By Martha Helton
Photos by Lindsey Sullivan Photography and provided by Dr. John Hubbard
“The Cowboy Capital of the World” was formed in 1854 when John M. Stephen donated land for the county courthouse, building lots for his fellow settlers and for several churches. In return, the town was named Stephenville and was designated the county seat. Since then, the city has endured frontier hardships, Comanche raids, and virtually became a ghost town during the Civil War when citizens were forced to leave. In 1871 agriculture and livestock proliferated. Stephenville became incorporated in 1889 with the arrival of The Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway. In the 1890s, many of the buildings around the town square were built, Tarleton State University opened, and the community’s two newspapers merged to become the Empire-Tribune, which is still in existence. The 20th century brought more industry and the population has steadily increased.
Stephenville’s 150+ years of fluctuating economic growth and history culminated into the formation of the Stephenville Economic Development Authority (SEDA) in 2015. The desire for a more deliberate strategy for the city’s growth nudged the city leaders to form this organization, made up of seven members selected by the City Council. The city is fortunate to have the very accomplished SEDA executive director Dr. John Hubbard helping steer the city toward prosperity and growth.
The running joke is the newly formed task force already went through its first director; she worked four days and quit. “I like to tell people, I’m not the first but I’m the longest tenured director,” Hubbard chuckled, a very tall, very affable gentleman. I visited with the director in his office, tucked behind a gift shop on the square. Our voices echoed slightly off the 100+ year old hardwood floors and cream-colored walls.
Originally Hubbard was a bit underwhelmed with the town of Stephenville. “But then when I got here and started driving around and started talking to people, I was won over. Businesses like FMC and Saint-Gobain are very involved in serving the city. We have hardworking people, friendly, caring people that care about the community.”
As director of a new organization, Hubbard explains: “There are a lot of growing pains. But that’s the fun part about it – the challenge of getting all the processes together. The board has done a really good job of getting all the basic elements of SEDA in place. We need to really hone in on the mission statement—get what our target market is, what we want to be when we grow up, who we want to serve. Once we have that, we can say who we’re going to be.” Dr. Hubbard’s energy and passion exuded as he talked. The bottom line for his role in the economic development of Stephenville, he shared, “is about community development and giving the citizens what they want.”
Originally from Detroit, Dr. Hubbard migrated to Texas, went to Abilene Christian University, then off to Texas Tech and then eventually over to the metroplex. He has a wealth of experience and credentials as a city manager, an adjunct professor, as executive director of Hutchins EDC with certifications as a Certified Economic Developer, an Economic Development Finance Professional and Professional Community Economic Developer. He also was selected as the 2015 Outstanding Human Capital Development Ph.D. student at the University of Southern Mississippi.
His last job before SEDA was in Balch Springs. Because trying to complete his dissertation while working full-time was so overwhelming to him, Hubbard resigned his position as economic director for the City of Balch Springs after five years of service to concentrate full-time on writing his dissertation. The title of his dissertation is “Is Human Capital Development the Missing Element of the Aerotropolis Model?” Dr. Hubbard further explained: “Human Capital Development (HCD) is the investment of people as a resource. The aerotropolis was coined by John Kasarda meaning ‘airport city.’” He gestured as he talked, with an intent look on his face. “In my study I asked if training affects economic development efforts around airports. The study is not only helpful as I look for ways of developing Stephenville’s airport (Clark Field), but the tools from the HCD program have helped me in my job as executive director at SEDA.”
Hubbard shared more about the airport vision and more: “We’re about to extend the runway at the airport, and that will give us the opportunity to bring in bigger businesses. The city owns about 109 acres around the airport. It’s an opportunity and a strength. We need to take advantage of our Agribusiness. Tarleton just received a grant to research environmental friendly ways of using cow waste. We have a lot of engineering students here, but students get their education here and then they leave. What we need to do is attract businesses and with the airport, we can bring people here and keep people here. That’s my vision but it’s has to be the vision of the board and the community as well. But it’s my job to educate and kind of steer them that way.”
“Right now we’re working on a deal where we have all the requirements the prospect wants—the people, the transportation and the training. What’s really good about Tarleton and Stephenville is we do have a really good mechanism in place for training the people.” Hubbard has been working on this project from day one but isn’t at liberty yet to talk about it yet.
A high priority for many Stephenville residents, according to Hubbard, is to see another grocery store added to their community. There is only a Wal-Mart and an HEB—many residents travel to Granbury for more variety. Because Hubbard has a lot of contacts “just by being old and knowing people,” that will help him hammer out deals with businesses to come to Stephenville. “We also go to conferences–there’s this one–International Council of Shopping Centers–that’s a good one to go to. I target people based on our demographics.”
Larger companies already know where they want to go, explained Hubbard. “Like CVS…they’re shaped the same. They’re on a hard corner where a traffic signal is located. They have it figured out to traffic count, population, and household income. They know if they put their stores in a certain location they can anticipate exactly what they can sell down to what they can stock in the aisles. They have it down to a science.”
Smaller mom and pop stores aren’t as knowledgeable. “I had a lady in Balch Springs come see me and said she liked to cook fish. She had no business plan so I walked her through that. What I do is look at businesses based on what they want, based on what we have. Say a business wants to come in to the city but they want to be located near a traffic signal because that’s going to increase their business. But you can’t just arbitrarily put in a traffic signal…and then a traffic signal costs a quarter of a million dollars. Then the business would have to justify if the traffic signal is worth a quarter of a million dollars. Maybe the business will pay for the stop sign. We might do a traffic study to see if it’s justifiable.”
Outside of work he participates in a 100+ volunteer men’s acapella group called the Vocal Majority. Mission statements and goal-setting components even filter through his brain while talking about the group. Listen to this (Hubbard plays a Vocal Majority song on his iPhone): “I asked myself, ‘what’s so great about that group?’–One of these days I’m going to do a study on it—because we won twelve international gold medals. I don’t think the singers aren’t any better than other barbershop choruses. But there are certain characteristics our music leadership team has adopted and applied to the chorus that sets us apart from other barbershop groups. We lost one time to a group who had modeled themselves after us. After that we sat back and asked ourselves, ‘What’s our mission?’ We wanted to touch people’s hearts. Simple. Those same things can even apply to SEDA. We’re a new organization. We need to decide what our mission is–then take those steps to be the best in the world. Vocal Majority is nothing special in itself—I think it are the processes and the attitude of the chorus that makes it special and that’s what I’m going to do—apply those principles to this organization here. That’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Touching people’s hearts and lives in Stephenville, Texas through giving citizens the amenities they want…is a mission eagerly undertaken by Dr. John Hubbard.