Town of South Padre Island (TX) – Economic Development Element of the Comprehensive Plan

ChallengeSouth Padre Island’s economy is strongly tied to tourism with the vast majority of local jobs in the hospitality, retail, and food services sectors. While visitor traffic has increased significantly in recent years, employment growth on the island appears to have remained limited during the last ten years. The current boom in condominium construction on the island would seem to contradict estimates that show a slowly growing island population. As a result, the pool of potential local consumers remains small, which directly affects the number of business establishments that are able to survive the off-season. This situation contributes to the overall economic instability on the island and has hindered the development of a vibrant and sustainable business climate. Across the bay, Port Isabel and Laguna Vista, however, have seen their respective populations increase at a rapid pace. These trends would indicate that South Padre Island’s high prices are forcing potential and past residents to live on the mainland and commute across the bridge. In other words, the greater bay area is transitioning into a larger urbanized Laguna Madre.

ApproachTIP partnered with Kendig Keast Collaborative in the creation of an economic development strategy within the context of a comprehensive plan for the Town of South Padre Island. The purpose of the economic development plan was to provide the town with guidance for pursuing specific opportunities to achieve long-term growth and economic vitality. Representatives of each firm were present at multiple public planning meetings to ensure the views of various interest groups were represented within the plan. In addition, TIP also met with local economic development staff, chamber officials, employers, and real estate investors to better understand local business environment.

OutcomeThe economic development plan offered a host of goals, objectives, and actions to support the development of a vibrant and sustainable economy over the long-term. The plan was structured around three primary goals: 1) increasing the number of permanent, retired, and seasonal residents, 2) increasing spending on the island throughout the year and during off-season, and 3) leveraging and enhancing relationships with area communities to help meet the town’s long-term strategic needs. Specific initiatives for attaining these goals included: positioning the island as a destination for professional retirees in conjunction with the establishment of an entrepreneurship program; establishing an upscale entertainment district to draw visitors from throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley on a regular basis; and increasing coordination in marketing and planning with Port Isabel and Laguna Vista to enhance, expand, and raise awareness of the Laguna Madre area’s business and tourism opportunities.

TIP Contact Tom Stellman