The initiative began with the Competitive Assessment phase, a series of focus groups and individual interviews with over 80 local business, government, education and civic leaders. Results of those interviews and focus groups were combined with key demographic and market data, competitive assessment findings, a target business analysis and a best practice community review and analysis to develop an economic development strategy for the community. Businesses and residents throughout Pearland had an opportunity to provide feedback about the issues and opportunities facing the community by participating in an online survey.

Key Takeaways from the Competitive Assessment:
Pearland’s growth trends are not sustainable. As its residential development has skyrocketed, the city’s budget has been able to accommodate increases in infrastructure construction and services-provision. But the percentage of Pearland’s budget dedicated to debt-service as well as recent tax increases show that residential development is not self-sustaining. Diverse, high-value commercial and industrial development must continue to be enhanced, especially along the major corridors, to balance the city’s tax digest. This will also enable Pearland to be even more aggressive in boosting its transportation capacity.

Progressive planning and investment must continue. Pearland government has been thoughtful and forward-thinking in its planning and investment in the capacity to accommodate additional growth. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in recent decades to improve the city’s transportation grid, water and wastewater infrastructure, utilities, flood protection, police and fire services, public education, and other resources. While the fiscal realities of maintaining and operating these assets is significant, city leaders know that they cannot become complacent when it comes to investing in the community’s ability to continue its growth trajectory. This will be important as public opinion seems to indicate that residents are very concerned with current levels of traffic congestion and feel that class sizes are becoming too large in many Pearland schools.

Pearland is the “new America.” Pearland’s diversification and standing as a residential melting pot of different races and ethnicities make it a micro version of macro trends that are occurring nationwide. By continuing to provide a welcoming environment for these new residents and, in fact, seeking to better capitalize on its diversity will position Pearland as a model for how a city can become a stronger whole through the sum of its parts. The city must also ensure that divides are not exacerbated between the “haves” and “have-nots” in Pearland. With the city’s recent growth predominantly comprised by lower-wage services jobs, the potential exists that income disparities will become acute and lead to potential negative impacts on public safety, educational performance, and other trends.

Citizens want more amenities. Public input in focus groups, interviews, and the online survey demonstrated clearly that Pearland residents would like to see more recreational and arts and cultural amenities in their community. While destinations are certainly available in close proximity in Houston, it is natural for stakeholders to increasingly want similar resources close to home. It is also a function of Pearland maturing as a city from a bedroom community to more of a complete municipality. Walkable activity centers, mixed-use “urban” development, transit availability, sidewalks, and other amenities will also be increasingly important to Pearland’s competitive position for the top talent and companies in today’s economy.

Looks matter. Perception is reality in economic development. While Pearland has done much to improve its aesthetics by instituting prescriptive regulations on development and public spaces, adding gateway signage, and developing new roads with landscaped medians, economic officials and laypersons alike lament that Pearland’s aesthetics are still unappealing to potential investors, employers, and talent. Of particular concern are high-profile gateway corridors such as FM 518/Broadway, Highway 35, and Highway 288. For Pearland to compete with communities like Sugar Land and the Woodlands, the visual impression investors, visitors, and even citizens have of the city will need to be enhanced.

Pearland must build a sense of community. Whether manifested in talk of “two Pearlands” east and west, or in stories of west Pearland residents who “don’t even know they live in the city,” or east Pearlanders who shop in Houston rather than their own city, or in elected officials’ frustration at the public’s lack of civic engagement despite multiple efforts, it is clear that the dynamics of Pearland’s growth have affected residents’ perceptions and notions of where they live. While understandable that thousands of recent in-migrants will not develop a “pride in place” overnight, it is important that the Pearland community becomes more connected, identified, engaged, and prideful of their city if Pearland is to take the next step in its evolution from residential suburb to fully realized city.