– Leads economic development in Lake Houston –
Mark Mitchell was a firefighter in Indianapolis. That experience has come in handy now that he’s living in Lake Houston.
As president of the Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership, he finds himself extinguishing the flames of perceptions flaring up after Hurricane Harvey visited a couple years ago, perceptions that Harvey devastated Lake Houston.
While sales tax revenue after Harvey declined, the turnaround began a couple months later.
Mitchell proudly points to the assistance the partnership was able to provide to several dozen Lake Houston small businesses through the Lake Houston Harvey Small Business Grant Program and the zero interest loans from LiftFund, a not-for-profit organization providing small business loans.
Two years later, Mitchell is ready to move beyond Harvey, touting the area’s incredible growth.
“There’s a five-fold increase in population since the 1980 census. By 2023, Lake Houston population will be 320,000,” Mitchell claims, touting the resilience of residents when he spoke at a recent Lake Houston Chamber luncheon.
“At least 210,000 vehicles pass Deerbrook Mall in Humble every day and, already, some 85,000 vehicles pass Generation Park just off Beltway 8,” says Mitchell. “We need to figure out a way to get them to stop, shop, dine and enjoy themselves in Lake Houston.”
Mitchell says Lake Houston is our “last frontier” in terms of greenfield space available to build on that is close to the airport and the Port of Houston.
“We’re one of the best places in the country in which to live,” said Mitchell, “Fantastic schools, great workforce, low cost of doing business plus our proximity to the airport and Port of Houston makes ZIP code 77044 one of the fastest growing in the Houston metro.”
When Mitchell speaks of “we,” he’s really talking about the Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership, formed in 2011 as a separate entity of the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce to focus on the Lake Houston economy.
“Working with the Lake Houston Chamber and our business and government partners, our mission is to strategically retain and create quality jobs and increase capital investment and a new tax base for Lake Houston,” said Mitchell.
That could be a tall order for most folks but not for this Indiana native, who began his wide-ranging professional career as a firefighter. On his last day after five years as a fireman, Mitchell was named to the Red Cross Hall of Fame for heroically saving a life in an horrific fire.
Mitchell is a life-licensed real estate broker, certified LNG plant operator, accountant for Ernst and Young and, most significantly, president and CEO of The Alliance for World Class Communities, a Michigan regional economic development corporation. He reported directly to David Whitwam, chairman and CEO of Whirlpool Corporation, who was chairman of the alliance.
“There are several great economic development professionals I’ve come to admire but my true career mentor is Whitwam,” said Mitchell. “His business vision and ethical approach were bar none and his willingness to take time to teach me taught me how to prioritize my work to leverage outcomes.”
Living in Lake Houston, Mitchell jumped at the chance to interview with the Lake Houston Chamber when he learned that Charlie Dromgoole, senior vice president of the Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership, was retiring.
“I was looking to leave the private sector to return to local economic development because, frankly, it’s so much more rewarding,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s greatest stress leading the partnership is “… keeping pace with our growth with limited resources. We must leverage quite a bit, but our strategic partners are great supporters. I’m working towards, one day, having Harris County and the City of Houston take a more aggressive and strategic stance on economic development strategies.”
Besides leading the region’s economic development initiative, Mitchell also champions the partnership’s goals, encouraging Lake Houston businesses to become partners.
“There are thousands of economic development programs across the country creating jobs, increasing the tax base and improving the quality of life for their communities,” he said. “We’ve helped our member partners develop land, secure new customers, plan capital growth, reduce capital expansion costs through various business and tax incentives, improve roads, secure financing, leverage disaster incentives, pursue federal tax credits, and find suitable building and land sites as well as provide demographic market information relative to their business.”
Mitchell is particularly proud of his work with the City of Humble to help CDI Energy Products, a manufacturer of high-quality, high-performance seals and components for the oil and gas industry, apply for tax incentives with the Texas Enterprise Zone Program as they begin a multi-million dollar expansion at their Humble location.
“One of my most rewarding experiences was providing assistance to Sophie Macey who owns Bayou City Interpreting,” said Mitchell. “Her revenue dropped to zero immediately after Harvey. She wasn’t sure she could pay her staff. We found her short-term funding through LiftFund and got her out of a high interest-rate loan. She was able to make her payroll commitment. She’s on the road to recovery.”
Most nights and weekends, Mitchell can be found at home with wife, Tracy, doing the things that the father of two boys, Luke, 20, and Seth 17, would normally do.
And he’s learning to take things a little easier.
“My former firefighter colleagues taught me that, if you’re not shot, stabbed or on fire, it may be urgent but it’s not an emergency,” Mitchell said.