Equine-related industry continues to expand in Stephenville and Erath County, directors of the Stephenville Economic Development Foundation, Inc. (STEDCO) proclaimed at their annual meeting held Thursday.

More than 150 members of the area’s business community gathered at The City Hall at City Limits to hear the foundation’s annual report, as well as updates from local business owners.

John Moore, vice president of STEDCO’s board of directors, welcomed guests to the meeting saying yesterday’s gathering was the largest yet for the foundation. A total of 46 members were in attendance for the lunch reception and business meeting.

Ron Pack, member of STEDCO’s board of directors, introduced three local business representatives who gave an update on their horse-related enterprises, and welcomed one of the community’s newest entrepreneurs who will relocate his offices to Stephenville in the coming months.

“There are three businesses that have one thing in common,” said Pack, introducing the luncheon speakers. “They are all preferred leaders in their industries, all are related to the horse industry, and all make Stephenville their home.”

Among the reports provided yesterday were from Ben Clements, editor of the United States Team Roping Championship’s (USTRC) Super Looper magazine, citing the support STEDCO provided in 2004 which led to its offices being relocated to Stephenville.

At the time, STEDCO provided a $93,595 grant to USTRC which moved from New Mexico 14 years after its inception in 1990. Clements said the national organization now has a membership of approximately 36,000 across the U.S. and in 2007 more than $5.5 million in cash prizes were awarded.

“This area is growing by leaps and bounds and the heart of our membership is in Texas and Oklahoma,” said Clements. “It’s phenomenal how much the horse industry has grown in the last three years, and Stephenville has something to be thankful for and for playing a part in helping the equine industry grow.”

Pack, referring to “the best-kept secret in Stephenville,” also introduced John Walker, owner of Outlaw Conversions, another local business STEDCO assisted by providing $5,000 in 2001 for their plant expansion.

“STEDCO has been a big part of Outlaw Conversions’ success,” said Walker. “We started in 1996 near the old Poston Feed Mill and as we grew so fast we ran out of room.”

Walker said the local economic development corporation took an interest in his business which allowed the manufacturer of living quarters for horse trailers to expand its production facilities to meet growing demand.

“We’re trying to diversify and expand into the motor coach industry with low-volume, high-quality output,” said Walker. “We’re a one-stop shop for more than 50 dealers across the nation.”

Walker also said Outlaw produces about 700 premier horse trailers annually with about 200 employees at the local production facility. In 2006, a new division of Outlaw Conversions expanded into Outlaw Coaches.

Currently, there are four custom motor coaches in production at the old Fibergrate facility off of Airport Road. The building was acquired in 2006 with the assistance of STEDCO.

Guests at the STEDCO meeting also heard from Clinton Anderson, owner of Clinton Anderson Companies, who announced plans to relocate his business’s headquarters to Stephenville in August.

STEDCO assisted the company by providing a $50,000 grant this year to attract Anderson’s home office to a location currently under construction on US Hwy. 377 East.

Anderson, a native of Queensland, Australia who has been in the U.S. for 10 years, said he chose Stephenville because “it felt more like home than anywhere else.”

“Ken Bray told me about Stephenville because there’s lots of horses, lots of good people and beautiful countryside,” said Anderson, who traveled to town for the meeting. “This town has provided an overwhelming amount of support. They want us to be here and it’s nice to know we’re welcome.”

Anderson thanked STEDCO for their “phenomenal help” in assisting the business decision to relocate to Texas from Ohio. “STEDCO gives to people and their businesses and I want to be a part of giving back.”

The Aussie ended with describing his personal experiences since discovering Stephenville, saying “I’ve not had one negative experience since I got here. When you walk around Ohio with a cowboy hat, people avoid you like the plague.”

During the luncheon, STEDCO members also voted to approve nominations to its board of directors and selected new officers.

Elected to two-year terms on the board were Bill Corbin, Ron Pack, Bob Haschke and Ed Horton. Elected to three-year terms were Dwain Bruner, Jim Chambers, David Cheatham and Ron Mullins.

Officers appointed to lead the board for the 2008-09 term are president Ed Horton, first vice president John Moore, second vice president David Cheatham and secretary-treasurer Ron Wulf.

STEDCO, an all-volunteer non-profit foundation, was chartered in 1962. Currently, it boasts 132 members, including individuals and businesses.

Its primary source of funds continues to be from annual membership dues, and interest and fixed income investments. In 2007, STEDCO received $16,250 from membership dues and $11,730 in interest from funds invested in treasury bills.

STEDCO’s purpose is to “promote and improve business and economic conditions in the city of Stephenville, as well as Erath County, and the surrounding trade territory by rendering economic aid, services and assistance to existing and potential businesses.”

For more information about STEDCO, contact July Danley at 965-5313 or email julyd@stephenvilletexas.org.