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Meet the new mayor of Waco

The city of Waco

KWBU's Autumn Jones sat down with the newly appointed mayor of Waco, Jim Holmes, to discuss his goals and top priorities for the city.

Autumn Jones: “Well, thank you again for being here.”

Jim Holmes: “Thanks, Autumn.”

Autumn Jones: “Why don't we get started with you telling us a little bit about yourself and your background. Where are you from and how did you end up here in Waco?”

Jim Holmes: “I was born and raised in rural Nebraska, outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, on a farm. Big farming family, eight brothers and sisters. I mean, ten of us all together in the house. And so from a very early age, I was working, driving a tractor at age 11, 12, earning a living, and I loved the farm life. And growing up on a farm, we learned responsibility very quickly. And you're able to, you know, I was able to make some money when I was pretty young, driving a tractor and a truck. You could do that in Nebraska back in the seventies. Drive up and down the road at 11-years-old, nobody cared. Everybody was doing it. So anyway, I earned enough money on the farm there to go to school. Went to Creighton University up in Omaha, Nebraska, and got a finance degree up there and came down to Baylor to go to law school and so came to Waco in the early eighties, went to law school for a couple of years, got kind of restless and wanted to work and earn some money. So I went to work at a local bank for a summer, took a summer off from law school and worked at a local community bank here and never went back to law school. I loved banking. I loved working with the customers. I loved working with fellow bankers. I had a great boss and a great team to work with. So I spent about six, seven years in banking and again, never went back to law school at Baylor. Although it was a great, great law school, great dean, great experience. Still had some great friends that I'd stay in touch with that went to law school there at the same time. And then after seven years in community banking, about five or six of us went together and started an investment company in the early nineties and we had some luck. We were a hard working group too, but we bought about $1,000,000,000, invested in about $1,000,000,000 worth of product in the early nineties and took that company public and won Nasdaq. We were First City Financial Corporation, was the name of the group and we went nationwide and eventually went worldwide, went to Mexico and France, Japan, Korea, Bangkok, Thailand, South America, and just had a fun, fun time building that business. And we had offices all over the world, 30 offices all over the world. And we always kept the headquarters here in Waco. We just loved Waco. We were raising families here. We went to church here, schools here, and we just loved Waco. So even though we were in Paris and Mexico City, Guadalajara, New York, L.A., Miami, Flew all over the place, Tokyo, we always kept the headquarters in Waco, Texas. Had that business for about 25 years, sold it about ten years ago and shortly thereafter, I got interested in public service and put my name in the hat for a city councilman back in 2016, when Mayor Kyle Deaver left District five and became the mayor and there was an opening there. Put my name in the hat, seven or eight other people, highly qualified people. I didn't really think I would get that position at that time, but I was sort of the compromise candidate. I think I was a Goldilocks candidate. There were some great people and I was one that everybody could agree on. But anyway, it was very rewarding to get named on Council as District five representative back in 2016.”

Autumn Jones: “You've been with the City Council for eight years, you said.”

Jim Holmes: “Yes, eight years. Got on there, again, 2016, was appointed, ran for election in 2017 and won, ran again in 2021 and won. And then I ran for mayor here this last go around and got elected just a week ago.

Autumn Jones: “Why did you feel now was the right time to run for mayor? What motivated you?”

Jim Holmes: “As an investor, we invested all over the world. We didn't do a whole lot in Texas, and we did very little in Waco. There was a couple of projects we had in Waco that just didn't, this was back in the 90’s and 2000’s that just didn't take off. Waco was still sort of not in a great place investment wise and growth wise. And so I was always a little frustrated that our investments here in Waco didn't really take off. But everywhere else they were going great. But a lot of it was what is the city's vision? How does the city work with investors and developers and the business community? I wanted to get on council just to make sure that the business community felt valued and new businesses coming in felt valued, and that there were ways for the city, government and developers to work together to do business. To me, the economic benefit of business is great, cause there's a ripple effect on the economy, which helps jobs, which helps financial security for everybody. So I wanted to have that effect on the city council. It was just a great city council when I first got on with the mayor Dever, Dillon Meek, who was then a councilman for District four, and Wilbert Austin and Alice Rodriguez and John Kinnaird. So it was a fun group. We’ve had some changes, Andrea Barefield is on there, Josh Borderud. Just a great, great team. On city council it becomes kinda like a little family because everybody brings their strengths and we got just a lot of wisdom there and a lot of great backgrounds and we all kind of worked together to make things happen. But what we've seen in the last eight years, I feel great about as far as economic development, quality of life, our parks, park services are great. All the new businesses and retail and restaurants that are coming to town, feel very good about that. And really than the base foundation of having good public safety, police and fire services and also just working on infrastructure, streets and sidewalks. I mean, the kind of the meat and potatoes of city government. But on top of the infrastructure and public safety, we're able to kind of get this economic development traction going, which is great.

