Brownwood City Manager Emily Crawford and Ray Tipton, executive director of economic development, talked crime, economics, real estate and other topics as they answered Mayor Stephen Haynes’ questions at Haynes’ State of the City address Friday.

Haynes began by asking Tipton about his transition last year from the chamber of commerce, where Tipton was executive director, to City Hall.

“It’s been a really smooth transition,” Tipton said. “City government sometimes has a reputation for being stern, and there’s a lot of red tape, but there’s really a lot of collaborative spirit up there on the second floor.”

Tipton cited as an example a business owner who wanted to relocate to Brownwood. City officials “stepped up and said ‘let’s streamline this as much as possible’” in changing the zoning to accommodate the business, Tipton said.

Haynes asked about the core values I SERVE the city recently adopted. Crawford said the acronym stands for integrity, service, excellence, respect, vision and empathy. 

“It’s a pretty high standard that we’ve set for ourselves,” Crawford said. “I’m really proud of our council and staff for recognizing that public service has a high standard that we need to set to our citizens and those that we serve.”

Haynes said a theme he hears from the community is the need for the city to become “more consumer friendly, more focused on businesses and helping them grow.”

Crawford said department heads and other staff come to her office with ideas and “I feel like we know that we’re making progress,” Crawford said.

Tipton said unemployment has consistently been under 4 percent annually for the past couple of years. Those are “good strong unemployment numbers” but they also can create issues, Tipton said.

“It’s absolutely a double edged sword when you have low unemployment,” Tipton said. “It sounds great and you want to have that to some extent.” But that can create issues when trying to recruit a major employer who will need a large number of workers, he said.

“The first question is, where are they going to come from?” Tipton said.

“That’s where we reach out to other resources and maybe some surrounding counties, people commuting in. I know we’ve been talking to Brady. They’ve going through an unfortunate situation with some sand plants closing. We’ve been working really close with their chamber and city.”

Haynes asked about crime in the city, and Crawford said the crime is down in four major categories. That mirrors a national trend, and the Brownwood Police Department is taking steps in areas of training and equipping officers to help reduce crime, Crawford said.

Crawford also cited the importance of citizens and police interacting at events such as National Night Out and having officers available at public events, “building that rapport and trust with our community,” Crawford said.

Haynes asked about real estate, and Tipton said 2018 saw 413 residential sales. Average sale prices in 2018 were about 5 percent higher than the previous year, Tipton said. When real estate numbers rise, that usually means other numbers are going up, he said.

Tipton said he likes to see “slow, steady growth” in sales prices because “that’s a sustainable growth.”

Haynes also asked about residential and commercial construction, and Crawford said there has been “a tremendous amount of interest from our local builders. Indian Creek Townhomes has been a game changer for us. Before, it was very difficult for people who were coming to Brownwood for work, to either find temporary housing until they could purchase, or if they just weren’t looking to purchase a home.

“Our apartment complex opportunities were very limited, and that has completely eliminated that concern for people coming to Brownwood for work purposes.”

In early 2017, Tipton said, the city “got rolled into the ‘national retail apocalypse’ and we had some pretty big stores close. We’ve had some growth since then. We’ve replaced some of those retailers.”

Sales are “brisk across the board” and the city has taken steps to help downtown retailers, Tipton said.

“We’ve recovered economically from that decline, and even above that had growth. We still have some vacancies we’re looking to fill,” Tipton said.