Serving the Counties of Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, Limestone and McLennan

The Heart of Texas Economic Development District consists of Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, Limestone and McLennan counties. Located in central Texas equidistant from Dallas and Austin, the Heart of Texas region had a population of 349,273 in 2010 (US Census.) The region covers 5,549 square miles and has a population density of 62.94 residents per square mile, compared to a statewide density of 93.54



Call Us: 254-292-1800  Email Us:

Unlimited Possibilities

Where are we now?


The Heart of Texas Region is heavily agricultural, with a strong industrial and commercial center in the Waco MSA and smaller industrial and commercial centers in Hillsboro and Mexia. Access to health care is generally good throughout the region, with two major health centers in McLennan County and rural health centers in each of the other counties. Economically the region is generally stable but not prosperous; employment rates are generally close to the state average, but wages are depressed beyond cost-of-living differentials. There is a ready work force with relatively low overall skill level, but robust workforce training providers - including community colleges, a TSTC campus, Workforce Solutions of the Heart of Texas, and nonprofit and private providers - exist who can quickly deliver specialized training. There is a need for jobs in the rural counties and a need for jobs- particularly mid-skill-level jobs - in McLennan County.


The Heart of Texas Economic Development District's strategy for regional economic development hinges on five strategic initiatives:

•  Increase Innovation and Entrepreneurship

•  Brand and Market the Region

•  Increase Access to Capital for New and Existing Businesses

•  Increase Economic Development Readiness among Local Jurisdictions

•  Foster Key Economic Development Catalyst Projects


These initiatives are targeted to increasing the fertility of the region's economic development environment, so that new businesses are more likely to take root, existing businesses are more likely to thrive, expand, and multiply and transplant businesses are more likely to locate and prosper here.



The Heart of Texas Economic Development District consists of Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, Limestone and McLennan counties. Located in central Texas equidistant from Dallas and Austin, the Heart of Texas region had a population of 349,273 in 2010 (US Census.) The region covers 5,549 square miles and has a population density of 62.94 residents per square mile, compared to a statewide density of 93.54


of growth of approximately .83% per year. The moderate growth contributes to economic vitality without placing excessive demands on existing infrastructure. As a result, the region can easily accommodate more growth, and at a higher rate, in the coming years.


For the most part, Heart of Texas counties with higher population densities had higher rates of population growth, and counties with lower population densities had lower rates of growth. This pattern is consistent with statewide trends and is likely to pose a challenge for sparsely-populated counties working to maintain quality of life.


There are two notable exceptions to this trend. Freestone County has the second-lowest population density, but it enjoyed he highest rate of population growth in the region from 2000 to 2010 - 11%. Falls County's population density falls in the middle at around 22 people per square mile, but its population declined by 3%. It may be no coincidence that these outliers also differ from the rest of the region economically.


Population and








Regional Economy


The region's economy is largely driven by that of the Waco MSA, which includes the whole of McLennan County. County by county, however, characteristics and trends are mixed.


On the whole, the Heart of Texas region fared relatively well in terms of employment, with a regional unemployment rate of 7.5 compared to the State of Texas' rate of 8.2. McLennan County's unemployment rate was 7.4. Freestone and Limestone Counties had the lowest unemployment rates in 2010: 6.6% and 6.8%, respectively. Bosque and Hill Counties each had higher than the state's level, with 8.7 and 8.3%, respectively. Falls County had the highest unemployment rate in the region with 9.6


A second look at employment further exaggerates the differences between counties. Freestone and Limestone counties, which had the lowest unemployment in 2010, also had the highest percentages of their populations in the workforce with 52.56% and 50.14%. McLennan's was just lower, with 49.26%. Bosque and Hill Counties were each a little lower with 45.95% and 46.67%, respectively, and Falls County had the lowest rate with 37.78%.


Therefore Falls County's unemployment rate of nearly 10% applies to a workforce that is itself only slightly more than a third of the population. To put this in perspective, the region on average had about 45% employment; Freestone County had 49% employment; and Falls County had 34% employment. In Falls County's economy there are two non-workers for every worker; in Freestone County there is one worker for every non-worker; the other counties have between 1.14 (Limestone) and 1.38 (Bosque) non-workers per worker.


The State of Texas economic development priorities center around identified industry clusters, and the Heart of Texas region contains some of the key clusters identified in the Texas Industry Cluster Initiative. Advanced tech/manufacturing,  aerospace/avionics,  and energy are all great fits for the Heart of Texas, and cluster analysis and targeted recruitment/retention efforts inform economic development strategies throughout the region, as well as this CEDS. The region's economic development  plans are therefore in line with those of the State of Texas.


