The Hill Country continues to draw tourists and retirees from some of the state's biggest cities. It is also a relocation destination for new Texans, including those from California.
But Kerrville is not content with attracting only tourists and retirees. It wants to attract new industries and create skilled jobs at home too.
Mayor Judy Eychner has called Kerrville home for more than three decades. Looking from the window of the Dairy Queen at Kerrville's main drag — Sydney Baker Street — it's clear the traffic is not typical of a small Texas town.
"We have traffic, so we have to wait more than one time at a stoplight, and we never had to do that, so we fuss,” she said. Eychner explained that a lot of that traffic comes from rural Kerr County and surrounding counties.
"Kerrville has become a hub," she said. "We've become a medical hub [and] a retail hub. We've also become an arts and crafts culture hub, and so many of our people don't live here. They've come in for the day to do shopping, go to the doctor, go to HEB and [then] they go home at night."
The HEB chain of grocery stores was born in Kerrville, and the HEB Foundation is based there. The arts and crafts culture includes a range of businesses, from small artisans up to James Avery Craftsman, which employs nearly 500. The Clint Orms Engravers and Silversmiths make belt buckles for the Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association and pro golf's Ryder Cup.
Peterson Regional Medical Center is the biggest employer with nearly 1,000 professionals. The Kerrville State Hospital employs another 500 people.
To manage growth and protect the city's small-town charm and outdoor life centered around the Guadalupe River, river trail, and parks, the city council is sticking to the guidelines found in the Kerrville 2050 Comprehensive Plan. The council approved it in 2018 after much input from community stakeholders.
Gilberto Salinas is the executive director of the Kerr Economic Development Corporation. He said they have attracted a dozen new companies in recent years, including several aerospace companies. Mooney International Corporation is headquartered there. He said they landed a branch of North Dakota's Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, which is a major supplier for Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and the Department of Defense.
"They are manufacturers of basically fiber optic cabling, circuit boards. I think from Kerrville they're manufacturing — for the lack of a better phrase — these nervous systems for 40 to 45 jets a month," Salinas said.
Salinas said creating a local pipeline of skilled workers educated and trained at local high schools and colleges for local jobs at those industries is an evolving process, helped along with $2 million in recent state funding.
Salinas said they are also working to expand middle class housing for those workers. The city is known for its wealthy or low-income households, with little in between. Lennar Homes, the largest homebuilder in the U.S., has been busy in Kerrville. Salinas said other builders have followed.
"Within 18 months to 24 months, we should see 3,000 to 4,000 housing units coming online, a combination of single-family homes to multi-family apartment units and/or condos as well, so those we're slowly starting to see them come in,” Salinas said.
He said Kerrville's quality of life is a big draw to companies, especially company CEO's who value outdoor life.
That outdoor life includes many events, like Fourth on the River. It includes fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. It was headlined in past years by favorite son, the singer Robert Earl Keen.
Julie Davis organizes many of those outdoor events as the president and CEO of the Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Solar eclipses this October and next April have been added as upcoming major attractions for outsiders. Kerrville, with its often-clear skies, will be a great viewing spot in the U.S.
TPR asked Davis if they're getting phone calls about accommodations for the celestial events.
"We are. Since 2017," she said with a laugh. “We've been getting calls from visitors. We have someone that comes in every year on April 8 to see how the weather is. He's been tracking it. So, [there's a] very serious crowd [interested in] seeing this, and we'll have several events related to that as well."
Eychner said she is proud of the work Salinas and Davis are doing on behalf of the city. She said Kerrville is on a different path than its nearest Hill Country rival — Fredericksburg — where wineries, peaches, and bed and breakfasts reign supreme and is regularly filled with tourists.
"We don't want what Fredericksburg has,” the mayor said. “Fredericksburg people tell you that they don't even want to go downtown. So, we don't want to become that."
Kerrville leaders said the 2050 Kerrville Comprehensive Plan has prepared them to handle the 70,000 residents expected to live in the area by mid century. That's nearly triple of the area's population today.