Autumn Jones: “Kind of going off of Wilco's economic development, how do you plan on attracting new businesses and jobs to Waco while also still supporting, you know, the small businesses that we do have here?

Jim Holmes: “Yeah, absolutely. I think we're in a great place, Autumn, on bringing those businesses in and people have found out about Waco and the secret's out, you know. And so we've got Amazon here, we've got Envases, a couple of big Mexican global companies that are here. A couple of very large German global companies have chosen to move here. Space X is in greater Waco here. But I think, again, the secret's out and people want to come to Waco and we're starting to fill up our industrial and commercial districts with very good companies that employ people and give people a good wage and like I said, provide financial security so they can buy a home, they can buy a car. And our residents are the beneficiaries, to me, which is key to any kind of economic development. But we're at a place now, Autumn, where I hate to say we can be selective about the kinds of businesses that we bring in, but we certainly want to raise the bar on the amount of capital investment that they make and then the kind of jobs that they're bringing. We want to make sure they're good paying jobs where, you know, ten years ago, I would say if a new company was coming in, we would almost take anybody. I hate to say that, but it was at a point where we didn't have a whole lot going on. So I think we're able to be a little more selective on the types of businesses coming in, not only on the capital investment and the jobs, but where they go. We have industrial districts on kind of the southern part of town and west, I would say, and we're trying to attract more business into the north east parts of town. I think as you know, like I say, everybody knows what a cool place Waco is. We've got great tailwinds with the Texas economy. And then our geographical location between Austin and Dallas is optimal. Then as big businesses see that, they want to be in Waco, and as we're able to kind of pick and choose the best kinds of business businesses for Waco and then kind of where they go also.

Autumn Jones: “What is your vision for the future of Waco under your leadership?

Jim Holmes: “So as I kind of take the reins here, it really is a team sport as far as the council works together. So with Andrea Barefield, Josh Borderud, Darius Ewing, Alice Rodriguez, we'll all be working together with City Manager Ford and the assistant city manager team to really continue the economic development. And just to go back a little bit, Autumn, my dad told me a quote a long time ago from the 13th century, Christian writer Francis of Assisi. And it's, start with the start with the necessary, work to the possible, and all of a sudden you're doing the impossible. So the necessary things to me are public safety and infrastructure, streets and sidewalks. I think we're on a good track public safety wise. We have a great fire chief, Victorian, fantastic. We've had the lowest crime rate in 20 years. So we want to continue that track on infrastructure. It's very expensive. Streets and sidewalks are super expensive and trying to figure out a way to pay for all that in the general fund. So we'll continue to work on streets and sidewalks without creating too big of a tax burden or fee burden for the residents. So those two are the necessary. The possible becomes the economic development. Economic development, and I would put in that category also just operational efficiencies, city services getting better, more efficient. So we're working to that possibility and we're doing a lot of inward review of processes, software, getting the right people in the right spot. We've got great people, just some of our processes and software need to be refined, so that part of the of the possible, and then the working to the impossible. I think some of my goals are downtown, kind of finishing up some of the downtown development. And you can see it always seems to be a lot of orange cones and, you know, closed roads. But hopefully, like university parks we’ll get that finished up this summer and kind of open up that avenue there between Baylor and downtown.

