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Better Together: B.E.S.T. Group of Bastrop County

“Community Leaders Speak” is a series of writings prompted by discussions during the IC² Regional XLR8 program. 

About 20 years ago, community leaders in the three incorporated cities in Bastrop County recognized the benefits that would come from formalizing various collaborations among the communities.  The resulting B.E.S.T. (Bastrop, Elgin, Smithville, Texas) group started a leadership program, monthly breakfast meetings, co-marketing work, an annual county-wide mixer and a county-wide tourism office.   

It’s not always easy to get people to think outside of their specific silos of interest, but the BEST collaboration is making a huge difference.  A few examples: 

  • The BEST leadership program invites up to 20 new community leaders at a time for a 9-month series of events that include tours, introductions, networking, and meetings across the county.  The program graduates are better equipped to lead new initiatives and open discussions that benefit the entire region. 
  • The monthly BEST breakfast meetings provide an excellent opportunity for county-wide updates and discussions.  We had to have some of these virtually this year, but we are back to meeting at local restaurants with social-distancing precautions.  These meetings are hosted by the three communities and the county, with meeting locations alternating around the county.  This promotes visitation to each other’s communities and also helps the attendees to learn about new resources in each of the communities. 
  • We go to trade shows together—when social distancing allows—and co-market the region to encourage tourism and bring in new businesses.  For example, we had a booth at the last SXSW that successfully highlighted assets of our county. 
  • We established the Bastrop County Tourism Office.  As a direct result of the three Chambers in the county working together, we were able to establish a Bastrop County HOT Tax.  Through this tax, we were able to create and staff an office that is beneficial to us all and makes our marketing more robust, efficient, and impactful. 
  • We are able to represent the whole county, not just the citizens living inside the borders of incorporated cities.  More than two-thirds of the people in Bastrop County live in unincorporated areas, and we need to consider their needs and the assets and opportunities of their areas. 

There’s also a benefit that might be less obvious, but is perhaps the most important.  Because we have established these positive county-wide relationships and due to our personal and positive connections, the BEST group comes together quickly and responsively when we are faced with an emergency.  Bastrop County has seen seven FEMA-classified disasters since 2011.  Dealing with dramatic fires, hurricanes, flooding, and significant loss of property during these emergency situations is one of the most important tasks of local leaders.  The BEST group has immediately acted collaboratively during these times because we have already learned how to be collaborative and effective through our other activities. 

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April Daniels is the Executive Director of the Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce and an active participant in the IC2 Regional XLR8 Program.

Community Leaders Speak is a series of writings prompted by the discussions during IC2 Regional XLR8 Program which convenes 150 leaders from 58 communities across all regions of Texas, September – October 2020. As a part of the IC2 REGIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY INITIATIVERegional XLR8 is a new type of “accelerator” that helps communities rethink recovery, take strategic action, and build resilience. During this intensive 6 week program, leaders are actively engaged in full & regional group discussions around human-centered approaches.