By Brian Bearden, TSB Contributor
City leaders see the next 10 years as an important time in McKinney’s history as the once small town prepares to rapidly grow again. City leaders privately will say they don’t want to blow it when it comes to keeping the small town atmosphere while attracting thousands each year as new residents.
New McKinney Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Jim Wehmeier knows he’s under pressure to bring in business that will make the city home to both residents and places for them to work.
“Our priority is not going to be counting rooftops,” Wehmeier said. “We will be focused on bringing in corporations, industrial and headquarters type development. This is a competitive business, and I love it. We are not just competing with Allen, Plano and Frisco. Now, we are competing for these worldwide companies with cities around the world. They can move anywhere they want, and we want them to move here.”
McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller said, “Our goal continues to be to promote quality economic development to the city focusing on new commercial development as well as retention of our current commercial tax base. With the new Economic Development director, we are evaluating our incentive programs, our land uses in undeveloped areas of the city, and our strategic plan for development as we move forward into 2013.”
“Mr. Wehmeyer was selected based on his experience as an economic development director,” Loughmiller added, “as well as his experience in working with various agencies at the county, state and federal level that may participate in economic development activity with the city. The timing for this is very good as we see additional activity and interest in McKinney over the past 12 months and continuing into this year with the addition of new projects like Wistron, Emerson’s new project at the Gateway site, potential college expansion, resolution of the hotel conference center issues at Gateway, and the improvements we have completed at the airport.”
Wehmeier (a German name pronounced We-meier) grew up on the soccer and baseball fields of Plano. He had planned to be a major league pitcher, but his baseball career ended early in surgery. It was either have surgery and hope to keep pitching, or risk a lifelong injury to his arm. Wehmeier decided to go with the long-term option. The end of his baseball career brought tears to his mom’s eyes as she saw her son’s hopes of playing in the big leagues slip away.
MOVING UP TO MCKINNEY
Wehmeier, who began his rise in economic development in Hillsboro, Texas, loved his job as economic development director in Lufkin, Texas, too, but sees McKinney as both a challenge and great place to live.
“What brought me out of Lufkin was McKinney,” Wehmeier said. “We already love it here, and we are downtown on the square quite a bit. This is a great community, and one that grew 150 percent but still kept that small-town feel and took home No. 2 in Best Places to Live. That tells me about the leadership we have here in McKinney.”
City councilman Roger D. Harris confirmed what Wehmeier said, “Our economic development strategy included bringing in a hard-charging, self motivated ‘closer’ that will represent McKinney in the world of bringing in corporate tax-base. I think the MEDC Board has found the right person for the job, and I congratulate them for their hiring of Jim Wehmeier.
“Jim is moving to McKinney from Lufkin where he had a similar role. However, Jim grew up in Plano and will actually be returning home. Jim told me that he has always wanted the EDC job in McKinney. I think we have found someone who will be here a long time and will work hard to be a strong member of the city of McKinney economic development team.”
Wehmeier, who is still moving into his new first-floor office on Lake Forest and the SRT/121, knows his mission.
“Business retention is our No. 1 priority,” Wehmeier said, adding that the business climate in Texas remains attractive to companies around the country because of taxation.
“We have received multiple calls since the elections, not just the national, but the state elections around the country,” he said. “With the Recession, companies are looking around and saying ‘We definitely have to get out.’ The phone has been ringing. Companies around the country are looking for a better environment for business and a better quality of life. We have that in McKinney. If there is a shining light in the country, it is Texas, and in Texas, it is McKinney.”
ON THE FAST TRACK
Wehmeier said that the completion of the tollway to U.S. 75 and expansion of the Collin County Regional Airport has created momentum for the city’s growth.
“The tollway to 75 changed the game,” Wehmeier said. “I dare say you can get from McKinney now to DFW airport faster now down 121 and the SRT than you can from many places in Dallas-Fort Worth. You can now get anywhere fast from McKinney.”
He pointed out how driving around McKinney and Dallas-Fort Worth is now easier than sitting in traffic in Austin.
Mayor Loughmiller said, “As construction on 75 continues towards completion, we will be preparing for the next waive of development along 75 through McKinney that we believe will be possible with the expansion of 75 to eight lanes.”
The expansion of the county airport in McKinney probably won’t mean a commuter airline landing in the city. Wehmeier said he will be working to bring in more corporate jets, maintenance and industrial facilities because of the airport.
“Would you rather drive a few minutes down 121 to DFW, or fly three minutes to DFW from McKinney?” Wehmeier explained, saying most wouldn’t want to take off in McKinney only to have to connect at DFW.
“Our wheel house at the airport is the corporate jets and possibly cargo,” he said. “The airport is a huge opportunity. McKinney is a global city now.”
FAMILY LOVES MCKINNEY SPIRIT
Wehmeier said he’s had his eye on the McKinney job for years and knew what he wanted to say when a headhunter came calling this year.
“I look at McKinney for how it will be in the next 50 years,” Wehmeier said. “And, that’s the way the city leaders look at it. We don’t want short-term answers. We want to build it so that McKinney will be a great place for our grand kids to live and work.”
Wehmeier said he thrives on competition but has to be patient.
“I’ve learned economic development does not work on a schedule,” Wehmeier, a golfer, said. “We have to be consistent, and we have to keep building the city and keep doing a good job of outreach to business around the country and around the world. If we are consistently building business, we will attract the quality jobs along with the growth. Like I said, economic development is not about counting new rooftops. We want McKinney to be a great place to live and work.”