In 2005 as the result of a Base Realignment and Closure Decision, the Department of Defense announced it was moving the medical group at Sheppard Air Force Base to San Antonio. Sheppard lost about 400 instructors and 7,000 students annually. On the heels of that decision, the City of Wichita Falls conducted a study to try to diversify and develop the local economy in case more cuts came in the future. The result was the Vision 20-20 plan, a guideline for growing the economic base by the year 2020.
Karen Gagne with the City's Community Development was involved in the initial planning. She says, “It was a way take something that was a negative and turn it into something that could long term benefit our community.”
The year it was adopted was tough nationwide. 2008 was the height of national economic downturn. Despite that, projects and plans continued. At the heart of many of them was Downtown Wichita Falls.
Chamber of Commerce President Henry Florsheim explains why. “Where would you take somebody and say this is Wichita falls. There’s no place else you do that on a wide scale than a downtown. It's the heart of the city. Any community with a dead downtown. We're in the exact opposite situation. We want to make them feel welcome.”
Over the last 5 years, a number of projects have been realized downtown, including a project that not only made areas more beautiful, it also improved infrastructure.
Assistant City Manager Kevin Hugman says, “A lot of that work that was done, was improving drainage water lines sewage lines under the intersections and then we beautified those with the intersection improvements.”
A new travel center has opened.
Hugman says, “We're looking at a way finding master plan, that will be a significant project that will enhance the downtown area and bring them downtown to eat shop and see our museums.”
Cynthia Laney with Downtown Wichita Falls Development says, “The city sees the potential. Our city leaders are very involved in the downtown. They see the potential, they see the opportunities and they've made the investment.”
Not all projects have been as successful. Establishing a business district on North Kemp hasn't gained much traction. City leaders say the potential of the area is still a positive.
Hugman says, “Not all of them have been accomplished. That's kind of typical as you go through it, you still have to make mid course adjustments depending on what's going on at the time.”
Other projects have seen growth and success. The Circle Trail has only 2 sections left before completion, a new airport terminal and runway renovations are underway. The next goal is to grow the economy. New Chamber of Commerce President Henry Florsheim plans to target two industries that were a key part of Vision 20/20: aerospace manufacturing and energy jobs.
He says, “Moving forward we're going to be working with our existing base to identify expansion possibilities and help head off possible closures if they are to occur and on the recruitment side we're going to focus on some very specific targets.”
Encouraging entrepreneurs is also high on the list.
Gagne says, “We have seen a lot of activity with the Dillard College of Business, Munir Lalani Entrepreneur and the starting of the competition IDEA WF. The right connections can make a difference moving forward.”
Finally the plan hoped to foster pride in the community with residents and market the city to others. A direct result was Pride in the Falls. Established in 2009, Pride has developed a brand for the city, and programs like Troops First and Shop the Falls first to encourage residents to support locally owned businesses.
Right now, water and drought issues are dominating plans for city leaders. The city still has long term goals with roots in Vision 20-20. Among those would be a second generation tax increment financing district downtown to spur development, and developing the area around the new travel downtown. There are ongoing discussion about a beautification project from Sheppard's Main Gate to Missile Road. Officials also say the upcoming Joint Land Use Study is critical to strengthening our ties with Sheppard.