KATY (Covering Katy) – The Katy Area Economic Development Council is inappropriately taking credit for the work of other organizations, and its deceptive practices have been a problem for years according to local leaders who spoke with Covering Katy. The most recent example involves the decision by Amazon to build a distribution center in the Waller County portion of the City of Katy.
The groups responsible for bringing Amazon to the City of Katy are the Waller County Economic Development Partnership, Duke Realty and the City of Katy. Covering Katy has been told by several sources that aside from two early meetings, the Katy Area Economic Development Council had nothing to do with the deal. Still, the KAEDC added the following words to an Amazon press release and distributed it to the media as if it were their own document.
“Katy Area EDC began pursuing Amazon to locate in the area in 2015 as the company began examining options for construction of facilities in the Houston region. For this project, beginning in early 2016, Katy Area EDC provided site selection/real estate assistance, proposal development and technical assistance and coordination with the entities involved.
On behalf of the entire Katy area community, I would like to welcome Amazon. We are thrilled to have a world-renowned company select our community for construction of its newest facility. This is a momentous day for Katy and further cements our position as a top destination for leading companies throughout the world. We are eager to work with Amazon moving forward.”
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LaCour’s statement was so convincing that the first paragraph was used in a Houston Business Journal article and was presented as the “back story” to the Amazon deal. No other officials except LaCour were quoted in the HBJ article.
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The original Amazon press release also supplied contact information for reporters who wanted to interview public relations executives at Amazon. The KAEDC version removed the Amazon contact information and replaced it with contact information for LaCour. In doing so reporters would believe LaCour was the lead media contact on the Amazon project. In actuality those who were involved say he played no role in the negotiations.
“I am not surprised you are hearing around the Katy community that the KAEDC overreaches on projects in which they had little to no real involvement,” said Vince Yokom, executive director of the Waller County Economic Partnership. “The insinuation in their Amazon press release that they had something significant to do with the Amazon project doesn’t surprise me. We have been dealing with this overreach for years,” Yokom said.
“The project was handled between the City of Katy and Waller County. It was a great team effort,” Yokom added.
The frustration has reached all the way to the Waller County judge’s office.
“I have to admit, I was a bit taken aback when I saw the Katy Area EDC press release where they appear to be taking credit for this project,” Waller County Judge Trey Duhon told Covering Katy. “To my knowledge, they played no significant role since they have no authority to negotiate on behalf of either Katy or Waller County,” Duhon added.
“This lead came to us from the greater Houston Partnership, and we worked it,” said Yokom.
Yokom also said every economic entity got the lead at the same time. He assumes the KAEDC was told about Amazon’s interest in the Katy area too, but it was the City of Katy working with the Waller County EDP that closed the deal.
“Any economic development project like this is the culmination of a lot of negotiation. My work was directly with the City of Katy, which negotiated directly with Amazon,” Yokom said.
According to Mayor Fabol Hughes, the City of Katy could supply water to the site, but others who were competing for the Amazon project, like Fulshear, could not provide the same services to their sites. Additionally, the Waller County EDP provided tax incentives, which brought Amazon to the table and closed the deal.
“We worked on this for over a year. We called it “project brick” because we had to sign a non-disclosure on it,” said Hughes, who declined to comment when asked about the KAEDC seemingly taking credit for the Amazon deal.
Hughes said the negotiation was so secret that even he did not know that the deal being formulated was for Amazon until two months before the agreement was finalized. This lends credibility to those who say the KAEDC didn’t know about the negotiations either.
Hughes and Yokom each say Katy City Administrator Byron Hebert lead the super-secret negotiations and that Duke Realty helped to get Houston to give up its extraterritorial jurisdiction over the property. Houston had no way to provide water to the site so they were required to let Katy annex the land according to Hughes. Having Duke negotiate with Houston allowed everyone to keep the buyer secret. Had landowners known the buyer was Amazon land prices could have spiked and killed the deal.
Getting business leaders to go on the record to talk about their frustrations with the KAEDC has been impossible in the past. They would openly complain that it is disheartening when credit for their hard work and success was inappropriately claimed by the Katy EDC. Still, those who complained asked that Covering Katy not attribute their comments to them, making it difficult to report. This time Covering Katy pursued the story and found numerous people who were willing to talk, some on the record.
One contractor, who asked to remain unidentified, told of the time he was at a KAEDC meeting where a member was recognized for a development deal that had recently been completed. He said all the people in attendance were lead to believe the KAEDC made the deal happen, but the contractor said it was the Waller County Economic Development Partnership that put the package together.
“It was the Katy Area EDC taking credit for something that they didn’t do,” said the contractor who asked not to be identified. He said it left the Katy Area EDC membership believing their own president had accomplished something that he did not do.
“I thought it was wrong,” the contractor said.
The Typhoon Texas Waterpark, the Goya cannery project, the Cane Island I-10 overpass, and the Igloo expansion are some of the well-known economic development deals that community leaders say the KAEDC has inappropriately taken credit for recently.
Unlike other economic development entities, the KAEDC does not have the authority to negotiate tax abatement deals. It makes the organization nearly toothless without a partner that has tax abatement powers. This is perhaps why the KAEDC has spent years attempting to gain that negotiating power, and in doing so Yokom says it has damaged important relationships while moving away from its original mission, to attract economic development in the Katy Independent School District.
“KISD taxpayers need to ask, ‘Why does a group that proclaims to represent KISD want to get involved in projects in other school districts? First Rooms To Go and now they seem to claim Amazon. Neither of these projects are in KISD,” Yokom said.
In our next report, we’ll detail how the KAEDC is focused on projects that will have no benefit to Katy ISD taxpayers and why the organization has angered so many other economic development leaders in the Katy area.
We have provided KAEDC leadership with a list of questions about this matter. We will publish their response if they reply to our inquiry.