Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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

The following is part two of the guest blog compiled by TDA's Agribusiness and Rural Economic Development Specialist Jack Stallings while touring West Texas as part of the “Partners for Progress” Rural Economic Development Roundtable Discussions. Click HERE to read part one.

Day Four – Sanderson, Iraan & Fort Stockton

After a gallon of coffee and another 4 a.m. start, we once again saw the sun rising above the West Texas mountains. We are on our way to the Cactus Capital of Texas, a place that even Judge Roy Bean found too wild to live: Sanderson, in Terrell County.

We met in the historic Terrell County Court House with a large group of community and business leaders.
As we have found with many of these rural communities, housing is a priority, followed by water and electric infrastructure. As a result of our meeting, County Judge Leo Smith hopes to utilize some of the federal USDA loans we mentioned. In addition, we have planned follow-up meetings to help local entrepreneurs develop their ideas.

Iraan, former home to V.T. Hamlin, creator of the comic strip Alley Oop, was next on our agenda. In the center of the Permian Basin and Texas oil and gas fields, Iraan is now the location of one largest wind farms in the state.

It may come as no surprise that Iraan also has housing issues. A new water storage tank, broadband and the repair and replacement of existing gas lines are also high on the list.

While community leaders displayed interest in the GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Community Progam, Iraan’s Economic Development Corporation director expressed her appreciation for receiving funding through the GO TEXAN Rural Community Downtown Beautification Grant. City officials look forward to planting brightly colored flowers in the flower boxes that now line the town square.

In Fort Stockton, we were met by Paisano Pete, the biggest roadrunner in the country. Paisano is Spanish for roadrunner.

Fort Stockton, a U.S. Army Fort, was established on the banks of Comanche Springs in 1858, allowing the town to become a thriving agricultural center. Even today, Fort Stockton produces grapes, pecans and alfalfa, and is home to the largest winery in Texas – Mesa Vineyards.

On the top of Fort Stockton’s list is the South Orient Railroad Rehabilitation project. This line runs from Fort Worth to Presidio and would provide a tremendous economic boost for points along the line and the entire state of Texas.

Additional issues are housing, gas, sewer and water. Fort Stockton leader also expressed concern over road deterioration, lack of housing for prison staff and transmission lines to support the rapidly growing solar and wind renewable energy projects.

Day Five – Monahans & Pecos

We started with a sunrise over Pecos County (great name for a country song) and took a short ride to Monahans, home of the Million Barrel Museum named for a million barrel elliptical crude oil storage tank built in 1928. Monahans is also known for Sandhills State Park, a popular destination for sand surfing, dune buggy rides, family picnics and much more.

Our first order of business was the consumption of several unbelievably delicious homemade cinnamon rolls.

Monahans has many housing issues, some of which deal with new home construction, elderly home rehabilitation and low-income housing. The community is also focusing on beautification and removing abandoned, dilapidated homes and buildings.

Community leaders are interested in the development of a multi–purpose recreational facility to host sports venues and community events.

The highlight of our trip to Monahans was a visit to its new renewable energy project.
The progressive town has installed two windmills to power its waste treatment facility.

It was a short trip down I-20 to the town of Pecos for our last meeting in the “Partners for Progress” Far West Texas Economic Development Round Table discussions.

Pecos, the site of the world’s first rodeo in 1883 and the renowned Pecos cantaloupe, is now a thriving hub for the oil and gas industry.

Issues expressed by Pecos leaders were again, housing and infrastructure. New issues, not discussed in previous meetings, included the development of a regional ground water district, the addition of a financial training curriculum in high schools and the development of additional value-added processing for crops grown it the region.

We then headed home after another successful round of meetings.

It was a great pleasure meeting with all the communities in far west Texas. The Partners for Progress series has helped us develop a great network and a long list of issues and concerns that we hope to address in the upcoming West Texas Economic Development Summit scheduled for late September 2009.

I would like to express my thanks to Cynthia Delgado of the Governors Office of Economic Development and John Perkins of USDA Rural Development who were both instrumental in making this project a success.

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