Dillon Meek, 29, general counsel for Rydell Holdings, a local investment firm, and previously an attorney at the Haley & Olson law firm, is running to succeed Toni Herbert, who is stepping down after long representing North Waco District 4 on the Waco City Council. In this interview with the Trib editorial board, Meek discusses the possibilities for business and investment in Waco; the importance of Prosper Waco’s crusade against local poverty; and how well City Hall works with businesses investing in the area. A Baylor Law School graduate, Meek’s work with Rydell includes Premier Urgent Care Plus and Fuego Tortilla Grill (next door to each other off Highway 84 at Estates Drive); Urban Star Produce, a hydroponic lettuce greenhouse; and real estate endeavors. The election is May 9.
Q You were with Haley & Olson law firm at one point before you joined Rydell Holdings.
A I represented cities and local governments, energy companies and banks. And then two years ago I had a unique opportunity come up and jumped in with two friends of mine who started an investment company. We started out doing real estate investments and since then I have invested in six companies, five of them here in Waco. It’s been a blast.
Q Well, with all this involvement, why are you running for Waco City Council?
A I’m running for City Council because, first, I love this city. I decided to put my roots here, I’ve decided to invest here, not only with my career but my life. I love this city and I think Waco is at an interesting juncture. There’s a lot of energy here that is exciting. I think a lot of factors contribute to that — obviously, the leadership. Other factors include Baylor’s success in sports and the new stadium. Other factors might be more incidental like a really popular show on HGTV that is really redirecting the national image of our community. So it’s fun stuff that we’re seeing right now in Waco and it’s an exciting time and I think we’re at a tipping point. If this city plays its cards right, it can be a premier city in this state. It’s an important time. I also think it’s easy for people to sit on the sidelines and be critical, but when you strap on the cleats yourself and start playing the game, you realize maybe it’s not as easy as you thought it was.
Q How would you describe your district and the challenges that face it?
A I love my district and I live at a really interesting cross-section in my district. Right behind my house is an older apartment complex. There are some middle-class families around me. Down the street are some very affluent families. And it’s been fun making good friends with everyone in that neighborhood. I’ve enjoyed it. I go to church in that neighborhood — Antioch Community Church, which is in the district also — and one reason I love that church is the diversity, socio-economically and racially. It’s been fun building deep friendship with people in our church who live in that neighborhood. Through that I’ve been able to see some of the issues facing the neighborhood. My first issue is economic development. It’s one of the things I’m most passionate about. One is creating jobs and training people to be good in jobs. I’m a big fan of Mission Waco. Their job-training program is incredible.
Q You live in one of the most appealing areas in your district (Austin Avenue), though obviously other parts face real challenges. Can you understand the needs of these other neighborhoods?
A I do. And economic development is a passion with me. And that includes recruiting businesses to come to Waco, retaining businesses in Waco and expanding businesses in Waco. We have about 100 employees on a daily business ourselves.
Q You know, some people, including tea party members, have raised objections to economic development funds in recent years. I think they are concerned about using public money to pick winners and losers. Do we need to be refining how we direct economic incentives?
A That’s a complex problem that requires complex solutions. I don’t know that there’s a black and white answer to that. I do think that advice from experts and being strategic about how we go about recruiting industry is paramount.
Q Did you go to the Prosper Waco launching in February?
A Yes, I did go. And I went to the financial security brainstorming session they had.
Q Well, one of the big pieces is business and a living wage. How do you talk businesses into that?
A I work in a for-profit company. We have to make money for our other investors. We have a duty to do that, so I think that’s one of the assets I bring. I recognize that there is this need for results. And sitting around a conference room and talking about ideas is great but, in my line of work, if there aren’t results, then our doors get shut and our lights get turned off. At the same time, our company has a vision to create jobs for people where they can thrive and think strategically and creatively — even janitors at Fuego. We want to raise them up to their fullest potential to live fun and excellent lives. More of us need to better understand why we should do this, what the benefits are for doing this. And I think the better wages we can give our employees, the better our city will be.
Q What do you think of Prosper Waco?
A I’m very excited about it. I like the collective impact model. One of the nonprofits I’m on the board for and have volunteered a lot of hours for is UnBound, which is an anti-human trafficking ministry here in Waco. As we’ve seen through your newspaper, it’s a huge problem in Waco. I’ve put a lot of hours into that. I think we have done a lot of great work. We have ladies who go into the juvenile detention center and meet regularly with girls and we have counseled victims of human trafficking. But one of our greatest achievements is helping create a human trafficking roundtable and pulling together the Juvenile Detention Center, Child Protective Services, the sheriff’s department, the police department, the district attorney, city, county commissioners. There are a lot of stakeholders in this issue who started fighting human trafficking. And what we saw was this collective fruit that comes from collaboration. It comes from people working together on a common goal. So I’m excited about Prosper Waco because I think that the problems in Waco are layered and complex. One of my favorite comments made during the Prosper Waco roundtable involved implementing wealth knowledge to our citizens. A lot of the talk is about increasing the wage, which I think is important. But I think if we can empower the citizens to know what to do with the earnings they do make, it’s critical. At Antioch, Josh Lawson has created a great financial guide. I love that our church does this, that it teaches its congregants how to steward the money that God has given us. I mean, there’s a lot of rich people and a lot of poor people who don’t know what to do with their money and it’s important for people walking in poverty — wealthy people too — to know how to spend their money well, how to save and how to invest.
Q With a lot of investments in our city, do you find the city easy to work with?
A I think things such as city permits are important. It’s definitely important to make sure buildings are built to code. I think (city of Waco planning director Clint (Peters) is great. I am so pleased with the job he is doing. I couldn’t be more pleased with the job he’s done. I would love to get creative in how we can have a sound permitting process, yet make it as seamless as possible for businesses, industry, homeowners — whoever is wanting to invest in downtown or any part of town. I believe he’s working to do that. I would love to explore that if I get on the City Council, to see how we could possibly streamline the process. But I also want to make sure the goals of our city are maintained and I think they are working hard to do that. I appreciate their hard work.
Interview condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker.