Economic development: The future of Wichita Falls

Robert Hillard

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Oil and gas have been major contributors to the economy of Wichita Falls since 1918, when oil was first found in Burkburnett. There are declines in these industries. Since oil will not be around forever, Wichita Falls will have to rely on other industries as its main source of income. Midwestern State University plays a big role in the midst of all the development by providing students for the work force. Still, the city struggles to keep the students around after graduation. Officials working with the Chamber of Commerce have a new vision for the city, one that shifts ideals from traditional methods.

Henry Florsheim, president and chief executive officer of the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, said history plays a part in the shift Wichita Falls is seeing.

“History is hard to overcome and the traditional idea of economic development has solely been focused on chasing smoke stacks, solely been focusing on what’s the next big industry your recruiting and I would say were doing that. We just have to add this quality of life component into that,” Florsheim said. “We got to pay attention to the work force, got to pay attention to the citizens and what they want out of the community.”

There is no longer a push to revive a dying industry that has no future, such as the oil field. Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce has changed its direction to new industries. Aerospace, manufacturing and data centers are at the top of the priority list.

Florsheim said, “We can only target industries that we can provide the work force and so we’ve got a good engineering base here, have a good business school here. We know that healthcare training programs already do a good job of feeding into local healthcare providers and so we just got to figure out what is it that we’re good at. So we look at MSU and we say ‘OK, what are the programs feeding people already in the industry,’ and those are the ones we target.”

Some students who come from areas other than Wichita Falls end up going back home, because there are more job opportunities.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 11.51.11 AMNick Hamilton, criminal justice senior, said he will be going back to Dallas after graduation because there’s not as many jobs in Wichita Falls.

“I’m definitely moving back home, because I know I can for sure get a job back home,” Hamilton said. “Of course there are jobs here too, but I feel like I would have to work harder in finding one because of the size of the town. There are only so many jobs available. I love MSU, don’t get me wrong, but there’s really not much going on outside of school in this town.”

Bringing new businesses to town is vital for the chamber, as it provides jobs for MSU students and the community. There are plans being put in place to recruit companies to expand to Wichita Falls.

Florsheim said, “I can tell you from my prospective we have to be able to provide work force for industry to be willing to locate here.

Another focus for the Chamber is providing a college atmosphere for MSU students, including rebuilding a once thriving downtown.

Florsheim said, “I’d certainly like us to have more of a college-town feel. A good example is when you go to Fort Worth and there’s TCU banners everywhere. I’d like to see that and have that feel not just downtown here, but all over the city. There are some great billboards around, but I’d love to see one coming out the main entrance from the airport to have the first thing visitors see is not just Wichita Falls banners but MSU banners as well, saying that ‘hey we’re proud to have this university here and we want to shout that from the rooftops.’”

Florsheim said he has reached out to student organizations at MSU to get the opinions of students.

“I’ve ran into several student groups, specials, and internships that were graduating and I asked ‘what could Wichita falls do better to keep you and students like you here after you graduate and almost all of the things talked about were that there needs to be more to do downtown,” said Florsheim.

The Yard is one of downtown’s newest additions. It is a food truck park that offers a variety of foods, cantina, weekend entertainment and an atmosphere the city hadn’t experienced before.

Marvin Groves, owner of the yard, said he was inspired when his now 33-year-old daughter took him out to eat in Dallas at a similar outdoor park.

“We need participation,” said Groves. “I would like for people to be more involved.”

Groves said he likes the idea of a downtown revival and hopes that this town can grow and be a more fun place to live.

“Wichita just isn’t there yet, not like Oklahoma City or Fort Worth. We are 25 years behind on the development,” said Groves.

Florsheim has a big vision for downtown Wichita Falls that could be compared to Fort Worth or Oklahoma City’s brick town.

“If you go to Oklahoma City, if you go to Fort Worth for example, you always know there’s going to be something to do,” said Florsheim. Clubs, restaurants, shops, people, there’s no reason we can’t have that here. But that message had been lost and now you got an entire community starting to realize that so businesses are starting to come back. The city is investing and we’re going to be finding a location downtown that is more visible.”

Florsheim said he and University President Suzanne Shipley have been working hand in hand to improve the town of Wichita Falls and its way of life, by constantly reaching out and making connections.

“We talked a lot about the potential of this community and the different connections that both of us could make,” said Florsheim. She agrees just like I do that there are some great things we can do here. We just need to continue to pull all the people in the room who need to be in the room together and talk about how we do this better. There are always better ways of doing things no matter how good you were last year.”

Wichita Falls is continuing to expand and improving connections outside the community to provide more jobs and more of a college atmosphere. The road is long ahead, but one day Wichita Falls could be similar to Fort Worth. Florsheim said his vision of this town in the future is one of success.

“In 10 years we’ll have a booming downtown and we’re going to feel more like a college town,” said Florsheim.

Additional reporting by Yvette Ordonez


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