Lufkin is in a better place, industrially speaking, because of Jim Wehmeier.
The city’s economic development director for nearly eight years announced Friday that he would be leaving town to accept a similar position in McKinney, which has a population of 136,000 (roughly 100,000 more than Lufkin) in its prime location 30 miles north of Dallas.
We have no doubt that it’s a good career move for Wehmeier, but it stinks for Lufkin. His economic development efforts — most notably, the multi-million-dollar industrial park outside of the loop on state Highway 103 east — have really started to gain traction.
Unemployment in both Lufkin and Angelina County has dropped to 7 percent, according to Workforce data released Friday, and you have to give Wehmeier some credit for that. Since he took the job here, he has been active in not only trying to recruit new businesses here but also helping local companies retain jobs when they easily could have gone away. Most recently, Wehmeier has been at the forefront of an effort by the city of Diboll and Angelina County as a whole to save the jobs of employees who are likely to be affected by International Paper’s purchase of Temple-Inland.
Wehmeier is often in our headlines for asking city council members, county commissioners or college trustees to approve incentive packages for prospective or local industries — like the intriguing Project 800 that may be coming down the pike or the lesser-known Project 400, which he introduced to the local 4B Corporation on Friday. Some of those incentive packages have produced results; others have not. Either way, it’s clear that the guy has tried hard to effect positive change in the local economy.
From what we’ve seen, Wehmeier has done well managing the funds from the economic development sales tax approved several years ago by Lufkin voters. The city’s 4B Corporation, which is in charge of that money, appears to be in good shape and has the resources of the industrial park (its proximity to major highways, the railroad and a fantastic water supply) to be able to lure additional businesses to Lufkin.
The city and its 4B organization need to act quickly, we believe, in attempt to retain, as much as possible, the economic development momentum that Wehmeier has built up in his years here.
We wish Wehmeier and his family well as they make the move to McKinney. Our loss is that city’s gain.