Unemployment statistics are from the Texas Workforce Commission.




The region's population grew from 321,536 in 2000 to 349,273 in 2010 - a rate of growth of approximately .83% per year. The moderate growth contributes to economic vitality without placing excessive demands on existing infrastructure. As a result, the region can easily accommodate more growth, and at a higher rate, in the coming years.


For the most part, Heart of Texas counties with higher population densities had higher rates of population growth, and counties with lower population densities had lower rates of growth. This pattern is consistent with statewide trends and is likely to pose a challenge for sparsely-populated counties working to maintain quality of life.


There are two notable exceptions to this trend. Freestone County has the second-lowest population density, but it enjoyed he highest rate of population growth in the region from 2000 to 2010 - 11%. Falls County's population density falls in the middle at around 22 people per square mile, but its population declined by 3%. It may be no coincidence that these outliers also differ from the rest of the region economically.




The geography of the Heart of Texas Region is a combination of tablelands and irregular plains ranging to hilly in the west, with altitudes varying from 209 to 1,200 feet above sea level. The mean minimum temperature is 33.3 Fahrenheit and the mean maximum temperature ranges from 95.90 degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall averages about 36.21 inches a year. This area has abundant lakes, rivers and streams that are popular for recreation and help provide municipal water supplies.


Lignite coal, found in Limestone and Freestone counties, is the only significant mineral resource in the area. Also significant is a large oil and natural gas field in the same area, and natural gas wells are already numerous and expected to grow in number. Other natural resources are stone, sand, gravel, and limestone.



Occupational Categories                                           Count                Area %   Statewide %


Management, Professional                                           15,270                 26.6                     33.3

Service Occupations                                                       9,916                 17.3                     14.6

Sales and Office                                                           12,726                 22.2                     27.2 Farming / Fishing / Forestry                                           1,444                   2.5                       0.7

Construction / Extraction                                                 8,233                 14.3                     10.9

Production, Transportation                                             9,790                 17.1                     13.2


Workforce  Development and Use


The most recent civilian labor force estimates for Texas statewide in March 2011 is 12,216,063 which is an increase in the labor force of 141,457 persons since March 2010. This represents a 1.2 percent change in Texas during this time period. (These estimates are not seasonally adjusted. ) The Heart of Texas had a civilian labor force of 170,958 for March 2011 which was a change of 2,796 in CLF since March 2010. This change represented an increase of 1.7 percent.


Occupations: The best source of occupational information at the county level is from the 2000 Census (soon these figures will be updated to 2011 Census). The total number of persons 16 years or older who were employed in the Heart of Texas during the 2000 Census was 57,379. The following presents a table of those employed by occupational categories for this region compared to statewide  percentag






















Class of Worker: Another way to view the types of workers in an area's labor force is by class of worker. According to the 2000 Census, the area had 40,494 employees who were private wage and salary workers representing 70.6 percent of all workers. The region had another 10,550 persons who were government workers or 18.4 percent, 6,012 who were self employed workers or 10.5 percent and 323 who were unpaid family workers representing 0.6 percent. This compares to the Texas statewide distribution of 78.0 percent for private wage and salary workers,  14.6 percent for government workers, 7.1 percent for self employed, and 0.3 percent for unpaid family workers.


Unemployment: According to unemployment figures for March 2011, the Heart of Texas had an unemployment estimate of 12,905 persons which represents a rate of 7.5 compared to a Texas statewide unemployment rate of 8.1 for the same month. For the area this estimates are the same as the March 2010 unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.


Reporting Establishments: The Texas Workforce  Commission  indicates 6,364  business  reporting units (those who report employment for Unemployment Insurance) operating in the Heart of Texas in the first quarter of 2008, with an average of 20.78 workers per unit. Average firm size makes a difference for job hunting and job development strategy because larger firms tend to have better defined ports of entry and in-house training capabilities. Although definitions vary greatly, small business can be defined as less than 50 workers and medium sized is 250 or less. The Texas average is 22.86 workers per unit.


Commuting to Work: Commuting to work for workers  16 years and over has a number of implications for transportation and municipal services. The Heart of Texas had a total of 43,311 or

76.8 percent who drove their car to work alone, 9,428 or 16.7 percent who car-pooled, 103 or 0.2 percent used public transportation,  1,192 or 2.1 percent who walked to work, 715 or 1.3 percent of regional workers who used other means to work, and 1,659 or 2.9 percent who worked at home. These methods of commuting to work compare to the Texas statewide results by: car alone (77.7%), car pool (14.5%), public transportation (1.9%), walked (1.9%), other means (1.3%), and worked at home (2.8%).


