Roving Reporter | "Business is Picking Up Through Recovery Efforts" by Jeanette Larson

The mission of the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce is "To encourage, promote, and assist in economic development for Aransas County." That's been a tough row to hoe for the group post-Harvey. Without a good local economy we don't have sales and hotel tax revenues, we don't have jobs, and tourism is down. As the community moved from disaster mode into recovery and rebuilding, the Chamber began to work on short-term and long-term planning to facilitate economic recovery. For short-term plans, five committees were formed to look at ways to stimulate the economy. As the committees enter the last weeks of work, they reported on their progress at a the six-week mark at a meeting on February 19, 2018.

Diane Probst, President/CEO of the Chamber, began by talking about some of the local activities, including the 7th visit from Gov. Greg Abbott on February 13th. During that visit Abbott announced that the federal dollars promised by Washington were being released. Rockport, Fulton, and Aransas County will receive some of that money and state agencies are currently contacting local officials to assist in preparing the federal applications so that money can flow to the area. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development promised to fast-track the bureaucratic process so that money could be available by the end of March to help rebuild houses. Probst noted that this money will stimulate projects but that Rockport/Fulton needs to stay in the public eye. She asked that the media spread the word about local accomplishments as well as continuing needs so that additional funds are sent to the area. Probst also reported on the recent community-generated clean-ups and commended local organizations and businesses for getting beach, downtown, and bay cleanups going. The community had been told to hold up due to FEMA regulations but those roadblocks have been cleared and Keep Aransas County Beautiful, the Town of Fulton, the Rockport Heritage and Arts Association, local businesses, and other organizations plan to hold additional cleanup days.

Pinpointing businesses that responded to the survey
A Small Business Toolkit is being developed in response to the Business Assessment Survey responses. 112 surveys were received and results showed that more than half of the businesses had more than half of their employees adversely affected by Harvey. The team indicated that they tried to reach all small businesses but some chose not to participate. The responses included a wide range of diversity in types of businesses and the response rate is considered good for the size of the population surveyed. The data was analyzed and results were used to help develop a toolkit that will have various components to meet local needs. The team will also be following up to hold individual meetings with those business owners who indicated they need help now. Open Door Charity will work with both individuals and small business owners who need help rebuilding. If your business did not complete the survey, you can still participate by calling Mike Woods at (361) 729-6445 or via email at

The Downtown Fulton and Downtown Rockport committee talked about the clean-ups and efforts that have been made to beautify the downtown areas and attract customers to the areas. Many who participated in the clean-ups were out-of-towners and Winter Texans who really want to help our area recover.  The committee is working on more events like the Chocolate Crawl, as well as cross-over events like the back-to-back downtown cleanups. Fulton also has spent $12,000 on lighting to enhance safety and ambiance in downtown Fulton.

Voluntourism means that tourists come to town to volunteer while they are visiting. The Chamber's committee has been working with experts from New Orleans (Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans or RHINO) learn from Hurricane Katrina efforts. RHINO will be in Rockport for a workshop on March 13 and will work with representatives from the various volunteer organizations and groups in town (Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities, Mennonites, Keep Aransas County Beautiful, etc.) to determine which projects are priorities for the groups of volunteers coming to town. RHINO has agreed to share partner resources they identified, budgeting, and logistics information, shortening greatly the learning curve for locals. Although Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, RHINO is still working on service projects to help New Orleans. The Chamber is also seeking ways for volunteers to get Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) for volunteer work done in Rockport. One of the nice things about voluntourism is that there is a financial "trickle-down" that combines tourism and economic impact with getting local needs met by volunteers. Many voluntourists return later as full tourists.

The final report considered the ways tourism can be revitalized in the area. In addition to working with the media to share the good things that are happening in town, the committee is developing a tourist calendar to focus on events and activities that will attract out-of-town guests. They are also working on packaging, promotion and resurrecting an advertising campaign to launch mid-March. Another campaign is focusing on ways to encourage "local tourism," encouraging locals to tour their own town, shopping, eating, and volunteering locally. The committee recognized that events, like the Chocolate Crawl, the 911 Mobile Exhibit, and community clean-ups have a huge impact on the economy.

The short term recovery efforts will continue for awhile longer as the Chamber transitions into Long Term Recovery Phases.

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