Business owners discuss island’s potential

Published May 19, 2012

GALVESTON — About a dozen developers listened to city officials discuss the island’s potential Friday at the 2012 Developer Conference, the first conference of its kind for the island.

Developers from both Texas and out of state were invited to the inaugural conference presented by the Galveston Economic Development Partnership.

The conference was meant to highlight the island’s potential for investment and feature Galveston’s character.

For developer Don Lyons, chief operating officer of InterOPERANT, the conference was an opportunity to scope out the island as a possible site for a startup company.

“This conference gives us some context of the surroundings here and the kinds of things we could be a part of,” he said

Lyons is looking to start a company that provides neuro-optical biofeedback, which could calm nerves and reduce stress.

“We get to learn about the demographics and how the demographic we’d bring in would fit in,” he said.

Jeffrey Sjostrom, president of the partnership, said not all developers have projects in mind, but the hope is that when a possible project for the island “comes across their desk, they’ll consider it,” he said.

Since Hurricane Ike in 2008, the city has struggled to rebound from the hit. Recovery programs — such as streets and drainage issues — have been snarled in delays and infrastructure needs have mounted.

But city leaders also have pointed to positive change on the island such as increasing enrollment at Texas A&M University at Galveston and at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

During the next four years, the medical branch expects enrollment to jump to nearly 4,000 students.

“We’ll also have 1,000 more people working for us in the next five to seven years,” said Dr. David L. Callender, president of the medical branch. “We want to partner with the city of Galveston to think about how we can make Galveston a more livable community.”

Port officials told the developers the island port had planned about $71 million in projects, including $40 million for the deepening of the channel. The cruise business also is thriving at the port, and the island will benefit from the widening of the Panama Canal, officials said.

Kelly DeScahun, executive director of the Park Board of Trustees, said Friday the island was the second top tourist destination in the state — just behind the Alamo in San Antonio.

“We feel like Galveston has great potential,” she said. “We have not met our peak.”

Entrepreneur Tilman Fertitta, whose latest project on the island is the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier on the seawall, received the inaugural 2012 GEDP Developer of the Year Award.