Texas A&M’s Director of Texas Target Communities John Cooper Jr., standing, speaks to JEDCO members on Friday during a strategic planning meeting for the city at the city council meeting headquarters.

JEFFERSON — The members of the Jefferson Economic Development Corporation (JEDCO) had a special visitor on Friday during a strategic planning meeting for the city’s future.

Texas A&M University’s Director of Texas Target Communities John Cooper Jr., an university organization made up of students and faculty that partners with rural cities, spoke to the JEDCO board members and community members during an open to the public strategic planning meeting for JEDCO at the Jefferson downtown Fire Station.

Cooper said the program uses students and faculty to study the rural city/county they are partnering with, then help build a task force of community members to create a comprehensive plan for the area, with the goal of creating a sustainable community.

“Tourism is big here in Jefferson and I recognize the value of timber in a place like this,” Cooper said, who grew up in Jefferson. “I’d love for Jefferson/Marion County to be ushering in the next big thing in the timber industry.”

JEDCO members also agreed they needed to work to take advantage of tourism in the city’s prime location, nestled between two major lakes in East Texas, Lake O’ The Pines and Caddo Lake.

Cooper said the university’s Texas Target Communities program could help the city develop everything from its tourism industry, timber industry, apply for grants and much more.

The university’s program would first work to build a task force of community members, then begin building a comprehensive plan.

Cooper said the task force would ideally be made up of community members that are often not in the spotlight.

“We don’t want to make things political and we want to maintain objectivity,” he said. “We want to get people who are interested and caring when it comes to the community. There are some people that like to contribute in different ways. We try to get a feel for the area. We do a fair amount of reconnaissance work on the front end of the project to get the task force and we don’t want the usual suspects. We want a good mix of voices that represent the community as a whole. I’ve learned even the most everyday people can make great decisions.

Cooper said the organization will then take that comprehensive plan and tailor a plan specific for the city, based on its budget.

The JEDCO members, including President Bob Avery, said the next step is to talk with city council members about the program and get them on board, as the council approves JEDCO spending and would need to approve their decision to partner with Texas Target Communities.

The total project and partnership could last between 18 months to 2 years, and cost no more than $50,000, Cooper said. The payment could be broken down into installments.

JEDCO members said they hope to meet with the city council about the proposed partnership with the university’s organization in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Cooper told the members to research his group’s work in other Texas cities/counties.

More information about the Texas Target Communities organization can be found on their website at

Cooper also encouraged the JEDCO members to check out the work and comprehensive plans from other Texas communities that have partnered with the university’s organization, including recently in Nolanville.

“We need to have the city and county buy in to this project,” he said.

Avery said Friday’s meeting was the introductory meeting for JEDCO members about the program, which JEDCO secretary Robin Moore first learned about earlier this year.

“We reached out to Texas Target Communities because they work with rural communities on planning and design and they provide technical assistance through their students and faculty,” Avery said. “This is a targeted program for small towns.”

Avery said the organization will help JEDCO and the city plan for the city’s future, rather than responding as things happen or come up.

“Instead of reacting, we want to determine what direction the city is going,” he said. “This organization helps you determine your goals and then helps you move towards those goals, while having the resources of the whole A&M system.”