UL Live

Longview Economic Development Corporation


builds on a

by Christina Cavazos

In 2023, the new 5,000-square-foot LEDCO office building will give the organization room to grow on the historic site of Longview High School from 1933 to 1976.

Wayne Mansfield recalls driving past the formerly vacant lot in downtown Longview that once served as a beloved high school and considering how it could again play a vital role in the city’s history. In 2023, the space at the corner of Whaley and Second Streets will cement its place in Longview’s future as it becomes the home of economic development in the city.

“We’re excited about it. It gives us our own space where we can grow. We can be more efficient with our time, and we’re helping develop downtown,” said Mansfield, who serves as president and CEO of Longview Economic Development Corporation.

With a new office building, new members on the Board of Directors, and plans to develop a new strategic plan, 2023 will see LEDCO embark on a new chapter in the organization’s history.

LEDCO is also working on more than 35 projects. That’s the highest number of concurrent projects Mansfield said he’s experienced in his six-and-a-half years with LEDCO. Those include things like semi-conductor projects, batteries associated with electric vehicles, solar projects, and more.

It’s an exciting time for the Longview Economic Development Corporation, the organization that oversees the city’s economic development. Established in 1991, LEDCO works with businesses that are planning to expand or that are considering relocating to Longview. LEDCO provides them with information about available buildings and land, workforce development, and potential incentives to help them as they make decisions about their company. In 2022, LEDCO brought new business development to Longview, including the opening of the Gap Inc.’s new e-commerce fulfillment center in Longview’s North Business Park.

Conversations with Gap Inc. began in November of 2020. In February 2021, LEDCO’s Board of Directors, the Longview City Council, Gregg County commissioners, and Longview ISD trustees approved a package of incentives to help bring the $140 million, 850,000-square-foot facility to Longview. Today, the e-commerce distribution center fulfills customer orders placed online through Old Navy. The center is capable of processing up to 1 million units of clothing per day. “As we continue to deliver on our growth strategy, the launch of our Longview Customer Experience Center is another opportunity to further unlock the power of technology and automation, evolve the way we work, diversify our business, and deliver an exceptional experience for customers,” Kevin Kuntz, head of supply chain at Gap Inc., said in a news release.

According to Gap Inc., the Longview Distribution Center employs more than 300 people. By the end of 2023, the site will employ about 500 full-time workers. Longer range plans call for the facility to employ as many as 1,200 full-time workers; however, Gap Inc. also anticipates hiring as many as 1,000 additional seasonal, part-time employees.

In addition to Gap, LEDCO also brought other business development to Longview in 2022. Aviagen, which announced plans in 2021 to build in Longview, broke ground on its facility in the Longview Business Park in South Longview. Aviagen is working to construct an 88,000-square-foot hatchery facility. Aviagen is a global poultry breeding company with a mission to help its customers supply sustainable, affordable and nutritious protein to their growing communities.
The company is making an approximately $27 million investment in its Longview facility, which plans show will bring about 65 jobs to the city.

LEDCO’s Board of Directors also approved a performance agreement in September 2022 with Merit Fabricators, an affiliate company of Allied Steel Buildings, Inc. Merit Fabricators is a Florida-based company that works primarily with structural steel to produce customized, prefabricated commercial and industrial buildings for customers.

“We can’t wait to engage with the local experienced skilled labor force, as well as the local educational institutions which feature the various degrees that will translate to success at Merit,” Michael Lassner, president of Merit Fabricators and Allied Steel Building, said.

Mansfield said Merit Fabricators plans to make a capital investment of about $25 million and create about 30 full-time jobs with an annual payroll of $1.2 million.

“It is very high tech. They use a lot of robotic welding, a lot of high-tech CNC. Unlike what we’ve seen traditionally in the welding and CNC world, this is very automated and computer-assisted,” he explained. “We’re really excited about the opportunity of them wanting to partner with LeTourneau’s
materials joining department. It’s a great addition and a good fit for our community because of the skillset we have here.”

Longview and greater East Texas have strong workforce development in the industrial field. Longview High School features a vibrant Career Technical Education (CTE) program. Students can further hone those trade skills at area colleges and universities, including Kilgore College, Texas State Technical College and LeTourneau University. 

Longview and greater East Texas has strong workforce development in the industrial field. Longview High School features a vibrant Career Technical Education (CTE) program. Students can further hone those trade skills at area colleges and universities, including Kilgore College, Texas State Technical College and LeTourneau University.

Tim Smith, LEDCO’s director of business retention and workforce development, regularly meets with CTE directors to inform them of the most vital skillsets needed at current and emerging companies. Advanced manufacturing continues to be a field that meets the skillsets of the community.  

“We work very closely with CTE programs in partnership with Kilgore College and TSTC to develop those programs and the skills so that we can match what the companies need,” Mansfield said.

With Merit Fabricators’ plans to build a 130,000-square-foot facility in the Longview Business Park in South Longview, the business park is nearly full, Mansfield noted.

“We have about 150 total acres left there,” he said. “So now we have to look at where do we go from here. We hope that’s an area where the strategic plan will help us.”

In 2023, LEDCO will also develop a strategic plan to assess the strengths of the organization, help identify areas for growth, and assess future needs.

LEDCO’s current strategic plan was originally developed for LEDCO in 2016 by a consultant. Mansfield said he modified the plan about five years ago. However, in the past couple of years the world has changed and so has the realm of economic development.

“The pandemic really changed all aspects of life and society has changed, too,” he said. “The way consumers and providers interact has shifted. The roles have shifted.”