Then really the other possible impossible thing that I want to work on is matching the new companies that are coming into town and addressing our poverty issue. Because we have above average poverty in Waco compared to the Texas average. So I think we want to be very intentional. We've already started some programs of connecting the new jobs to that poverty affected population.

Autumn Jones: “So you mentioned infrastructure. Are there any major infrastructure projects or any urban development plans on the horizon?”

Jim Holmes: “Yeah, yes, there are quite a few on the horizon. And infrastructure goes above the ground. What you see with the new streets, we're going to be working on Interstate 35 south, we call it from 12th Street all the way to the loop, 340. That'll be the big one you see in the next few years. In the city of Waco, like the university parks that is going to be finished here quickly and actually our streets program is about $30 million a year and we have projects going on virtually all over the city. So whether it's just, you know, topping off the pavement or doing a complete milling and overlay, they call it tearing it up and just building it back up. That's going on all over the city. And it's challenging sometimes, Autumn, to prioritize and sequence which ones get the most bang for the buck. Fixing a road that's completely in poor condition, which is very expensive, versus kind of finishing off one that's in fair condition, which is less expensive, but you still need to do it to get it into a good condition. The other parts of infrastructure that people don't see but it is as expensive are water and wastewater and solid waste services that are kind of underground, you know, you don't see them. But we are going to be opening a new landfill way east of town. That will be happening early next year, late this year. We'll have a transfer station that we're also working on. And water is such a precious resource, obviously. And that's kind of an infrastructure challenge, too. And we are looking at wastewater treatment plants in both the China Spring area, the faster growing areas of the city in China Spring area, and also one in the West Highway 84 area, which are $40, 50 million projects.”

Autumn Jones: “You mentioned the rate of poverty here in Waco. Do you have any strategies to address, you know, affordable housing and homelessness here in Waco?”

Jim Holmes: “Yes, absolutely. We did a study. I do like the fact that we're very proactive about bringing consultants in to help us out with these issues. It was about, I guess, six months ago, a year ago, just the inventory of homes. What are we, because I’m a data guy. I was chief operations officer for the company that we built and I’m very data driven. I love to look at key performance indicators and where are we and how can we get better and how do we measure ourselves? And we brought in this group that said, you know, we need 50,000 home, living units in Waco. That was optimally for her town of 150,000. That's kind of what we need. And we only have something like 45,000. 44,000 or 45,000. We need 5,000, so we have a shortage. So trying to figure out what to do there and how to build, some of that needs to be affordable, obviously, and vocationally, where it is, because sometimes where it is is where the new companies that come to town want to locate. That's where the new businesses want to be, where the people are living. So we want to make sure that we're intentional about where we do the housing, how we make it affordable. And the city has been super proactive about it. I don’t think the city has ever done this before, at least at the scale that we're doing it. Like the Floyd Casey Project where the football stadium used to be, that is city land that we have dedicated for mixed income housing right there, I think 280 living units will go in there and we have projects like that all over the city. Sanger School, got a little pocket project there. North 15th Street, where the city has residential lots that we’re getting activated. South 12th Street, we have some residential land down there in East Waco, we call them the slab properties over on Elm, we're trying to do some things there too. And there's a deal in front of council tonight on a 1,800 unit residential development right at the Martin Luther King and Lakeshore Drive, which is kind of an exciting project. So proactive about dealing with the housing issue. We are working with the Mission Waco and the Homeless Coalition. And what I love is to see the public private partnerships, three P, P three. And we have a project called Creekside, which is building sort of a smaller home community or living spaces for the homeless in Waco. That is super exciting and I think we're breaking ground on that this summer. That will provide housing for, I think somewhere between 50 and 80 homeless people. And not just housing, but purpose and community. We want to take care of the homeless in Waco for sure, because I guess it was Gandhi that said a great city is measured by how it takes care of its most vulnerable citizens. So I want to make sure that we are a great city across the board. So as we're taking care of the homeless, it's very important to me.”

Autumn Jones: “Public safety is always a concern for people. How will you and your administration address public safety concerns that people have and work alongside local law enforcement here in Waco?”

