We recently embarked on another dramatic shift in Freeport city governing. As city manager, I participated in a focused economic development effort designed to drive new retail investment to Freeport.
The annual International Conference of Shopping Centers ReCon Convention ran from May 19 to 23, and the city was represented by a group of Freeport leaders, including Mayor Troy Brimage, Freeport EDC liaison councilman Ken Green, EDC President Trey Sullivan, EDC board member Marinell Music, along with new EDC Executive Director Courtland Holman and myself.
ICSC is the premier, worldwide organization focusing on brick-and-mortar retail development. The organization brings together retailers, brokers, developers, financiers and related vendors in one place, where cities can build relationships as they promote themselves as a great place to invest. Its where 70 to 80 percent of the next two years’ retail deals nationwide are initiated.
With a membership of over 70,000 worldwide, tens of thousands gathered. Nearly 3 million square feet of convention booths and meeting hall space saw three days of a flurry of furious activity: relationships being initiated, partnerships forged, and needs and ideas being identified and shared.
Freeport was the new kid on the block. Never before had the city taken advantage of the opportunities available through the organization, nor even known it existed. While Courtland Holman and I had participated in very fruitful ICSC efforts in the past, for most of those attending from Freeport, it was a new experience. It was an exciting, eye-opening and inspiring event — eye-opening to all the opportunity that is available, inspiring to us, as many meetings provided encouraging interest by investors.
Many we talked to had very little if any knowledge of Freeport. Some had a limited understanding of the city, and at least one we met knew the city intimately, having grown up in the area, but moved away after school and now works with a major Dallas-based developer. She was very interested to hear more about the opportunities available in Freeport today. Most we spoke with at the conference were interested in listening, gave good advice and wanted to continue the conversation in the future.
The mayor, council and EDC board have a vision. It is a balanced economic approach that includes both residential and retail and focuses on building and sustaining quality of life, and not just on our industrial base. Almost everyone, community partners included, is on the same page. To be successful, that is incredibly important.
While retail development in the City has its challenges, the City of Freeport has many selling points that are unique, that give us a competitive edge. We will focus on those ideas that make this a special place. We will stay united. We will persist. And, we will be successful.