Employers by Employee Size Class: Employer contact information and employee

size ranges are collected and updated by the Analyst Resource Center from

lnfoUSA Inc. The most current release is a product called the Employer Database

2010 1st Edition. This product shows that the area had approximately 2,787

establishments which employed 10 or more employees. Of these employers,

approximately 0.3 percent employed over 1000 employees. 0.5 percent employed

 between approximately 500 and 999 employees, 7.7 percent employed between

approximately 100 and 499 employees, 12.7 percent employed between 50

and 99 employees, 33.3 percent employed between 20 and 49 employees,

and 45.5 percent employed between approximately 10 and 19 employees.

Below are the top ten manufacturers found in the Heart of Texas.




There is a particular need in the region for occupations requiring skills training. The highest-demand occupations in the region requiring such training and the average starting hourly wages associated with those occupations are as follows:


1. Registered Nurse - $24

2. Licensed Vocational Nurse - $18

3. Auto Tech/Mechanic - $16

4. Nurse Aide/Medication Asst. - $9

5. Radiology Tech - $20

6. Diesel Mechanic - $18

7. Computer Support - $18

8. Welder - $14

9. Medical Lab/Tech - $14

10. Legal Secretary/Paralegal - $17


Transportation Access


Transportation access continues to be a major issue in the region. The EDD and regional partners have participated in an initiative aimed at helping develop high-speed rail access to the area, which would link the region with the state's three largest metropolitan areas.


A young program called "Link" has been operating for the past three years. This program connects residents of rural Falls County and south-eastern  McLennan County to the urbanized transit service in Waco for employment and educational opportunities.


The Limestone County airport has just completed a significant expansion. The lighted runway is now 80 feet wide and 5,002 feet in length. This provides insured lands of most business class jets.

Additionally, the airport boasts a new terminal and A/P service center.













Economic Development Partnerships


1. HOTEDD and McLennan County Small Business Development Center collaborate on service delivery to rural areas.

2. A  Heart of Texas Entrepreneurship Consortium, consisting of McLennan Community College (MCC,) the MCC Small Business Development Center, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Heart of Texas Council of Governments, and HOTEDD, has recently formed and is pursuing entrepreneurship-development initiatives.

3. The Navarro College small Business Development Center is opening business counseling sites in Limestone and Freestone Counties.

Economic Development Resources


1. The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce has expanded its focus and is serving as the lead economic development agency for all of McLennan County.

2. Local professional economic developers are located in Hillsboro, Fairfield, Meridian, Clifton, Teague, and Mexia.

3. The two Small Business Development Centers serving the region - whose main offices are in Waco and Corsicana - have been recognized for excellence and are expanding their presences in the rural counties. New SBDC offices are opening in Limestone and Freestone Counties.

4. Industrial park expansions are complete or underway in Fairfield, Groesbeck, Hillsboro, and Mexia.



Area resources continue to grow and strengthen, and developing partnerships are helping to ensure that each agency's portfolio of solutions is made as available as possible through strategy and cross-promotion.




The Heart of Texas Region has shown significant advances in the realm of environmental awareness by its public and economic development agencies. Solid Waste reduction programs offered by the Heart of Texas Council of Governments have seen strong participation. Showcase LEED buildings have been constructed by the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce and McLennan Community College that boast such features as recycled building materials and green roofs. Waco's environment continues to be strong, with the continued attainment status of its air quality, its ongoing efforts to maintain its wetlands, and its plentiful supply of clean drinking water. Air quality, however, has grown as a local issue and will become an even greater priority, especially if the standard for ground-level ozone is lowered from the current level of 75 parts per billion.




Water supply varies throughout the region, but overall there is an abundance of this important resource. Mexia, in particular, has an abundance of potable water due to the efforts of the Bistone Municipal Water District. Wells into the Carisa Wilcox aquifer coupled with the Lake Mexia reservoir contribute to a supply that exceeds projected demand.









Economic Development Weaknesses


-Don't take enough advantage of resources (education, etc.)