Mansfield used a simple example to demonstrate the change. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, there were fewer options for consumers. Manufacturers would provide shoes, for example, in one or two colors. Today, consumers can go online and design shoes with any pattern or color they create, and a manufacturer will simply make the shoe that the person has designed.

“Back then, manufacturers and companies said, ‘Here’s what we have to sell.’ Now, consumers will say, ‘This is what we want.’ It’s more specialized. The manufacturers are having to adapt to that,” he said.

Additionally, the way people work changed amid the pandemic. Today, many people continue to work at home or have shorter commute times.

“The data used in 2016 to develop our strategic plan has drastically changed,” Mansfield said. “So our thought process is to look at the new data and see if it matches our target industries.”

LEDCO’s current target industries are advanced manufacturing, petrochemical and plastics, distribution and logistics, and aerospace and aviation. With regard to the last target industry, Mansfield said he realized shortly after coming to Longview how significant the airport is to the region “and how much more it could be.”

“We commissioned an airspace study a few years ago and that data overwhelmingly showed that we certainly need to be looking at that as a target sector,” he said.

The plan will also reveal areas for growth,
he explained. Whether the needed growth be in the areas of diversity and inclusion, workforce training, infrastructure, education, or another category, it will show LEDCO where it can improve.

“Then, we can start developing strategies to overcome those weaknesses,” Mansfield said. With the new strategic plan, LEDCO will strive to be more efficient with its time and its money. That means LEDCO will focus on attracting companies whose needs this region will best serve. While Longview may not be able to compete with metropolitan cities when it comes to

attracting corporate headquarters that require larger population bases, those metro cities can’t compete with East Texas in the realm of manufacturing because their workforce doesn’t have the skillset, he explained.

“We’re just laying the roadmap to be more efficient all the way around and be more prudent with our money – to use it to the best of our ability,” he said.

In addition to industrial development, LEDCO also strives to bring more retail development to the region. Retail development, however, is a completely separate realm of economic development. Mansfield explained that retail developers typically have their own requirements for locating in a particular city. While Longview residents may want places like Costco and HEB to build here, Mansfield said that isn’t likely – at least not in the immediate future.

“For instance, Costco requires a population of roughly 300,000 people within a five-mile radius as well as a median household income of over $70,000. Our median household income is $54,000. They’re not going to look at Longview,” he explained.

Another difference between retail and industrial development is that state law prohibits the incentivization of retail. 

“We do recruit and market Longview for retail development, but we can’t incentivize it,” Mansfield said. “If you look at HEB’s growth plan, they are growing around urban areas. Their major area right now is Dallas-Fort Worth, and they have a number of projects there. We have communicated with them. We are on their radar, but it is probably at least five years down the road if not longer. They’re focusing on urban areas and then will come into the mid-size rural areas. It’s some time away.”

But when LEDCO looks to bring new companies to the city in the future, it will be looking at land and facilities in the business parks and in the city. As the Longview Business Park in South Longview edges toward being full, Mansfield said LEDCO will also look at potential future areas of development. That central planning will happen in LEDCO’s new downtown Longview home, which it will move into in 2023.

For many years, LEDCO has shared office space on Center Street with the Longview Chamber of Commerce, but now it will have a new home in which to grow.

The story of LEDCO’s office space goes back six-and-a-half years to when Mansfield first arrived in Longview. At that time, LEDCO had been considering developing its own office but decided to pause the decision to give Mansfield time to get familiarized with the city and the organization. Several years and several major projects later, the board decided to revisit the conversation. About three years ago, LEDCO’s Board of Directors decided to embark again on considering a new office.

“A lot of planning went into it,” Mansfield explained. “We considered whether we should build in one of our business parks. We own the land already, and it made some sense from a standpoint that we could have our eyes on the ground of what’s going on in the park and be closer to the industries that we locate within those parks.”

But, they also considered downtown where LEDCO also has a vested interest. The organization helped fund the Small Area Plans, which includes the downtown plan. 

“It also made sense logistically because I work very closely with the city manager; I work very closely with Judge (Bill) Stoudt; our attorney, accountant and auditor are all on Judson Road. The decision was ultimately made that we need to stay downtown and make an investment in downtown.”

One day as he was driving down Whaley Street, Mansfield passed by a property that he’d driven by dozens of times before.

The site of the former Longview High School.

He called Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox to see if the school district would consider trading land. Mansfield offered Longview ISD tracts of land in Longview’s North Business Park that are adjacent to Judson Middle School. Should Judson need to expand in the future, the land would prove valuable to Longview ISD.

Meanwhile, the school district didn’t have any plans for the vacant land that was home to Longview High School from 1933 to 1976. The former T.G. Field Auditorium was located next to the old high school building. Both structures were eventually torn down, and the property across the street from the Longview Community Center had been vacant for years.

In 2023, the new 5,000-square-foot LEDCO office building at the corner of Whaley and Second Streets will give the organization room to grow in its future.

The building, which will retain the outdoor monuments paying tribute to the former high school, will feature a board room that can be utilized by the community when LEDCO isn’t using it. Mansfield said companies that need a board room to serve 10 to 15 people often request to use LEDCO’s space.

“We allow the public to use it. We are a public entity,” he said. “We’re more than happy to accommodate.”

Other portions of the building contain office space with room for future growth.

Growth will begin to happen shortly after LEDCO moves into the building. LEDCO Currently has six people on staff, but Mansfield has plans to add another team member in mid-2023 to assist with business development.

“That’s our immediate growth plan, but we have designed and laid out the building for future additions. We’ve looked at this really from a 20 to 25 year standpoint. This building should at least serve us for the needs that we have for the next 20 years.”