When NAFFCO CEO Khalid Al Khatib and Bee Development Authority (BDA) Chairman Orlando Vasquez put pen to paper on a 50-year lease agreement last month, it signaled the beginning of a deal that figures to shape the future of Bee County.

It also signaled the culmination of a journey that started several years ago with a myriad of local leaders joining forces to push for economic growth in Beeville and Bee County.

Vasquez, the president of the Beeville branch of Texas Champion Bank, was one of those local leaders who was at the forefront of the push for a better and more aggressive approach to economic development both at the county and city level.

He, along with several other community leaders, including then Bee County Judge Stephanie Moreno, helped the push for the BDA to take a more active approach in luring businesses to the Chase Field Industrial and Airport Complex and also helped foster the establishment of the Bee Area Partnership (BAP).

“I don’t think we’d be sitting here having this conversation if Stephanie and Orlando, and a few others, (didn’t create) this opportunity of aggressive new-industry recruitment,” said BAP Executive Director Randy Seitz when discussing the details of the NAFFCO deal recently.

At the Beeville Rotary Club’s weekly meeting last week, Seitz detailed numerous parts of the deal with NAFFCO to a packed house of attentive listeners.

NAFFCO, he told the crowd, will build its first U.S. manufacturing facility at Chase Field, occupying two of the complex’s hangars as well as the paint booth and accompanying warehouse.

The deal will bring in upwards of 400 jobs – an estimation Seitz called “conservative” – to Bee County.

The company, which he said will have representatives in Beeville by early next week, will launch operations within the next four to six months and figures to be fully operational within two to three years.

“They’ll be hiring welders. They’ll be hiring machine operators. They’ll be hiring machine programmers. Then obviously general laborers, purchasing people, shipping and receiving people,” Seitz said about the variety of jobs that will need to be filled as the company launches in the U.S. market.

NAFFCO, which manufactures firefighting and fire safety equipment, already has a stranglehold on the Middle East and European markets.

Beeville’s central location between the U.S. and South American markets was a key selling point, according to both Seitz and Vasquez.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Congressman Filemon Vela also played vital roles in luring NAFFCO to the area.

“There will be enterprise zone incentives that will be available to the company. They were extremely interested in training funds, so the (Texas Workforce Commission’s) Skills Development Fund will play a big role,” Seitz said. “There will be access to quite a bit of money, more than likely flowing through Coastal Bend College, to train individuals for these jobs and prepare for these jobs.

“Congressman (Filemon) Vela’s played a huge role in this. They couldn’t have come here four times without getting visas.

“A lot of people have played a major role from the governor, to the congressman, local individuals.”

All of those things working in harmony, Moreno said, is what helped make the deal happen.

“There were so many people involved in this last six-month endeavor. ... It really took everybody being on the same page and working together,” she said.

“It’s not just a win for the BDA and the BAP; it’s a win for the whole community. We truly came together and worked together as a team to get this done.”

NAFFCO, Vasquez said, took notice of that commitment.

That commitment, Vasquez said, comes from all of the leaders in the community asking the same question: “‘What are we going to do to make Bee County better?’”

“I’m excited to see this,” Moreno said. “I wanted us to take economic development seriously, and Orlando wanted us to take economic development seriously, and we did.

“It’s working for sure. It’s exciting.”

•kkeller@mysoutex.com•

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Kevin J. Keller is the content director for Coastal Bend Publishing and the editor of the Beeville Bee-Picayune. He can be reached by email at sports@mysoutex.com or by phone at 361-343-5223, or you can follow him on Twitter @beepicsports.