-Need more public transportation,  including within and between communities Need for leadership growth to boost development in smaller communities Need for better planning at community level

-Need for better community buy-in to HOTEDD planning Need public universities

-Low home ownership Low wages

-Need to increase workforce skills Need for jobs in rural areas

-Need for housing is a weakness for the Region

Economic Development Strengths


-Location inside the Texas Triangle: Within 2 hours of 20 million people Workforce - work ethic and readiness

-Education providers - colleges and universities Transportation - infrastructure (roadways, etc.) Local newspapers

-Waco as the "heart" of the area, including coordinating agencies: COG, Region 12, workforce

-Diversity of population and culture Strong, diverse economy

-Leaders with daring, long-term vision Baylor research park

-Aerospace industry

-Quality of life - encompasses education, housing(affordable), leadership, transportation, Lots of good recreation opportunities

-Sense of community in small towns


SWOT Analysis


Analysis of Economic Development Challenges and Opportunities


Analysis of the region's five rural counties using traditional metrics - housing starts, business starts, permits issued, etc. - has proven problematic due to the incomplete and inconsistent gathering of these figures across the region. Even census information is self-contradictory, with the summary files and updates found in American FactFinder showing very different picture than data from Quick Facts sheets elsewhere in the Census site. The analysis below is the result of reviewing the data that is consistent, as well as gathering input from the observations of local officials.


Economic Development Threats


The following list represents potential negative trends this Plan is meant to avert.


• Persistent low wages (Region) Wages in the Heart of Texas Region continue to lag the state and national averages, with only two counties reporting wages higher than 70% of the state average.


• Underdeveloped workforce (Region) Poor access to jobs and job training has left relatively isolated populations with few development options. While the Waco MSA is generally well-served by training opportunities and has a much more skilled workforce, unmet demand persists for several skill sets.


• Transportation  barriers (Region) distance from major employers and the rising costs of transportation  have increased the barriers caused to rural populations by distance from the metropolitan area as well as those within the metropolitan area. The demographics of these populations indicate they may have less access to distance-learning or -employment options.


• Low staff levels for administration and economic development (Region) the relatively low tax bases and population levels in the rural areas ensure that staffing levels are kept at a minimum and

existing staff must routinely cover content from many disciplines and areas. This makes it impractical to expect advances in economic development from communities without paid economic

development professionals, as time and money for training and innovation is a luxury.


• Lack of communication/coordination among economic developers (Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, Limestone) Likewise, the region's professional economic developers often wear many hats and cover many functional areas. They stay so busy that, as one said recently, "I need a constant reminder" that there are outside resources that can be brought to bear. McLennan County has a network coordinated by the Waco Chamber that ameliorates this issue there.


• Deteriorating infrastructure (Region) The too-few staff members are making decisions against a backdrop of municipal infrastructure that is fast decaying. The lack of upkeep funds may mean service interruptions for existing consumers and may be far from up to the ability to provide new capacity for an industrial prospect.


Inadequate quantity and quality of housing (Region) Not only in the rural areas, but in the central metropolitan portion of the region as well, declines in property values and in population have rendered a portion of the built environment worth equally little rotting as torn down. The low staff capacity of the region's communities assures that code enforcement is an idea, not a practice.


• Limited industrial rail service (Region) The bureaucratic difficulty of achieving the placement of a rail spur has finally been matched by the spiraling price of installation.


• Potential highway development programs could have significant effects (Hill, McLennan) The promise or threat of the TransTexas Corridor has many parts of the region scrambling to organize and fearing for the future.


• Water quantity and quality are low (Hill, Falls) Due to both the inadequacy of existing physical infrastructure, such as lakes, and the drop in aquifers, municipalities and rural water supply corporations have had seriously to review their ability to provide water. At the same time, deteriorations  in treatment and distribution systems have made it harder to deliver clean water even when  raw supplies are sufficient.


• Lack of access to capital (Region) While in the Waco MSA a large number of locally-owned banks compete for business, it is difficult for would-be entrepreneurs and existing business owners to find financing. There is a very low usage of USDA and SBA loan products in the region.


• Difficulty in promoting tourism to the region (Parts of all counties) The region's dispersed geography separates areas of interest, and aside from the lakes, the individual rural communities' attractions are generally not numerous enough to attract much overnight visitation.


• Lack of industry (Bosque, Falls)

• Aging population (Bosque)

• Rising property values (Bosque)

• Lack of technical training opportunities (Bosque, Falls, Freestone)

• Need infrastructural improvements to accommodate growth (Hill, McLennan, Limestone)

• Falling population (Falls, Bosque)

• High Poverty (Falls)

• Lack of available workforce to fill jobs (McLennan, Limestone)



Economic Development Opportunities


The following list of development opportunities for the Region informs this Plan.

Workforce education and training network (McLennan County) Greater Waco boasts two community colleges and one research university supplying a pipeline of skilled, certified, and/or degreed graduates. With the trend toward greater skill requirements for employees, the region has partners in place that could help provide needed skill sets.


Ample space for industrial and other development (Region) Land is plentiful, inexpensive, and generally well-served by highway access. Population projections for the State as a whole are expected to bring millions of people to the triangle formed by Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio: the Heart of Texas region sits in the middle of this expansion ground and is ripe for development.