Jim holmes: “Yeah, we've had a great run here on public safety. In public safety, I'll throw in the fire department, the police department primarily. And the fire department has been operating at a very high level. I think it's an ISO rating, we have an ISO one rating, which is the highest possible rating for a city fire department. And that ISO one rating helps citizens with their insurance actually. If we have good response times and are located in the correct place and our fire department is operating at a high level, you get a higher ISO rating. And so we're at the highest you can be. And we're putting in new fire departments or fire stations over on LaSalle number four and then also out in Panther Way in far west Waco, station number 15. And so I'm really happy about how the fire department is operating. The police department, same. And even better because chief Victorian has been everything we wanted a new police chief to be. I mean she came out of Houston in the middle of COVID, so she's been here three or four years, very super connected to the community. Everywhere she goes I mean, she's like Taylor Swift and the Beatles, kind of mixed together. She draws a crowd because she's so articulate and funny and effective. And we've made more intentional investments into both the police and fire departments. We've increased staffing where that hadn't been increased in, I think, ten years before I got there. So we were able to add about 10%, which is about 20 officers and firefighters in each department. And we're seeing a return on that investment. To me, the measurement is I'm putting more money into it, but I want to see these results out. And I think with that ISO rating as high as it is, response times are down, which is great and we have the lowest crime rate in 20 years. So I think the KPIs, the key performance indicators, are definitely working in our favor there with great leadership.”

Autumn Jones: “What initiatives do you have in mind to improve public health services and resources here in Waco?”

Jim Holmes: “That's a good question because it's kind of a bit of a crisis. I like to figure out the conundrums of health, the entire big Pharma issue, and how it affects our local economy. But I'm not able to figure it out, and I still need to because it's very expensive. The insurance is crazy. And we're seeing it's almost counterintuitive where we had DePaul closed down, you know, economically it's harder to operate just basic health services. But again, the city has been very intentional here in the last few years because Waco Family Medicine, under the leadership of Dr. Griggs. I think they open it next month, the new family medicine center over there on Colcord, which is great. So we're working very closely with Hillcrest or Baylor Scott in White and Ascension Providence as well as Waco Family Medicine. And I'm part of a little kind of a mini team on those three groups, as well as the city public health department and the county, on what what are next steps and how do we get the the health care situation in McLennan County and Waco as good as it can possibly be because we don't want to feel vulnerable to outside forces. You want to provide the best public health services possible.

Autumn Jones: “Looking ahead, you know, the next year, what would you say your top priorities are?”

Jim Holmes: “Autumn I would say in the next year, continuing the economic development part to me. And then we're also there's so many things I want to do. I always try to narrow it down to one or two or three because downtown is very hot right now and we've got the opportunity to aggregate some land with the school district, where the city and the school district own some land downtown. And we could either let that kinda just go kind of a hodgepodge development over the next 25 years, or we could put it together and have like a 60 acre tract and do some kind of master planning in there, which I'm in favor of. And that could be any number of cool things for Waco, kind of I would call it phase two, because we've been working on I-35 over to Frank or Mary Street roughly. And once you open university parks back up this summer, I think that everybody's going to be pretty pleased with the way that looks and the way that has developed, particularly versus 30, 40 years ago or even eight years ago or ten years ago. So I think the next step is to kind of keep working. And we have also done great infrastructure improvements on Elm and Taylor Street and Bridge Street on both sides of the river. And if you go to those places, Farmers Market on Wednesday night, tomorrow night, you need to check that out. It's really cool over there on Bridge Street Plaza. So just the continuation of that economic development into that 60 acres between Mary and Jefferson over there. And we're kind of looking forward to working on that. And then just continuing the, like I say, the meat and potatoes, the blocking and tackling of making sure our police departments are effective, our fire department is effective and that we have a good and fair and transparent infrastructure plan, road and streets and sidewalk planning. And then and then on top of that, I really want to track very visible ways of service improvement, particularly in code enforcement and inspection. Again, I'm an operations guy. We always strived to be the best in class. It was kind of a thing in the private sector as a servicing and a financial services company that I was with. So I think the city of Waco striving to provide best in class services because again, we have great people. We need to brush up our systems a little bit and our processes, but I'd like to see visible improvement there as well.”

