Golden Triangle Days 2017

Over 300 leaders from the Golden Triangle and Rep. Phelan and Sen. Creighton

“The value of legislative groups traveling to Austin is inestimable,” according to former State Sen. Carl Parker, and this past week, the Golden Triangle’s voice was heard when the chambers of Orange, Beaumont and Port Arthur collaborated to host Golden Triangle Days in the state’s capital from Sunday, March 5 – Tuesday, March 7. 

Parker is one of the original founders of Port Arthur Day, a Port Arthur exclusive event similar to Golden Triangle Days held before the Chambers decided to collaborate.

Over 300 area leaders and several elected state officials attended this year’s Golden Triangle Days, which kicked off with a reception at the Driskill Hotel on Sunday night, allowing one-on-one conversations between local officials and business leaders and Texas legislators.

The following morning, the group met for breakfast in the REJ building behind the Texas State Capitol and attended a series of sessions covering education, transportation, infrastructure, healthcare, and the environment with Sens. Brandon Creighton and Robert Nichols, and Reps. Dade Phelan and Joe Deshotel in attendance.

“It’s important when we take these large delegations of people from the Golden Triangle up there so that we build these relationships with our senators and our representatives,” said Ida Schossow, Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce president. “Then, they know what things are important to the Golden Triangle.” Schossow explained that it is not just Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange that are represented at the event, but also surrounding cities like Bridge City, Orangefield, West Orange, Vidor, Port Neches, Groves and Nederland, which had delegates in attendance as well. “When we meet with our legislators and ask them for things, they know that we have a large voice.”

Schossow said delegates from Orange County met with legislators regarding the need for a full-service hospital in the county, which is now the largest in the state without one.

“We learned a lot about healthcare, and as it is right now, healthcare is hugely impacting Orange County,” she said. “In one of the sessions on healthcare, they talked about that we should be focusing on … mental illness. It’s a big issue. Sometimes people get jailed rather than getting the help they need. … The hospital ER and in-patient services closing in Orange County 100 percent has affected us, and we’ve been working on a solution for that, but also the mental health issue is a huge issue for our whole region.”

Schossow said Orange County delegates were able to meet with Rep. Dade Phelan and Sen. Robert Nichols on issues like these important to the county.

Members of the Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce made legislative visits and had an opportunity to visit with representatives from TEA on the upcoming BISD elections and appointment of the new Board of Managers, said Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce President Regina Lindsey.

“There’s no doubt that this is a different budgetary year, but there are some areas of hope for education and our ports,” Lindsey said. “We are fortunate to have a delegation in leadership roles on committees that directly impact our region.”

For some business leaders, the opportunity to meet legislators for the first time and make that initial contact is one of the most important aspects of the event, said Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce President Bill McCoy.

“Golden Triangle Days … allowed for introductory remarks between area business leaders and state elected officials on legislation affecting education, transportation, health, environment and infrastructure,” said McCoy. “These conversations will be followed up with one-on-one meetings to convey our support or opposition on pending legislation.”

Joe Tant, executive director of the Port Arthur Education Foundation, said his foundation is happy to announce it received a $2,500 grant from Cheniere Energy at the event for future innovative education initiatives.

Sen. Creighton, who welcomed delegates before the series of sessions Monday morning, said there are a few bills in the Senate for the 85th Legislature that his District 4 constituents should take note of, including Senate Bill 28, which enables funding opportunities for Texas ports.

“The bill … continues the conversation for how Texas can give our ports a competitive edge in the future,” Creighton said. “Texas ports and manufacturing face an unprecedented competitive threat from ports in neighboring states. Texas needs help in the race to improve depth and infrastructure to meet the opportunities created by the new, deeper Panama Canal.” 

The bill was filed March 3 and was referred to Senate Transportation on March 6. This bill will be eligible to be heard on the floor March 13, after the 60th day of session, Creighton said.

Creighton also pointed to Senate Bill 133, which would create a tax-free weekend for firearms and hunting supplies.

“This sales tax break would significantly increase sales tax revenue with more Texans shopping to take advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “This bill encourages gun owners and sportsmen to spend their money in Texas, and in doing so, serves as an economic engine for large and small retailers across the state. … It is similar to back-to-school shopping on their tax free weekend where overall sales tax revenues increased. I think Texas will see this firearm and hunting supply sales tax exemption as a net revenue gain for Texas.”

Senate Bill 1289, encouraging the use of U.S.-made iron and steel products for state projects, is also noteworthy legislation working its way through the Senate, Creighton said.

Rep. Phelan said legislators have been working hard on the budget and appropriations.

“With the current lag in oil prices, we have a very challenging task this session,” Phelan said. “We must reduce state spending and balance the budget despite an increase in population and inflation.”

Both legislators said Golden Triangle Days was a huge success this year.

“It is very important to me to get feedback from constituents, as well as to let them know that this office is always available to listen, as I do my best to represent the citizens of Southeast Texas,” Creighton said.

“The attendees get an excellent education in the issues facing Texas, and the Legislature is exposed to the issues facing Southeast Texas,” Phelan added.

Attendees of Golden Triangle Days also had an opportunity to learn a little history behind the event.

Historically, each Chamber held separate trips to Austin to meet with legislators — there was Port Arthur Day, Beaumont Day and Orange Day in Austin. In 2004, Port Arthur and Beaumont combined their legislative events and formed Jefferson County Days. This was in great part due to the strong relationship that had formed between then-Beaumont Chamber President and current Executive Director at Southeast Texas Economic Development Foundation Jim Rich and then-Port Arthur Chamber President Verna Rutherford, according to Rich.

“We just liked each other,” Rich explains in “Unified Voices,” a 2017 video produced by the chambers. “We respected each other and we were looking for things we could do together.”

Redistricting concerns also brought the two cities closer together, he said.

“For the first time in the history of Jefferson County, congressmen came from somewhere other than Jefferson County, and there was a lot of angst and anxiety about losing influence and not being able to protect our area as other areas were growing more than we were. … Working together and understanding we needed a larger group and a larger message was so important.

“The biennial trip to Austin was just one of those things that became obvious that we ought to try to do together.”

After Hurricane Rita devastated the area in 2005, the need for a unified voice from the three Golden Triangle cities became even clearer, and the Orange Chamber decided to collaborate with the Beaumont and Port Arthur chambers and formed Golden Triangle Days in 2006. The first event was held in 2007.

In addition to creating a louder voice for the area, combining the effort among the three Chambers also sustained support from sponsors who could now support one event instead of three.

“Golden Triangle Days is designed to show a unified effort between Orange and Jefferson counties,” McCoy said.

Monday evening, Golden Triangle Days participants and several state representatives and senators traveled to Pecan Springs Ranch for a Cajun Reception with good food, drink, conversation and entertainment from country-soul and swamp-funk band Shinyribs, led by front man Kevin Russell, who is originally from Beaumont.

“I thought it went really well and showed a good taste of what it’s like to be from the Golden Triangle — from the food to the music,” Schossow said of the Cajun reception. “The most important thing about that is being able to talk one-one-one in a different atmosphere with Rep. Phelan and things that specifically concern us. … It’s a success for the Golden Triangle because when we call on our (legislators) to help us, we’ve already built those relationships with them.”