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Study to Develop a New Economic Growth Model for Rural Communities in West Texas

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sunrise in an oil field

AUSTIN, Texas – The IC² Institute at The University of Texas at Austin is starting a yearlong study in a portion of West Texas to inform an economic development strategy based on the community’s unique identity. The work will result in a regional road map report and new models of economic development that could be applied to other regions.

The study will be conducted in several communities in a region south of Lubbock, west of Sweetwater, north of Del Rio and east of Pecos in West Texas. The goal is for communities to increase their economic, environmental and social resilience through strategies that are fundamentally based on their own values and goals.

“This work comes at a pivotal point in the history of West Texas as it experiences both unparalleled growth and community disruption as part of intensive resource extraction,” said Matt Kammer-Kerwick, senior research scientist at the IC² Institute. “The unique community framework of the region complicates the nature of community conservation efforts due to the lack of deep engagement by many of the land/resource owners, the “extractive” approach of large corporate engagement, and the burden placed on communities to support oil and gas business during periods of peak activity.”

Throughout Texas, rural regions are experiencing uneven economic success. Based on census data, the 18 most urban counties in Texas have a per capita income nearly $5,000 more than the rest of the counties in the state. Historically, rural areas are tied to agriculture and development of natural resources, but many lack the infrastructure and connectivity to participate in advanced entrepreneurial strategies associated with economic growth. Diversifying the economic base of these regions requires rethinking the way that business ecosystems develop to acknowledge the challenges of developing and retaining talent in remote areas and integrating people, expertise, ideas and capital. A broad-based program of research on this topic is needed to build a model that could be applied across Texas rural regions.

“West Texas is typically seen as monolithic, but the region includes different communities facing various economic conditions and unique challenges,” said Greg Pogue, deputy director of the IC² Institute. “Some places are reeling from an economic boom and trying to adapt to prosperity while others are reeling because energy production has passed them by. Through understanding representative communities across West Texas, we can begin to see the common and distinctive challenges each community is facing and build a model that can be of value to all communities.”

The research involves collaboration with researchers at The University of Texas Permian Basin and a wide range of stakeholders and community members from multiple sites in the region. The project is possible through a grant from the Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation and the Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation.