Many county residents see growth as necessary for the evolution of Austin County.
For those that might not call it necessary, it is seen as inevitable. One way to cultivate growth is capitalizing on the tourism market and not just waiting for growth to envelope the community.
In September, Houston First Corporation announced the creation of its Matching Grant Program in order to launch a campaign to increase partnerships that will skyrocket tourism for all of southeast Texas.
Tammy Hall of the Sealy Chamber of Commerce said she assisted with the grant application process for the county but Denyce Treybig did the heavy lifting.
“On behalf of the county she (Treybig) applied for a matching grant through Houston First … for tourism,” Hall said.
Treybig is the owner of Yellow Brick Road Winery at 3587 Ward Bend Road in Sealy. She moved from Alaska four years ago by way of California.
Treybig said she accidentally went to a Houston First meeting through a business tour that comes to the winery every Saturday. It turned out to be about marketing tourism.
“We’ve neglected it (tourism),” she said.
They’re looking for things to do within around 125 miles of Houston and ways for people to get out of the city, Treybig said.
Houston First, a local government organization formed in 2011, aligned with Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau in 2014 to lead the way in sales and marketing.
“It’s a great program,” John Moore of the Bellville Chamber of Commerce said. “We’re trying to do things on a county-wide basis.”
The Houston First grant matches up to $25,000 through qualified projects and has a vision of interacting with the surrounding 13 counties in tourism, Moore said.
Moore said, being a salt-of-the-earth county, many believe there is a lot to offer for travelers nationwide and internationally.
Treybig got together with Mike Newsome, owner of Newman’s Bakery in Bellville, and other business leaders for this county venture.
“We have similar clientele,” she said. At a dinner party, 40 people from around the county gathered and laid out a plan.
The grant requires at least one nonprofit as a new entity or a governmental body to cosign for the grant. Sealy and Bellville chambers and the City of Sealy sponsored the application submission.
The newly formed committee met once every two weeks over the course of two months prior to the application due date. The committee working on the grant is made up of Bellville, Sealy, Industry and Cat Springs all working together.
Treybig said she believes working on this application has mended some relationships between Bellville and Sealy. Treybig spoke metaphorically of the Mill Creek divide and using this grant opportunity as a bridge.
The title of the group’s initial project is “Austin County, the real Texas deal,” which Treybig admits is a gutsy slogan to embark upon.
The group features authentic Texans and touristic backdrops for a selling standpoint like Newsome’s Castle, which he built.
Treybig said Newman’s castle sometimes is labeled as an unauthentic Texas structure.
“It was made by a Texan who grew up in Texas. It’s the only castle in Texas surrounded by a moat,” Treybig said.
Treybig and other business leaders are centering their marketing endeavors on two packaged ideas: a “city escape” and “Austin County, the real Texas deal.”
Prospectively, tours could start at the Yellow Brick Road Winery and stop at the Newman Castle, the Austin County Jailhouse, business owners could host barbecue cooking classes, and anywhere in between.
Shooting reenactments could be put on at Saddleback Saloon to showcase times of the Wild West, or a Friday Night Lights event could become one of the biggest draws. During the football season, Treybig said tourists could come to see a Bellville-Sealy game and experience what a true Texas football rivalry is all about. Ideas are endless, she said.
Even seeing something as mundane as hay bales poses possibilities.
“That’s what they [tourists] fantasize about when they think of Texas,” Treybig said.
Everyone plays a part, she said. For instance, Bellville lacks hotel and motel lodging but has unique locations people would desire visiting. Thus, cities throughout the county would maintain reciprocating relationships and meet on either side of the divide for everyone’s benefit.
“We need the community to be onboard because they have to realize every tourism dollar spent brings down their property tax,” Treybig said.
The marketing plan benefits all existing businesses, large and small, Treybig said.
Chinese are big in tourism. UnionPay credit cards are another example Treybig uses for thinking outside the box. Offering multiple methods of payment encourages visitors to come to the county, she said.
In an increasingly global market, diversification plays a key role in keeping up with the times. Hospitality is a key component residents must become familiar with.
“It’s the simple things, just having nice people,” Treybig said of promoting a welcoming mentality.
Keying in on enrichment, leisure and adventurism makes increasing tourism easy. These ideas are also used to compile a book called “101 Things to do in Austin County: The Adventurers Guide.” They have already come up with 71 things.
But it is also a culture that must be built among the community, Treybig said. That is the other part of the county project and presenting it as an outreach program to the community. People don’t have to think about it as being overrun by outsiders. It can be advertised as a day package, she said.
Treybig said she is in conversation with the Omni Hotel off Highway 6 in Katy, and using them as an in between for prospective tourists through their hotel.
Omni is just the start, she said.
“It’s all going to be in the marketing and how we market,” Treybig said. “I know people in San Antonio are going to be mad.”
Building business is instrumental to building the community. Treybig said they are also working on an Austin County ambassador program to help those without business savvy achieve success as apart of marketing enterprise.
“I’m looking forward to being a resource to companies as well as individuals,” Treybig said.
At that meeting with Omni personnel, Treybig said she proposed tour packages at $120, and they didn’t even flinch.
By Dec. 15, Treybig should receive a response if the county is in line to get any funding.
Whether the answer is yes or no, the wheels are already turning and their objective will be met one way or another, she said.