Experts addressed topics including the oil and gas industry, digital marketing, heritage tourism and Texas Department of Transportation projects during a growth summit held Friday at Liedertafel Hall in Sealy.
“Sealy, Texas, is working toward becoming a key focus within the I-10 area,” said Mayor Janice Whitehead. “I-10 is moving this way … We are really working and striving toward making Sealy a visible and viable area. We’re working on creating more tourism for our area.”
The five-hour event was moderated by Bryan McCauley of the Texas Historical Commission and featured panelists Charles Batey of Batey Engineering; Sam Brown, vice-president of digital for the San Antonio Express News; Teresa Caldwell, state coordinator for the Texas Heritage Trails Program; Seneca McAdams, executive director for the Texas Independence Trail Region and Jeffrey Vinklarek, director of transportation planning and development for TxDOT’s Yoakum District.
McCauley said the purpose of the gathering, presented by the Central Texas I-10 Community Alliance, was to discuss “how industry impacts are going to affect broader growth issues.”
Batey discussed how the energy sector is turning around after a slump in oil and gas.
“It is on an upswing right now,” he said. “The petrochemical industry is doing well.”
Tourism also took a hit after Hurricane Harvey struck in August, and McCauley said officials are just now beginning to see “visitors act like tourists again.”
Caldwell noted that fortunately, tourism is a market that is “here to stay.”
“The question becomes how do you respond to external things that are happening like hurricanes or natural disasters, and how can you bring in the next generation to your site, especially with heritage tourism,” she said.
McAdams pointed out the resourcefulness and resilience exhibited by Texans in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Heritage tourism is alive and well, she added.
“When it comes to tourism, for every $1 that is spent promoting tourism, $8 comes back,” she said.
Brown talked about the role of newspapers and media companies, noting that the health of the I-10 corridor is vital.
“We’ve been collecting data on consumers and businesses in central Texas for a very long time,” he said. “While we do journalistically play an important role in posting the conversations that make our communities rich and being a watchdog to the community, our real job is to enable local commerce. We help consumers and businesses find each other.”
He discussed the opportunities to reach and engage the public through technology and social media.
Attendees at the growth summit had several questions for Vinklarek, the TxDOT representative, about current road projects.
“We have some tremendous projects relieving congestion and connecting cities,” he said. “I-10 is connecting San Antonio and Houston … Quite a few dollars are going to be spent relieving congestion as well.”
I-10 is “full” in terms of annual daily traffic, Vinklarek said, and that’s due to economic development.
“That has driven why we’re expanding our I-10 corridor,” he said.
I-10 expansion from Brookshire to Sealy is under construction and is a four-year project, Vinklarek explained.
“We’re about six months into four years,” he said. “It’s a long process. I think until I retire we’ll be working on I-10.”