New Liberty Hill economic development director aims for growth in which ‘nobody gets left behind’

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Jul 10th, 2024

Many watching this Austin suburb as the next to go boom, economically

By Justin Sayers – Senior Staff Writer, Austin Business Journal

Jul 9, 2024

Christian Kurtz acknowledges feeling a bit strange having a first day of work after more than a decade at his last job.

He took the reins July 8 as director of economic development for the city of Liberty Hill, following 12 years at the Pflugerville Community Development Corp. He replaces Mary Poche, who recently retired after a bit more than a year in the position.

“I’ll always have that 12-year investment with a community that I cut my teeth in and got to be part of their growth,” Kurtz said. “I feel like I grew up with Pflugerville as much as it grew around me.”

Kurtz will now be tasked with helping Liberty Hill grow up as well. The city, which is about 35 miles northwest of Austin, eclipsed 10,000 residents for the first time in July 2023 after recording 15% year-over-year growth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Industrial developers are following the lead of homebuilders and initiating big projects in the city that officials say will eventually allow it to attract major employers. The old adage of retail following rooftops is proving true there.

Kurtz said he became interested in the new role because of the “growth and opportunities Liberty Hill has to offer,” as well as its close work with economic development groups such as the Williamson County Economic Development Partnership to create “an ecosystem that supports development.”

He said he’s proud of his time in Pflugerville leading business retention and expansion programs, pointing to success like Cumberland Additive Inc., Sisu Devices and EOS North America.

That track record is what led Liberty Hill officials to him.

“Christian has extensive experience in business development and knows how to bring parties together to move projects forward,” Liberty Hill Mayor Crystal Mancilla said in a statement. “He’ll be an incredible asset in leading economic development efforts to make a positive impact on Liberty Hill.”

Kurtz recently spoke with the Austin Business Journal about his vision for Liberty Hill and the importance of partnerships when it comes to economic development.

Christian Kurtz

What are some of the advantages that Liberty Hill has compared to other cities in the region?

Kurtz pointed to the opportunity and buy-in from communities to “work regionally and methodically together.” That includes efforts like the Williamson County Economic Development Partnership, which is comprised of local EDC directors and does recruiting trips locally and abroad, with a primary focus on South Korean companies that supply Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Tesla Inc.

“I think that’s very impressive,” he said. “We call each other competition, but we know we work more like coopetition. Being part of an area that really capitalizes on that is important to me.”

Priorities for growth in his new role will be “any area that the board and the city see as opportunities,” he said. That could include more retail options or a job center to support the aims of the City Council and the board of the Liberty Hill Economic Development Corp.

“Maybe landing a small whale would be great,” he said.

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Challenges ahead

To say that Liberty Hill has grown exponentially would be an understatement. The city had 967 residents in 2010, then 3,646 residents in 2020 and 10,428 in 2023, according to Census Bureau. That’s been buoyed by large housing development, like Santa Rita Ranch, which is among the fastest-growing neighborhoods in the metro.

But rapid growth can present challenges, such as by straining infrastructure. Kurtz said he aims to overcome those by “leveraging all of the tools that we have in the toolbox,” like incentives programs. Many Austin suburbs subsidize business expansions with tax breaks or cash for jobs.

“It’s a group effort. It’s going to take the region as well as the city itself to make that happen. I think working cooperatively in the region is the most important thing we can do,” he said. “A win for someone else is also a win for us, but knowing how we can work together to make that happen is going to be what is selling this portion of the MSA.”

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Do you see any parallels between the growth on the northwest side of Austin compared to the northeast side?

During his time in Pflugerville, much of the growth that occurred in Austin happened on the north and northeast sides of the metro. It’s now starting to hit the northwest side, with areas like Cedar Park and Leander, and even Lago Vista and Jonestown, becoming targets of developers.

Kurtz said that he sees growth near Liberty Hill “happening much in the same way” as in Pflugerville. Liberty Hill can glean best practices from the other cities in the region, he said, taking what worked well and rejecting what didn’t.

“Back when I started, it felt like the Wild Wild West,” he said. “Economic development, those kind of practices, have been weeded out over time. We’ve learned to work in a way that helps everyone, especially the region, and that can be a big win for every city.”

As for what he sees in Liberty Hill potentially over the next five, 10 and 20 years?

“I’d like to see it be a supportive job center and something that fits into the lifestyle of the community itself,” he said. “Something that grows alongside it and gives all the citizens an opportunity to be part of that growth. Nobody gets left behind.”

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