Autumn Jones: “Do you have any long term goals that you would like to set for the city?

Jim Holmes: “I think, you know, as we talk about what happens downtown and again, I spent 25 years building, helping build a global business, but each one of those businesses that we built were built like in, you know, three month increments or one year increments. So you got to be able to look at a, you know, a six month plan, a one year plan, a three year plan, a 20 year plan and a 50 year plan. And as I look at downtown, I see some of the things that we have been able to accomplish here in the last six, seven, eight years and then that momentum that has created there. A lot of it was, you know, Magnolia related to bringing those people in. But part of it, Autumn, is not only as these people come to town to do the Magnolia thing, we also want them to appreciate Waco for what Waco is and see the museums, the Dr. Pepper Museum, the Mabon Museum, the Mammoth site. There's so many other things that make Waco super cool. And so our challenge has been to bring the people, you know, people are coming in, but they're not just staying for a day or an afternoon. They're staying for a weekend, staying for a week and seeing all the other cool stuff in Waco. So it's important to me not only if I am mayor for the next two years, I'm not just planning for that. I want to be planning for what's going on ten years from now and 30 years from now.”

Autumn Jones: “What message do you have for residents of Waco as you begin your term?”

Jim Holmes: “Get ready for a wild ride. No, no <laughter>. It’s such a great, great place to live. And again, as I was building, as our group was building our company, we were a little bit made fun of for being in Waco. This is back in the 90s and 2000. They wanted us to move to Dallas or Houston. It was easier to get to for our New York partners and our Minnesota partners and our French partners. But we said, now we love Waco. We're going to stay here. And it's such a cool thing about Waco. And the other part that I wanted to say here is when the tornado hit, just in China Spring. It was in my district five a couple of weeks ago, not the tornado from ‘53, but the tornado from two weeks ago. I drove out there right after it happened and just to kind of see if anybody needed any help. And I was so impressed with well, first of all, there's a lot of damage, roofs gone and tragic. Talked to a couple of the other folks that had damage on their homes and was so super impressed. There was just people helping people. It was like neighbors were at neighbors yards, picking up limbs, picking up fences, picking up parts of roofs. And there was just a lot of traffic and love. And, you know, neighbor helping neighbor. And I was like man, this is what Waco is about. This is why I'm in Waco and it's something to be proud of. This doesn't happen everywhere. So I'm happy to serve as a councilman, happy to serve as mayor these next two years and just looking forward to it.”

Autumn Jones: “Okay. Last question. Where is your favorite place to eat in Waco and what is your favorite thing to do in Waco?”

Jim Holmes: “My favorite place to eat. Okay, I'll go to a couple of different places. I love Diamondbacks, great steaks there and whenever we would bring people in from France and Germany and South America they loved the Food at Diamondbacks, it has been there a long time. It's a great deal, but a guilty pleasure, I will say now, particularly with a 12-year-old son, Double R Burgers is got to be right very near the top. And Yaki’s. Yaki’s is starting to get into the rotation relatively frequently now. So I'm not I'm not getting compensated by either one of those places. But I will say the food is very good at both of those. The favorite thing to do in Waco, just walking around the riverfront, which is why I'm so passionate about wanting to make that the best it can possibly be. Because when I first got to Waco now like 40 years ago, it was kind of a dead place downtown and the riverfront. I think there was little cement down there, but it was only on one side and it wasn’t very user friendly. But now we ride bikes down there and walk around downtown and all throughout the river walk. Cameron Park, it's so beautiful now, with the sculptures and the new exhibits coming to Cameron Park, the penguin exhibit and the black footed cat exhibit coming in the next couple of months. So excited about the zoo and downtown and what we're doing there.

Autumn Jones: “Well, is there anything else that you would like to say to our listeners?”

Jim Holmes: “You know, I am a bit of an adventure guy too. I've climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I ran in Pamplona with the bulls. I have wing-walked in Seattle on a 1930s biplane and jet skied down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans in seven days. I think it's a world record. But nothing has been as exciting as working on city council and now running for mayor. So it's all an adrenaline rush, which I love. And I just love, love Waco. And again, I'm happy to serve as mayor these next two years.”