•Sinton, population 5,426;
•George West, population 2,206;
•Karnes City, population 3,424;
•Goliad, population 1,912;
•Refugio, population 2,751;
•And Beeville, population 12,463.
Of course, those 2010 numbers pulled from the Internet are changing quickly in some of these area county seats, but that is a snapshot of where they were. And anyone familiar with the Beeville market knows that the population nearly doubles within a five-mile radius of the city limits without counting the guest residents of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison system.
So the question is: Why is Beeville more than double the size of surrounding county seats? What geographical advantage did this community have over any of these others? It’s not like we’ve been seeing Eagle Ford Shale productions all these years here. It’s certainly not because the navigable waters of the mighty Poesta Creek allow barge traffic.
So why has Beeville grown larger and enjoyed the benefits of that growth as compared to its neighbors?
The short answer is the long-term vision of its citizens and a big piece of that answer has been an active Chamber of Commerce. A strong chamber can be a catalyst for a community.
From its roots in the Bee County Immigration Association organized in 1888 through incarnations as the Beeville Business Men’s Club and the Young Men’s Progressive League to the Chamber of Commerce in 1925 and chartered in 1940, the chamber has played a key role in developing Beeville.
Over the years, the Chamber has taken on leadership roles in landing Chase Field, building what has become our hospital complex, securing the Hwy. 181 Bypass, founding Bee County College (now Coastal Bend College), landing the TDCJ McConnell Unit and the conversion of Chase Field, among many other projects. No one is saying the Chamber did all these things by itself, but a buy-in from the business community helped push these projects to completion.
It’s important for a community to have an active chamber for these big events, but chambers provide a daily service in answering tourism, industrial and relocation inquiries. As a business that uses these resources regularly for projects like our Area Visitors Guide, where we secure information on upcoming tourism events for surrounding counties, we can tell you it’s much easier to work with full-time chambers than those whose doors are only open as volunteers allow.
So it’s disheartening for the City Council to pull the hotel occupancy tax funding out from under the chamber for its own use. The HOT funds, which are split with the Chamber, provide roughly $170,000 annually to the Chamber specifically for tourism.
Some city councilmen wish to take those funds and establish a tourism center at the Beeville Community Center at the corner of Corpus Christi and Jefferson streets. Don’t know where that is? It’s the old First National Bank building. Think about it: if it’s off the beaten path for residents, how easy will it be for visitors? If Jefferson Street is such a great location, why isn’t the bank still there? Daily traffic counts there must number in the hundreds compared to the tens of thousands that pour past the Chamber offices daily at 1705 N. St. Mary’s St.
The old rule of real estate – location, location, location – is never more true than for customers who don’t know their way around. You have to be where they can find you – preferably on the main drag.
The sad part if the council permanently yanks the funding is the tourists would still stop at the Chamber offices, out-of-state folks would still call for information and the demand would be there because the vast majority of towns this size have chambers at the forefront of their tourism industry. That’s where people go to find the information. And in Beeville, the offices will be understaffed and underfunded at best and operating on half days at worst.
No, cooler heads need to prevail on the council and look at this from the aspect of serving our tourists and the community’s long-term interests; not just what the council can do because it has easy access to the funds.
There’s been a productive partnership here that’s borne fruit for Beeville. What do you say we not mess up a good thing?