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Orteq Technologies on Highway 82 is one of several economic development projects that bloomed in Cooke County during 2011. Gainesville Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Kent Sharp said compared to other Texas counties, Cooke fared well with an average unemployment rate of only 6 percent and a steady stream of sales tax allocation revenue.

Officials said Wednesday that despite what may still be a tough economic climate, Gainesville and Cooke County fared relatively well during 2011.

Gainesville Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Kent Sharp, discussing the success of some of the city’s new businesses, said the county’s unemployment rate was curbed by a hiring boom.

“For most of the year, we stayed under 6 percent in Cooke County,” Sharp said, adding that some state reports of a higher unemployment number during the summer were wrong. “I think for the whole year we were under 6 percent, realistically.”

And it was the county’s enduringly strong energy sector that not only boosted employment rates but helped garner sales tax allocation payments. The payments to Cooke County, examined on a monthly basis, remained at an increase from the same months of the previous year.

This local increase has remained steady for nearly 20 months, and the most recent report from the state comptroller’s office showed that Cooke County’s total sales tax allocation payment income during 2011, to date, is an increase of more than 50 percent from 2010. Both Sharp and Texas Comptroller Susan Combs have attributed the strong numbers to the oil and gas industry.

Sharp said low unemployment rates and sales tax revenue are important comparison factors when examining other counties, and by those standards, Cooke County is looking very healthy, with Gainesville carrying a lion’s share of its progress.

“I think you can look at any community in north Texas and see that Gainesville is on top of the charts, outperforming other cities,” Sharp said. “And that’s not a slam to them. It’s just a compliment to the residents of Gainesville who are in private sector businesses: the people who create these jobs, and drive the economy.”

Sharp pointed to Weber Aircraft’s employee increase of more than 500 during 2011. He also cited industrial employers such as Orteq Technologies, Select Energy Services, IFS Coatings, Alan Ritchey Fabrications, Inc., and Spraylat. Orteq, which may soon employ up to 70 people, launched into full-force production this past spring, manufacturing oil field equipment and hiring welders, engineers and fabricators. The corporation operates under a revenue-sharing agreement with the GEDC where each equipment sale generates 2 percent local tax revenue for the City of Gainesville and 1.25 percent of that revenue remains for the city and GEDC’s general use. A past Register story said the Orteq agreement should generate $2.5 million between Oct. 1, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2020.

And during 2011, Gainesville City Council approved economic incentives between GEDC and Spraylat, IFS and the Alan Ritchey company.

These businesses, located along North Interstate 35, received incentive packages of $5,000 per new employee up to 25 employees (except for Spraylat, which was capped at 20 employees). Another GEDC highlight was an agreement with the Schlumberger energy corporation, which leases a 100,000-square foot building that the GEDC owns at Gainesville Municipal Airport.

According to a recent Register story, the corporation was set to receive a rebate of 50 percent of the sales tax amount remitted on the sales they generate (after the first $83,330 of sales tax paid each year).

Another new Gainesville business — unrelated to the energy sector — was DMAX Cinema, which Sharp said in past months might encourage more local spending, since residents no longer have to leave town for that “dinner and a movie” experience which often includes other shopping.

The theater opened in mid-July on North Interstate 35, following a $400,000 financial incentive from the GEDC, and Sharp still hopes for the best in the coming year.

“People all over the community, for years and years, griped about getting a movie theater and now that it’s here, you have to support it,” Sharp said Wednesday.

“It’s not one of these cases where, ‘Here it is and now the new’s worn off,’ and then you go away.”

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