Editor’s Note: The city of Beaumont, Texas, has long been host to refining and petrochemical companies, and its link to ExxonMobil is only strengthening as the company continues to expand its footprint at its refinery and polyethylene facilities. The Energy Factor spent a week in the city of more than 100,000 people to talk about that relationship and how those investments continue to transform the fabric of the community.
We all know the “Field of Dreams” quote, “If you build it, they will come.” In Beaumont, Texas, however, something of the opposite occurred: Millennials came, and Beaumont is building it.
“It” is a lively downtown, and its gradual revitalization is being driven in part by the influx of young employees ExxonMobil and other companies have hired to fill roles in the expanding refining and petrochemical facilities. The uptick in development is part of a large-scale initiative called Growing the Gulf that will see $20 billion invested along the Gulf Coast over the next 10 years.
To appreciate some of the recent improvements to Beaumont’s downtown, one must look back a few years and compare, says Emily Wheeler, 31, division manager of event facilities for the City of Beaumont.
“I can remember six or seven years ago, my core group of friends only wanted to come home to Beaumont for holidays and weddings,” says Wheeler. “What I see now is something completely different. My friends who live in Houston come to Beaumont to go to events that we do here.”
So what changed? Turning downtown Beaumont back into the heart of the city is a long haul, one that began around 13 years ago under the leadership of the city manager, Kyle Hayes, and many mayors and city council members over the years. That vision included the removal of graffiti, the addition of lamp posts, better lighting and the paving of brick paths. The recent flock of educated young residents that landed in the city is taking it to the next level.
“ExxonMobil brings so many young people in,” says Wheeler. “When you go out to lunch, or to dinner after work, or to one of our events, like Jazz at the Lake, you see so many young people in ExxonMobil uniforms. I think it excites people who live here to see what that industry is doing for the social community.”
Sleepy downtown Beaumont is waking up and offering acts like Keith Urban, Shooter Jennings, The Beach Boys and The Cult. John Travolta recently visited the city’s historic Jefferson Theater for a private screening of a film, the restaurant scene is gradually growing, and investors are taking opportunities to convert unused buildings into hip new residences.
Lenny Caballero, general manager and director of event facilities for the City of Beaumont, adds, “Running an entertainment venue, the dollars that ExxonMobil brings in are important, but so are the people. I stop and talk to people at every event and ask where they’re from. You hear ‘France,’ ‘Italy,’ ‘Argentina,’ and then, ‘I work for ExxonMobil.’ So they’re constantly reinvesting their money back into the community.”
Whether they come from southeast Texas or South America, Beaumont is home for them now, and city leaders hope they’ll stay.