In Alton there is a crossroads. To the south, Mission; the east McAllen and Edinburg. Cities with growth no doubt, but within the city limits of Alton, the growth is coming and by 2020 the population will be at almost double than 2010, 46 businesses will be champing at the bit to service the city.
Steve Pena, CEO of the City of Alton Development Corporation (CADC) knows all too well how many companies want to conduct business in Alton. With a median age of 26, there needs to be growth in technology and lifestyle to fill the appetites of the citizens from Alton.
First incorporated in 1978, the city has only had two mayors. The wants have been minimal. In 2006 the constituents had nothing. The city was comprised of dirt roads, orchard and one grocery store.
“Right now it is on the fast track,” Pena said.
He has been with the city under many different capacities since 2006 under many different hats like finance manager, assistant city manager and now CEO of the Alton Economic Development Corporation.
In one decade alone a lot of has happened, Pena attributes to the good staff and leadership but also because of capacity.
Leadership has not really changed for the City of Alton. The newest commissioner has three terms under his belt, and the mayor pro tem and mayor have been at the helm of the city for 20 years.
Alton will eventually grow into an L as far as land is concerned being able to only grow so much due to becoming land locked. But if the 2020 census projections are correct, right now the city population is 17,200.
“Projections are always low,” Pena said. “We're probably above 18 (thousand) and by 2020 we'll probably be above 20 (thousand).”
As a corporation the CADC has a 4A and a 4B type of status. The CADC has done a lot of partnerships in the community development sector. A 4A takes care of the business sector for Alton. They can bring businesses into the city to help grow the economy.
The 4B brings community involvement. The 4B-type was not economic development before but if the establishment is attracting people, it is a form of economic development. A park for example.
“You're not making money off it,” Pena said. “But community development you are bringing people to come in (to the park).”
The park of course, being in the City of Alton.
A major project the CADC did with Mission Consolidated Independent School District was to utilize their collegiate high school. For the past two years a portion of the library has been a digitech library.
It has become all digital and essentially become the city's public library.
Now the CADC is not only able to facilitate a partnership with the school district to let the kids participate in distance learning during the day but during the evening the public can use it too.
“The public can use it for ESL classes, grant writing classes, resume writing and research,” Pena said. “A lot of the kids from college use it without having to travel to the university.”
Another partnership was with a private entity that is able to provide a free level of wifi to the public. The city purchased the equipment like towers and routers and the company in turn provides that final mile to internet. While it may only be a gigabyte, it still allows students to have access to technology.
The private company is able to offset their cost and provide internet to the public in the business sector and residential sector. The partnership will be a four phase approach, they are currently in the first phase of the project and are covering about 40 percent of the city with internet.
Once phase two and three of the project are complete, which should coincide due to the school district lending a hand, 90 percent of the 6,400-square-mile city will have free internet.
As for a 4A-type project, recently Lonestar National Bank was construed in which the CADC gave them an incentive for utility reimbursement for water and sewer, storm drains, so the bank could offset cost. They also gave the bank a small incentive to move the automated teller machine from the front to the back of the bank.
Pena said the economy dictates what companies want to operate in any community. Political rhetoric does not help Alton's cause, but companies are lining up to operate as the plans of growth continue.
While nothing is lost, everything is on hold.
“They've seen our neck of the woods, they want to come in, but it is on the back burner,” Pena said.
While the room for growth is available in the vicinity of city hall, the two-mile stretch from 107 (Conway) to Shary Road will be prime for companies wanting to expand. The Texas Department of Transportation has not formally announced an expansion and when Alton begins, the City of McAllen will do so as well. The expansion will make a five-lane road through Alton, McAllen and Edinburg to the I69.
“Once that announcement gets let out,” Pena said. “That's when all the companies will begin to call.”
Pena also said the list of companies is long with about 46 interested franchises and conglomerates.
When the companies come, so will new employees. Those employees will need something to do in Alton. Pena and company have already planned for them with hike and bike trails that will connect neighboring cities, but what some consider will be the jewel, will be the Josefa Garcia Park.
Located on the infamous corner of Bryan Road and Main Street, the city was awarded a $500,000-grant from the Texas Parks & Wildlife to make renovations to the park that will include an amphitheater, hike and bike trails, updated park facilities and an extreme sports complex. The park will also include a dog park.
The city received another $500,000 from a non-profit and are pending another $500,000 to have the proposed budget of $1.5 million to finish the project.
The CADC will fund and operate the extreme sports complex.
“We will be able to have sanctioned events for skateboarding, BMX and motocross,” Pena said.
The events will host large television coverage and have large sponsorship opportunities. It will be more expensive to build, but if it is successful there will be events all the time.
Pena, along with the rest of the CADC and leadership at the City of Alton have laid out a grand plan to be ahead of the curve when all the infrastructure is in place for growth.
With a little luck Alton will be the destination city for the West side of Hidalgo County.