Arthur ISD, Sabine Pass ISD and Lamar State College-Port Arthur. The partnership between the community and our schools are paying off and to those that say you can’t get a good education in Port Arthur schools, I say “baloney”
On the night of the day that Dick Dowling Elementary was dedicated, May 29th, the Port Arthur Education Foundation gave 12 scholarships to the top ten PAISD students and two top students from SPISD. These kids, all made good decisions, worked hard and with the support of their parents, graduated and are leaving for colleges across Texas. The scholarships given by the PAEF were added to scholarships already provided by the Port Arthur Industrial Group and other industries in our city. All these students were educated in Port Arthur schools and all received a great education. The Tuesday night event was the annual Stars Banquet sponsored by the Port Arthur Education Foundation and was attended by 200 area leaders and members of the chamber.
Another great project, Golden Triangle Days in Austin, is a coordinated effort between the Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur Chambers of Commerce. That event will be in Austin on February 11-12 of 2019. A block of rooms is available at the Driskel and InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotels in Austin. To register for this event, you may go online at www.gtdatx.com. Of course, you may stay at other hotels but buses to and from the sessions at the capitol and to the Tuesday night celebration will leave from the Driskel. All events and sessions will be from Tuesday morning until Tuesday night. Get your reservation early.
I was proud to attend the ground breaking for Total’s Ethane Cracking Unit on June 4, 2018. This 2.7-billion-dollar project will provide construction jobs and new permanent jobs for our area. It is a new chapter for this community minded corporation. Total has a track record of supporting community projects, especially projects that benefit our educational entities.
Entergy announced a rate increase for their customers. The PUC requires ETI to file every 4 years. This is typically a 6-month process before the PUC reaches a final decision and new rates go into effect. One side note. Due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the federal corporate tax rate was lowered. So ETI is lowering he federal tax rate it collects from customers from 35 percent to 21 percent. This result in $200 million flowing back to customers over the next two years.
A packed room greeted staff member of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality at the public hearing on Valero’s new project in Port Arthur. Except for 4 or 5 people all were there to support Valero. While the rules of the TCEQ limited full statements in the informal session, our members managed to get their point across. WE SUPPORT JOB, NEW TAXES, AND PROGRESS. If the chamber and our members thought that Valero’s new project would threaten our environment we would not have been there. But the fact is, because of Valero and the Port Arthur Industrial Group, Port Arthur, Texas and Jefferson County are one of the few attainment areas on the Gulf Coast. We meet every environmental air standard. We hope the TCEQ will move this permit through rapidly and we see Valero building soon.
As this column illustrates our city and your chamber are supportive of education and industry. Because of industry our school districts can continue to offer modern facilities and high salaries to our teachers. If you want to be part of a team that is making a difference call Paige Snyder at 409-963-1107 or go to www.portarthurtexas.com and check us out.