By Ginger Broomes
The Orange County Economic Development Corporation was formed in 2003 to pool resources from the county of Orange, the Orange County Port and Navigation District and the cities of Bridge City, Orange, Pinehurst, Vidor and West Orange. The goal of the EDC is to attract jobs and businesses to Orange County. Since its inception, the EDC has added additional members beyond governmental participation including for-profit and non-profit organizations.
Jessica Hill is the Executive Director, and she, along with Megan Romero, who is the Business Development Manager, work to make sure that the county is on the radar of businesses looking to build or expand.
“We get leads from petrochemical, steel, plastic manufacturers,” Hill said. “Also retail businesses looking to locate here.”
The EDC fields inquiries from businesses in the construction or supply chains, usually from more established companies looking at the resources that southeast Texas – and Orange county in particular – has: waterways, a port, an already established industrial presence of manufacturing plants, and one of the best pipeline distribution networks in the county.
Hill said their Site Selection tool is the first place the EDC goes to look for properties available that would be suited to the companies seeking to build in Orange County. Through this section on the EDC’s website, realtors and individuals looking to sell retail, commercial or industrial property can post their listings of 10,000 sf or 10 acres at no charge. In addition to the Site Selection tool, Hill said they have access to databases showing businesses looking to expand.
Additionally, the Orange County EDC seeks to work with businesses already here. Their Business Retention & Expansion (BRE) Program works with the local chambers of commerce, municipalities, and other area partners to provide resources, service, and support.
Hill and Romero said there are at least four big projects (at press time) looking at Orange County, and several franchises that have looked into expanding here, but the biggest problem is finding franchisees.
“We get many inquiries about them opening up new locations here,” said Hill. “Baskin Robbins was one. KFC. But the issue is finding people who are willing to operate them. “
The main question on everyone’s mind is the proposed Chevron expansion. Land they own along Highway 87 near the airport has been undergoing extensive prep work for some time, although Chevron has still not announced whether or not they will go through with the expansion. Chevron was to announce their decision in 2020, and then delayed their decision until 2021. A proposed $8 billion project, Hill says a decision either way – for or against the expansion – is now supposed to be made in the first quarter of 2022.
The most recent and most public successes for Orange County were the expansion of the Optimus Steel plant in Vidor and Entergy’s plan to build a hydrogen-powered power plant near Bridge City. Optimus Steel had pledged $40 million in capital investment to the region, and Entergy’s plant is expected to inject $1.8 billion in economic activity for the regional economy.
“We’ve got it all,” Hill said, referring to the many incentives Orange County has to offer. “We’ve just got to get companies to look beyond Beaumont or Lake Charles. We’re right here, in between.”