Motorists pass by a sign for Burlington Coat Factory at the location of the anticipated business Friday in Killeen.

New merchants, locations crop up all over the area

By Rebecca Rose

Killeen Daily Herald

On a Thursday morning, a small storefront in Harker Heights is filled with the busy sounds of construction, as builders hasten to finish work inside Theresa’s Creative Minds Learning Center Day Care.

Owner Theresa Anderson’s thoughts are focused on the grand opening of the new child care facility situated in the Knight’s Way Village shopping center on Farm-to-Market 2410.

“This is a blessing,” she said, shaking off questions about fears of starting a new business as the nation’s economy continues to face an uncertain future.

And she’s not alone.

Anderson’s day care is one of many businesses set to open in the coming year — a sign that despite a recuperating national economy, the greater Fort Hood economy could grow in 2012.

Killeen has at least 16 businesses permitted to open in the new year, including Burlington Coat Factory, a CEFCO gas station and two Family Dollar stores.

At the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, President John Crutchfield hinted at even more to come.

Overcoming hesitancy

“I think we’re going to see some very interesting things in the coming year,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is some of this hesitancy is starting to go away, and (businesses) are beginning to make commitments.”

One of the most notable changes to the commercial landscape in Killeen could be the relaunch of the former Oshkosh building. In June 2010, the Wisconsin-based corporation closed its Killeen manufacturing plant, eliminating nearly 30 jobs and leaving behind an empty 230,000-square-foot warehouse space at the Killeen Business Park.

Crutchfield declined to name the company planning to purchase and operate out of the building, but said a manufacturing firm was set to move in, with a formal announcement expected in February.

Another big change coming to Killeen’s main thoroughfare is a face lift to the Plaza Hotel along U.S. Highway 190. The property was purchased by Development Services Group, based in Memphis, and will be reopened as a Marriott Courtyard hotel, possibly as early as this summer.

A project closer to completion is La Cascata, a multi-use development owned by First Advisors real estate and investment firm, located on approximately 200 acres west of Skylark Field.

“(First Advisors) is now in a position where (it’s) close to signing some leases with some anchors that will allow that project to take off,” said Crutchfield.

The commerce official also said a national retailer was eyeing Killeen as a possible site for multiple locations, which could be announced early next year.

Crutchfield pointed to a number of factors that make Killeen attractive for businesses despite a challenging national economic outlook, including the city’s efforts to attract and keep companies and its being part of a business-friendly state.

“It is easy to do business in Texas,” he said. “That helps us a lot as a community.”

Additionally, he said, “(We) live in a central location in the state that is very favorable for us because it is easy to get to a lot of places from here. We also have a low cost of living here. That’s attractive.”

The strength of military spending in the community also helps to mitigate economic tensions, he said.

“In a period of economic instability, military spending tends to help stabilize things,” said Crutchfield.

Harker Heights

In neighboring Harker Heights, Chamber of Commerce President Bill Kozlik pointed to the impending opening of Seton Hospital as one of the area’s magnets for development.

The hospital, now expected to open as early as June, could create a major bump in commercial growth for Harker Heights, as retailers look to capitalize on a lucrative market of medical professionals migrating to the area.

“It will generate a lot of growth,” said Kozlik. “We will grow. There is a lot of potential here.”

Like Killeen, Harker Heights could see its fair share of expansion in 2012. Kozlik pointed to FM 2410 as one of the area’s prime spots for retail growth, noting that there are still many parcels of unsold land ripe for commercial development.

Good location’

Anderson is one of several new business owners set to find out the precise value of that stretch of road. She is expanding her two-year-old home-based day care into a space in the shopping center across from Harker Heights High School — what many experts, such as Kozlik, cite as some of the most coveted retail property in greater Killeen.

“Everyone has been telling me it’s a good location,” said the entrepreneur, who also plans to operate an event planning business out of the day care.

Anderson said she was confident the area’s military community would support the new location, a factor that helped alleviate any worries she had about finding a market for her business.

“With all the soldiers coming back home, and all their families moving here, this is an opportunity to show them we have quality care,” she said.

Anderson plans to hold an official grand opening in February, in conjunction with the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce.

While neither Anderson nor local commerce officials have a crystal ball, they’re confident the area will continue to be a hot spot for new business.

“All in all, I think you’re going to see some interesting growth here,” said Crutchfield.