Strong existing economic development organizations (Region, especially McLennan County) The local educational institutions, Workforce Solutions of the Heart of Texas, Small Business Development Center, local communities and economic development corporations, chambers of commerce, and other partners provide a wide variety of resources and a wealth of expertise.

Numerous amenities (Region) Greater Waco boasts the nation's second-largest city park, a growing zoo, symphony, museums, and many other cultural attractions, while the rural communities boast individual charm and inimitable personalities, walkable communities, and rich heritage.


Accessible and robust transportation channels (Region) existing rail service travels through or near almost every community in the region, while busy Interstates 35 and 45 connect the region to the 20 million people within  100 miles of its boundaries.


Affordable tax rates and cost of living (Region) It is very affordable to live in the Heart of Texas Region, own a spacious home in a safe neighborhood, live within 30 minutes of employment, commercial, and cultural amenities, and enjoy a clean and varied natural environment. The quality and affordability of each of these elements makes the Heart of Texas lifestyle among the best in America, as evidenced by Hewitt being named one of America's ten most livable cities.


Available and growing health care network (Region) in a region already well-served by high-quality medical care, recent expansions and mergers have ensured the rapid growth in available facilities, jobs, and care providers to citizens of the Region.


Good corporate and community relationships (Region) a large number of locally-owned businesses in the MSA combined with the close ties that bind longtime neighbors in Waco as well as the rural communities have contributed to a sense of civic involvement and commitment on behalf of the region's business community. With few exceptions, local governments also enjoy and reciprocate positive relationships.


Strategic location (Region) As noted above, the Heart of Texas region is closely-situated to the metropolises of Dallas/Fort Worth (60 miles,) Houston (90 miles,) Austin (90 miles,} and San Antonio (150 miles.) These Texas MSAs include 3 of the largest in the nation, and together comprise upwards of 20 million people.


Rising importance of lignite coal (Limestone, Freestone) The increased cost of petroleum and advances in chemical processes have rendered a coal-to-oil process more realistic, and this potential use for the lignite coal found in the Eastern part of the region could bring about great advances for the region and the Texas economy and aligning the region with the State goal of developing advances in the energy industry cluster.


Partnership with Baylor University (McLennan) The University's collaborative partnership, formalized through joint funding with TSTC System and the cities of Waco and Bellmead, will create a high technology research, workforce development/training and industry solutions center. A business start-up center within the 300,000 square feet facility will foster high technology spin-off businesses, thereby increasing local and regional wage scales.


Growing strength of Waco MSA (McLennan) Waco has seen tremendous cultural growth, such as the robust investment in its historic downtown area. Mixed-use development continues in the built environment, while family-friendly activities lure crowds downtown after hours and sustainable development practices are modeled in prominent buildings. The goal of a billion-dollar decade of downtown investment seems attainable, and such public and private commitments are changing Waco's built environment in striking and positive ways.


Growing strength of some rural communities (Hill, Limestone, Bosque) Some of the region's rural communities are experiencing job and population growth, attracting industry, and strengthening as smaller commercial centers for their rural neighbors. Such development combats spatial disbursement and transportation barriers and allowing diversification of some rural economies.

Economically-resilient employers (McLennan, Limestone, Falls, Freestone) The area is fortunate to include some government and other non-market-driven employers, such as the VA Hospital, the Mexia State School, the TDCJ Boyd Unit, and the TDCJ Hobby Unit. While they may contribute to depressed wage rates, they also maintain fairly steady employment levels despite recession pressures.


Electrical plants (McLennan, Limestone, Freestone) The region is home to at least 5 power plants, with at least two more permitted to be built. These provide ample power for future development needs.


Growing investment in Waco (McLennan)


Improving community image (McLennan, Limestone, Freestone) Communities are doing restorations of historic downtowns and attracting investment.


Strong health care and aerospace sectors (McLennan)


• Certified retirement community (Bosque)


• Tourism destinations (Region)Attractions include Richland-Chambers Reservoir and Fairfield Lake State Park, Lake Whitney, Lakes Limestone and Mexia, Falls on the Brazos, Lake Waco, and numerous other parks, museums, and historic attractions.


• Relatively affluent population compared to Region (Bosque, Freestone)


Property values rising (Bosque, Freestone)


Art shops and artist community (Bosque, Freestone)A newly-endowed art museum in Fairfield and artist communities in Clifton contribute to the region.


Low tax rates (Bosque)


Current or expected strong population growth (McLennan, Hill, Limestone)


Successful industrial base (McLennan, Hill, Limestone, Freestone)


Oil and natural gas (Limestone, Freestone)