PHARR, RGV – Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval has assured small business owners in the city that he and his staff are working hard to ensure their success, not just that of the “big box” stores.
Sandoval made the pledge at a recent Pharr.BIZ mixer at the Tierra del Sol Golf Club. Pharr has won a lot of accolades of late for securing national chain retail firms. Small business owner David Armstrong said the city must also nurture the mom and pop stores. He said he had moved Core Business Solutions from McAllen to Pharr because he did not feel that city cared much for the little guy.
“All I would say is don’t forget about us. This is what happened in another city,” Armstrong said, in his remarks at the mixer. “Pappadeaux is fantastic for sales tax revenues, but very few people who work at Pappadeaux can eat at Pappadeaux. The people that eat at Pappadeaux are us, the small business people. We need help, probably even more so than they do. I hope you do not forget that.”
Sandoval responded that the main reason Pharr had revamped its chamber of commerce was to ensure better business retention.
“Costco is great. Pappadeaux is great. All these Fortune 500 and big box type businesses are great but it is the small business owner, the entrepreneur, the folks that invest here are the backbone of the city. That is the truth. Thank you for reminding me about that. I believe in it totally,” Sandoval said.
“A Costco is great but if I lose a couple of small proprietorship businesses it affects me greatly. The whole thing about Pharr.BIZ is that there is power in numbers, real power. Information sharing does not cost anything, putting people in front of other people. The real the value for the business owner is how he or she can put all this together for his or her bottom line. This is what keeps the economy thriving. It is our main focus.”
Sandoval added: “Come and see me. I am in the only skyscraper in Pharr, all four stories of it. I have an open door.”
Another small business owner, Andrew Yoo, publisher of Business Adviser, said he was very happy to have relocated to Pharr. “It is a growing place. We are proud to be part of this great city.”
In his main speech to the business owners, Sandoval said he has worked to streamline services in Pharr, both with city operations and those of the economic development corporation, which he also runs.
“We have tried to make it a one-stop shop, so to speak, for development folks to come in and feel immediately welcome.” He pointed out that Pharr changed its approach to businesses after the 2008 downturn in the economy when so much business activity ground to a halt. “How do you grow when nothing else is happening? That is when we put in good management practice. We evaluated our strengths and mostly our weaknesses. We put what resources we hand behind this plan.”
Sandoval said getting a return on investment is just as important for the City of Pharr as it is for the private sector. “Re-inventing the Chamber of Commerce to make it more user-friendly, to be something that would be useful to today’s business owner was very important. We wanted to be on all the social media platforms. The ultimate goal is to get folks in front of other folks. We operate it on a shoestring, and business owners like David and Andrew are our force multipliers. And, our formula is working. A couple of other cities have copied our concept.”
The new business-friendly approach means a business owner looking to relocate to Pharr “does not get bounced around,” Sandoval said. “We do not waste your time with three or four days of appointments. We answer all your questions. Our goal is to treat you like the customer you want to be treated like. But also to send you away with all the information you need to make a good decision on how you are going to invest in the city.”
Sandoval then gave an example, pointing to Costco’s move to Pharr. “We were lucky enough to get Costco in Pharr. We turned it all around – from plan set review to permit and turning dirt in 31 days. The regional VP for Costco said that was the fastest turn around for plan set to starting construction they had ever experienced. That is worldwide.”
Sandoval then paid tribute to his economic development team. “Everyone at City Hall, everyone at the EDC, everyone at Pharr.BIZ, everyone is doing economic development. Everybody. I do not care if you are a dog catcher, I do not care if you are a meter reader. I do not care if you are a police officer. I do not even care if you are the mayor. We are all doing economic development. That is the key. If you are treating people like customers, not knowing whether they are going to be really big customers who are going to put a lot of money into your city or not, if you are going to treat them right, like you want to be treated, I think that really turns the corner for folks. We are trying to break away from the stereotypical city/municipal/government treatment.”
Sandoval said the “Pharr Formula” has proven to be successful. “Our bridge is doing very well. Our sales tax since I took over the EDC is up 40-plus percent. That is all new money. This past month we had the highest growth in the Valley in new money. Not only was it the highest growth in the Valley for new money, in percentage terms, it also put us at the highest growth rate year-to-date for the Valley as well. So, our formula is something we are real proud of. We have been able to forge relationships not only with our local business people and local taxpayers but have also forged good relationships with some of these out of the area guys, investors that are coming in.”
Sandoval then ran through some of the new retail and restaurants coming to Pharr in the coming months. He listed Chick fil A, Freddy’s Frozen Custard, and Raising Cane’s. “We were lucky enough to partner up with a good development group. We assembled the dirt on our own and that was part of the Costco acquisition process. We have been real blessed that the council has been able to let us think a little outside of the norm. Most cities would not do something like this. We formed our own public facilities corporation and moved forward. You take a little bit of risk but I think the reward sometimes is worth it. We have been very blessed that we have a lot of people that believe in us and believe in our formula.”
Sandoval said if truth be told, Pharr’s fortunes changed when Pappadeaux came to town. “We were able to meet with the Pappas family and we met with Chris Pappas. They started the construction and then they stopped. They had gotten to just about to where they had done the foundation. They were about to do the plumbing and 2008 happened. They just kind of shuttered everything and put the plastic over it. It just came to a standstill. It was a little bit heartbreaking for us.”
However, Sandoval said, soon afterwards he and Mayor Polo Palacios met with the Pappas family. “We explained to Mr. Pappas what we were doing, explained our city and our concept and got to know him. We were able to tell our story. Literally, a week later they were back in business and back in construction. They believed in us.”
Once Pappadeaux had committed to Pharr, Sandoval said, the dominos started to fall.
“We were able to get Costco interested. We were able to get At Home and a revamp of Luby’s and the mall started to take off. You saw what happened at the (Cinemax) theater. All these things started happening. It is not by mistake. We prepared for this, we’ve worked hard with our elected officials and our staff and we have put ourselves in a position to succeed. But, we would not be able to do it without you folks,” Sandoval told the audience of small business owners.
Pharr.BIZ has been referred to as a virtual chamber of commerce because so much of its activity is online. “Pharr.BIZ is a more affordable option with a lot more dividends,” Sandoval said. “We wanted to start this in the Valley. We think a lot of folks are interested. We are hoping it is going to catch on. We think it is bound to be a great success. I think we have got a monster in the making, so we are excited.”
Sandoval concluded his speech by saying the City of Pharr is a partner to the business community. “The City is always going to be with you. You have my pledge as a city manager and economic development manager, you have my attention. You will have my help. You have my staff and I and the elected officials as a partner.”