Friday, February 6, 2009

Guest Blog: 1,500 Miles - 21 Communities - 5 Days

While Wall Street continues to ride an economic rollercoaster, the Texas Department of Agriculture is working hard to make sure main streets all across west Texas have a roadmap for success by hosting economic development roundtable meetings in rural communities across the region. “Partners for Progress” Rural Economic Development Roundtable Discussions is a partnership of the Governors Office of Economic Development, United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development and the Texas Department of Agriculture Rural Economic Development Division.

The roundtable meetings bring together local community and business leaders to discuss local and regional business and economic issues; identify areas of need and opportunities; and learn about resources that can help them.

Agribusiness and Rural Economic Development Specialist Jack Stallings teamed up with Cynthia Delgado from the Office of the Governor and John Perkins with the U. S. Department of Agriculture for the road tour. I am happy to present their “guest blog” of their tour of West Texas:
1,500 Miles - 21 Communities - 5 Days


It began in Clint, Texas as we watched the sun come up over one of the smallest town halls in the state. A converted scale house at an abandoned cotton gin now serves as Mayor Dale Reinhardt’s command center for one of the smallest, but growing communities in El Paso County.

Our partnership met a diverse group of community leaders and business people who shared Clint’s needs, problems and goals for future growth and job creation. Among the needs discussed were basic infrastructure, such as water and sewer, which would provide the foundation for new businesses to locate and existing businesses to expand.

Our next stop was the Culberson County Courthouse, the only adobe courthouse within the great state of Texas, perhaps even in the United States! We met with representatives from the four communities in the county: Sierra Blanca, Dell City, Fort Hancock and Esperanza. We discussed the issues of basic infrastructure, animal control and lack of housing for border patrol officers and prison employees.

Recent attacks on domestic animals by wild dogs and mountain lions are challenging local law enforcement, creating an immediate need for an animal control officer.

The marquee at the Van Horn community center welcomed us to the crossroads of Texas, gateway to the Texas Mountain Trail and two national parks: Guadalupe and Big Bend.

After an authentic Mexican lunch at Toni’s, we sat down with the Economic Development Corporation and representatives from the Culberson County Hospital District, Culberson County-Allamore Independent School District, local businesses and the city. Community concerns centered around lack of housing, solid waste disposal and the need for a pharmacy.

DAY TWO: Marfa, Presidio & Terlingua

We got an early start (4:30 am!) on day two as we headed to Marfa, home of the mysterious Marfa Lights.

Traveling down I-10 we w
itnessed a beautiful sunrise over the Quitman Mountains.

After arriving in Marfa and visiting the famous Paisano Hotel where James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson stayed during the filming of “Giant,” we headed to Marfa City Hall to meet with a large group of community leaders and business folks.

Marfa’s issues mirrored those of other rural communities, being basic infrastructure and housing. In addition, they have an interest in increasing tourism and identifying additional entrepreneurial opportunities to foster area employment.

After leaving Marfa, we headed south toward the border and one of the oldest, continuously inhabited areas in North America and the site of the first Texas Christmas Mass held in 1683: Presidio.

We arrived at the Presidio Activity Center and found a unified crowd of civic-minded citizens with a large array of issues and goals to pursue for the betterment of their city. Lorenzo Reyes, CEO of the Upper Rio Grande Workforce Solutions joined us in Presidio.

The issues Presidio city officials were most concerned with included equipping the new clinic, and getting assistance with the planned upgrade of the electric transmission lines to the city. The rehabilitation of the South Orient Rail Line, which could provide tremendous economic stimulus for the area and the state, was also discussed. Exploring the paths of pioneers, we drove east along the Rio Grande on 170 (one of the most scenic drives in the United States) in route to Terlingua in Big Bend National Park.

We were forced to take dirt road detours due to recent flooding which not only damaged many roads, but also caused considerable destruction in Presidio.

The Ghost Town of Terlingua now derives its livelihood from tourism, instead of mining. According to the Texas Mountain Travel guide, Terlingua’s residents are a new generation of entrepreneurs, river guides, urban refugees and hardy retirees. Given its isolated geographic location, Terlingua’s issues include access to health care, preventative medicine, governmental and social services.

A pleasant highlight was when the owner of Terlingua’s Whitson Chile expressed her appreciation for the assistance she received through TDA’s GO TEXAN program. With the GO TEXAN program, Whitson Chile has been able to expand both domestically and internationally.

DAY THREE – Alpine & Fort Davis

Located in a valley between the Davis, Glass and Del Norte Mountains, Alpine boasts the best climate in Texas, with warm and sunny winter days and cool summer nights. A large group of business and community leaders discussed issues with the greatest impact on the economic growth and health of Alpine. A shortage of workers in the vocational/tech fields, affordable housing and a decline in tourism dollars were among the issues mentioned.

Named after Secretary of War, James Davis, Fort Davis was established to protect the trade route along the Overland Trail, between St Louis and California. It is surrounded by the natural beauty of the Davis Mountains and is home to a host of artisans and merchants. Since tourism is a large portion of Fort Davis’ economy it was, of course, one of several areas of concern.

Operating on limited dollars, Fort Davis’ Volunteer Fire Department is in need of funds to build a new fire rescue training facility. Currently, the only facility remotely close is Texas A&M University.

To be Continued...

Partners for Progress will hit the road again later this week , visiting the communities of Sanderson, Iraan, Fort Stockton, Monahans and Pecos. For more information about Partners for Progress, contact Jack Stallings at (915) 859-3943.

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