What Can be Done to Boost Small Town Texas?

Everybody knows that Texas is in the midst of one of the most amazing economic booms in the state's history, with near record low unemployment and more jobs available than workers to fill them in fields ranging from professional drivers to manufacturing to oil and gas.

But, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports, demographers agree that, with a few exceptions like the Texas Hill Country, that economic success is confined to the state's urban areas.  In many stretches of rural Texas, from East Texas to the high plains to the Panhandle, small towns are facing population loss, increasing poverty, an elderly population, and the loss of the public schools that give small towns their strength.

A conference sponsored by UTSA,' the Texas Rural Challenge,' is set for New Braunfels next month to try to reverse the decay of small town Texas.

Al Salgado, executive director of the Southwest Texas Border Small Business Development Center, which is a unit of UTSA, says the first thing small towns need to do is to forget about those high school football rivalries and band together.

"Basically, you're looking at a collaborative effort by those rural communities to work together with a common theme, a common sustainable theme," he said.

He says small communities should also improve their relationships with their nearest urban community, because the strength of farming and ranching communities helps make cities stronger.

Advocates for small towns and rural areas say they feature amenities that many people, including Millennials, who consider themselves to be urban sophisticates, prize, from lower crime rates to lower costs, less traffic congestion, and a heightened sense of community.  But despite those advantages, a lack of economic opportunities forces young college graduates to make their careers elsewhere.

Salgado says a big problem in many rural areas is a lack of broadband access.  Like the railroads in the early Twentieth Century and the Interstate Highway System in the fifties and sixties gave some communities the boost they needed to grow and left other communities isolated, broadband access today is a key recipe for a community's success.

"These rural communities would like to do on line business for their small businesses, but some times that broadband is not there," he said.

Many small towns in Texas have seen their hospitals close their doors in the past two decades, and some communities no longer have a practicing family doctor.  Another problem is the lack of willingness of the children of farm families to maintain those ties to the land which go back generations. That is leading to a growth in corporate farming, leaving communities without many of their leading, and in many cases their wealthiest, citizens.

Local retailers are also finding the going tough, leading to the frequent observation that many rural Texas communities consist of 'a Dairy Queen and a Walmart.'

Salgado says another concern is a lack of political clout.  Even though many urban politicians complain about small town representatives in the state House and Senate, he says when it comes time to vote, rural Texas is often left out.

"When it comes time to vote in Austin, particularly when it comes to issues that would benefit and help rural communites, the votes are not there."

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