REFUGIO COUNTY – With pride in his voice beaming through like a father talking about his children, Refugio County Judge Robert Blaschke recently shared his thoughts on the state of the county, the exciting potential he sees for future growth and the daunting challenges the area has had to overcome.
A resident of Woodsboro, Blaschke also speaks with fondness of Refugio, Bayside, Austwell-Tivoli and the county as a whole.
“There’s really unlimited potential,” Blaschke said, pointing to Refugio County’s location at the front door of the Coastal Bend and it’s proximity to neighboring areas which are experiencing a boom in industry.
“Bayside is just a short distance from the new ExxonMobil facility (under construction in nearby San Patricio County), and it might be that some of the people working there will want to enjoy living in a more rural setting and drive in.”
The peace, quiet and small town amenities of life in Refugio County, coupled with the proximity and easy access to all that big cities have to offer, is a major selling point for the area, Blaschke said.
“I’d like to see more economic development and industry here, but we can also benefit from the development already happening with the Exxon plant and also the Steel Dynamics facility in Sinton,” he said.
A regional outlook — while also holding on to the things that draw people to Refugio County — is a recipe for success that will serve the residents of this area well, Blaschke said.
“We don’t have the financial resources to attract the kind of attention and investments that the bigger cities are able to get,” he said.
“But we can partner with other counties and agencies to bring about more investment in our area and take advantage of the things that make our county attractive to those who appreciate a small town setting.”
One of the possibilities Blaschke points to is a large fishing dock in Bayside that would enhance that area.
“Not only would it be great for recreation — and I’ve talked to (Texas) Parks and Wildlife about it — but first responders could also use it when there is an emergency,” he said.
While officials in San Patricio County have been notified that one of the largest businesses in that county is expected to default on its taxes, Blaschke said he has not heard of any such concerns for Refugio County industry.
Ray De Los Santos, with Santos McBain Management & Planning based in Corpus Christi, leads the Refugio County Community Development Foundation.
The organization consists of the county judge and representatives from the communities of Bayside, Austwell, Woodsboro and Refugio.
“There is a good cross section of community and governing bodies involved, including the chamber of commerce,” De Los Santos said.
“It often functions like a county-wide economic development corporation.”
After Hurricane Harvey ravaged Refugio County, the foundation, led by De Los Santos, applied for grants to help rebuild area businesses.
“We had 36 businesses participating, representing 91 employees, and we got some great results out of it — a significant rebuilding project,” he said.
Santos McBain is also working with the town of Woodsboro to try to recoup the benefits of a half-cent sales tax that could bring in an estimated $70,000 a year for the community.
“Over 10 years, that’s over $700,000,” De Los Santos said. “I asked the mayor, ‘What would you do if you had an extra $700,000 right now.”
De Los Santos said there are some exciting things on the horizon for Refugio County and its communities.
“We’re looking ahead to different projects over the next five years and have some good things in the works. I can’t get into those details right now, but we’ll have some great things to share in the near future.”
Jeff Osborne is editor of the Refugio County Press and the News of San Patricio.