Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Princeton, Texas for our focus on Economic Development & Growth in U.S. Communities
Only a decade ago, Princeton, Texas was just a small farming town with a population under 7,000 that was virtually unknown. But that has all changed.
“We have been for the longest time, a very small community,” says Princeton Mayor Brianna Chacon. “We have been kind of hidden on the radar. Our biggest city next to us – McKinney – you could talk to their residents and even they hadn’t heard of us. So, we’ve stayed hidden for quite a while, but they’ve finally found us on the map. We are here and we are growing like wildfire.”
Originally founded as Wilson Switch in the 1870s, Princeton was firmly established as a quiet farming community by 1888. Things stayed relatively quiet until recently, when the population began to soar. “The town is now probably 22,000 strong and that’s taken place in the last 10 years,” says Princeton City Manager Derek Borg. “We issued around 2,000 single family home building permits last year and we are probably on track for about 2,500 this year.”
That growth experienced in recent years isn’t taking the city by surprise. Princeton’s motto is “progress with purpose” and a multitude of people have been working hard to set the wheels in place to help the city achieve greatness, while still offering that small town community feel. “Regardless of how much we have grown, we’ve still been able to keep our culture alive here and still harness that small town mentality and that feel where you can sit outside with your neighbors and everyone has that community aspect,” Chacon says. “But we are also paving the way to be on the forefront of being a smart city and just being happy with all the growth. I’m very excited for where our city is heading.”
Progress has been swift and the city’s newest residents have only managed to enrich Princeton’s culture, rather than detract from it. “We were a small farming community for many, many years, historically, but that’s not where we are anymore,” Chacon reports. “We are extremely culturally diverse. Just within the past year, we had 60 families of southeastern Asian descent move to Princeton. We have so much more diversity than ever before and we are harnessing that and making the city richer because of it.”
The city council itself has welcomed a new level of diversity. Chacon is the first female mayor to sit at the head seat of Princeton in over 20 years. She’s also the second youngest Mayor in all of Texas. “That alone is wildly different from where the city has been before,” Chacon shares, “and last year, for the first time, we elected our first African American male onto our city council. This past election season we had another. To see that we are visually changing and embracing those cultural changes as a city is exciting to me because that’s the world we live in.”
It’s not just the city’s demographics that are seeing change and growth. The city is continuing to invest millions into its infrastructure. Funds have been used to improve everything from new streets to water, wastewater, and drainage. “When you look at all that the city is responsible for in terms of ongoing maintenance and operating costs, it becomes very important to leverage your opportunities during times of strong development,” Borg says.
The city is also currently engaged in developing a comprehensive communications plan that will include the use of smart technology that collects data to make better decisions when it comes to delivery of services. The system will allow the city to communicate with all of its critical infrastructure like lift stations, water pump stations, outdoor warning sirens, traffic lights, and more. They also have plans to implement a city-wide Wi-Fi and high-speed internet service for those that are underserved. Borg admits, “We are not there yet, but we have a great plan in the works and we are really excited about it.”
Princeton is also making improvements to its business offerings, utilizing 100 acres of land on the outskirts of the city that was purchased years ago by the city’s Economic Development Corporation as a place for future industrial development. Borg explains, “It was originally supposed to be way out of town, but now it’s not. And as it started to develop, it became apparent that it needs to be more of a business park for tech and perhaps medical, rather than industrial, because it got encircled by subdivisions close in proximity. Now, it’s about 50 percent sold out and we have got some really good users in there.”
Even at only half capacity, the Bois d’Arc Business Park is slated to provide up to 500 new jobs for the city. The EDC has also been active in pursuing new tech and medical business to the community. They are currently in the process of working with a pharmaceutical manufacturing company that has the potential to add another 300 jobs to the area. The EDC is actively trying to offer what they can as far as grants to incentivize these business sectors to locate in Princeton.
When it comes to housing, Princeton is putting in the legwork to make it easy on developers who want to break into the city. “We get complimented, quite frankly, on the process,” Borg says. “My background is in development and I’ve seen both sides of the fence. My opinion is that we need to make it a smooth process for development and not create roadblocks.” To do so, Princeton has cleared away barriers to development and placed relevant city departments next to each other at city hall so that they can be in regular communication. They have also established a quick review process, so developers don’t have to lose time. Once the work has started, building inspectors are instructed to help developers work through any problems as they arise and help find solutions. “Our job isn’t to slow the process down,” Borg says. “Our job is to get you open. We have that mentality here. We want to get you open because we want you to succeed here.”
In addition to their streamlined procedures, Princeton also relies on good old-fashioned relationship building to keep developers coming back to the city. “I think that’s what makes us unique and it’s something I really pride myself on,” Chacon says. “When we have developers come in, I always like to talk to them on a personal level. I like to connect with them. I’m going to lunch with you, I’m going to check up on you, I’m going to send you a Christmas card. It’s something we always hear from developers – that we are quick to respond and that we are personal with them. We go out of our way to make sure they have everything they need because their success is our success.”
Preparing for success doesn’t stop there. The city has also focused its attention on skills building and career training. Princeton is home to CATE, the Career and Technology Center run by the Princeton Independent School District (ISD). The Center offers job training in everything from construction, agriculture and electrical to auto mechanics, horticulture and cosmetology. “We want to really touch our youth and be able to give them an experience that carries them beyond just our parks and rec here,” Chacon says. “We always want them to be productive in society, because ultimately, that’s what feeds our economy. So we are investing in them now. This makes sure that when kids are graduating, they are ready to be in the workforce. It’s equipping them with the skills they need to go out and actually have a career and not accumulate a lot of debt.”
Much like the city’s youth, Princeton itself is facing the future equipped for success. And the growth is only projected to keep rising. It is anticipated that the city’s population will reach 40,000 in the next five to seven years, which means even more opportunity for its residents.
“We’ve got all of this in the palm of our hands right now and we are creating and formulating all of it,” Chacon says. “We are doing it with amazing people, amazing partnerships here within our city, with our developers, with our builders, with our community, with our ISD. We are just in a fantastic spot.”