Where To Now?
Rural Texas is changing. The struggle is to retain the aspects of rural life that offer people the quality of life they prefer, while expanding the economic opportunities available. How to change without becoming urban.
Rural communities continue to search for alternatives to the traditional agriculture and oil and gas industries to spur their local economies. Having all their eggs in two unstable baskets has at times proved risky. These two industries remain important, but some balance must be added so rural communities can ride out these industries’ volatile cycles without irreparably damaging their local economies.
Rural Texas is poised at a new crossroads and faced with enormous technological opportunities to operate in arenas previously denied them due to their physical isolation. Businesses can operate worldwide over the Internet while residents can participate in activities that were just a few years ago only available in Texas’ urban areas.
In fact, e-commerce should prove to be the “next big development for agriculture,” according to the Kiplinger news service. Linking the various sectors of agriculture will allow business to be completed over the internet. Investment banks, the USDA, and cattle futures exchanges are already making plans to bring the business of agriculture online. The prospect of bringing together a fragmented market is appealing to these groups. It is estimated that agriculture has the potential to become the fourth-largest e-commerce industry. Among the opportunities for e-commerce in agriculture are filing USDA forms over the Internet, electronic titles and warehouse receipts, online trading, one-stop virtual shopping, and on-line commodity sales.
Some parts of rural Texas are already benefiting from the opportunities to be derived from Internet access. Others are pursuing innovative economic development projects, while some are reaping the advantages of technological improvements in both oil and natural gas exploration and agricultural productivity.
In short, the future of rural Texas is as diverse as its inhabitants. There is not just one rural Texas. Each rural community’s future depends on its economic base, its proximity to a major or mid-size metropolitan area, its geographical location in the state, its population, workforce, and educational institutions.
It is possible to make generalizations and draw some conclusions about rural Texas, but caution should be exercised. Rural Texas and its residents have been through hard times, but continue to survive, and in some areas, thrive and flourish. Although most rural Texas economies lag behind their urban counterparts, rural Texans have proven they can never be counted out. The challenge facing these communities and the state’s policy makers is to enable all rural Texans and their local governments to build on their own economic strengths to ensure their treasured way of life survives and their children have a place to call home.