A tumbleweed blowing down the street was once a classic symbol of America's frontier; rustic, independent, even romantic. But these days, it's an economic indicator of decline.
Rural Texas in Transition, the name of a report prepared by the comptroller's office. It found that more than one-third of Texas rural communities lost population in the last decade. Why? Primarily massive changes in the fields of oil and agriculture. Both industries now require less people, hence fewer jobs. The result? A West Texas exodus.
NewsChannel 11 compiled data from the U.S. Census Bureau regarding the populations of the 23 counties in our viewing area. Since 1990, 16 of those counties have lost a total of 23,000 residents. While the bigger cities benefit, smaller communities are struggling to survive. Posing the question; What's a town to do?
"Sundown, outshining the rest!" says the announcer. Advertising. "We wanted to get the word out that Sundown is here and Sundown is a great place to live," said Marv Tisdale, economic development director of Sundown, and a kid in a candy shop. "I was flabbergasted, I was just so happy about it I wanted to tell everyone," he smiled.
Before deciding to advertise, Sundown averaged annual real estate sales of $40,000 a year, for the entire town, for the past 20 years. Since running their commercial? "We topped a million in real estate sales," he said. A million dollars! That's an increase of 2,400%. A total of 33 new residents moved to Sundown in the past year.
Sundown is on the rise. And not by marketing itself as a great place to do business, but instead highlighting and embracing the very quality they have so much of; small town charm. "Sundown is a town where the kids can ride bikes on the street without fear of being run over," said Tisdale.
"We get calls, we get lots of calls," said Abernathy City Manager Mike Cypert. A community where they're playing the same song as Sundown. "Have you thought about Abernathy?" a commercial asks. "If you're looking to get outside of the city and move to the smaller communities that's the target market we're after," said Cypert.
And they are going after it aggressively. Park View is Abernathy's newest development. Slated to hold 59 brand new homes. The city is facilitating construction by fronting the cost of the road and utility lines. Substantial growth for a town of 3,000. Two months ago Park View was nothing more than a vacant lot. "Without continued growth you're kind of dead on the vine," said Cypert.
And as for the Hub City? Within that same period of time from 1990 to 2000, Lubbock county grew by 20,000 people. Even so, city leaders aren't taking any chances, unveiling an ad campaign of their own, "Lubbock, the Giant Side of Texas."
Meanwhile, the little guys are measuring success one new house at a time. Sharing notes on how to do it. "Lockney, they called and they want to know what are we doing. Denver city called, 'What are you doing there?'" said Tisdale.
What they are doing is rolling with the tumbleweeds all the way to the bank. Success so sweet, the Church of Christ is even offering a "Free Trip to Heaven - Details Inside."