As I have said in the past, for any chamber to be successful at economic development they must use three tools; Education, Transportation and Legislation.
Port Arthur is blessed in the Transportation area with major highways, railroads and shipping. This year the Port Arthur Chamber partnered with the Texas Association of Business and other chambers to support the passage of HB 1 in an effort to fund the building and repairs of our state and federal highways. While this legislation was a great first step in funding transportation it barely covers the maintenance of our highway system. The business partnership will continue to influence our elected officials to increase transportation funding to expand existing roadways and build new ones to allow for the trucking of products needed by all to live.
The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for rail lines in Texas and we are working with them to insure expansion of this important avenue of transporting raw materials needed by our industries to produce products for Port Arthur and the world. One illustration of this effort is the improvement and expansion of rail into the Port of Port Arthur. In about 60 days a $4,000,000.00 project to add 7000 feet of rail to the Port will begin. The overall result of this project will be to reduce congestion at our street/rail intersections and emissions into the air from waiting trains. The increased capacity will also allow for more shipments to be on rail possibly reducing truck traffic to the port. The increased rail capacity and future deepening of the ship channel has also attracted attention of at least three industries looking to locate within our Port. Should these projects come to pass it would result in more jobs and tax money for our city and area.
Legislation involves state and federal levels. On the federal level the fight continues to approve the Keystone Pipeline. This important avenue of transportation is perhaps one of the safest and environmental friendly. All pipelines transport product without causing air emissions, traffic congestion and collisions with private vehicles. The Keystone Pipeline has been built using all the latest methods of preventing spills and breaks. The chamber will continue to partner with national chambers and energy groups to secure approval for this important step, not only to safely transport oil but reducing our dependency on obtaining oil from those who support our enemies.
Legislation on the state level will be the focus over the next few months as the Greater Port Arthur Chamber will work with Beaumont and Orange to host 300 plus of our area members in Austin in March 2015. Our Legislative Issues committees are working to identify what issues are important to our members and develop a Legislative Policy to present to our State leaders in Austin.
The Gulf Coast Chambers have been working to keep windstorm insurance on the Texas Association of Business agenda as well as on the agenda for every chamber in the 14 county area included in TWIA. The issue is to find a way to keep our insurance premiums from increasing at a rate that we cannot afford. Windstorm Insurance is necessary to obtain mortgages on homes and loans for businesses. I’m sure this will be one of the major issues when we get to Austin. If you want to attend this event call the chamber or go to our website www.gtdatx.com for information and to register.
Chairman of the Board, Mitch Osborne, stated in his speech at the 2014 annual banquet that the focus of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce for 2014 would be education. Our Education Committee under the direction of Chelsea Graves has done an outstanding job of organizing the educators and matching them with local businesses and industry this past year. She has pointed out that the chamber needs to do more. To that effect the chamber is in the process of creating an Education Foundation. The Port Arthur I.S.D. Foundation will join with the new Port Arthur Independent School District Education Foundation to create a stronger effort in funding teacher grants, scholarships and programs for our school system. The chamber will administer the separate organization that will be managed by a board of directors consisting of industry, business and members of the old Port Arthur I.S.D. Foundation. Once all legal filings are complete the new Port Arthur Independent School District Education Foundation will begin. The purpose is to insure involvement of our businesses and industries in the education of our students. Furthering that purpose was also the reason the chamber successfully endorsed and supported the passage of the recent school bond issue. These funds will insure we have the most modern, safest and efficient facilities we can afford.
The chamber also welcomed the new President of Lamar State College – Port Arthur, Dr. Betty Reynard, at a leadership breakfast in November. It is our hope that by forming a team of Lamar State College – Port Arthur, the Port Arthur Independent School District Education Foundation, Port Arthur I.S.D. and the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce we can form an education team to insure an increase of test scores, High School graduation rates, students entering college and students entering job training programs.
I have outlined a big job and we could use your help in achieving these goals. I ask you to please consider joining the chamber and education foundation in 2015 and help us grow our economy and insure the future of our students.