The Fall 2020 cohort of the Regional XLR8 program came together when the world around them was greatly disrupted. Faced with a global pandemic, among other challenges, Texas communities sought to adapt and explore ways to address major changes to everyday life. Community leaders who participated in Regional XLR8 found solace in the fact that they were not alone and joined forces to tackle issues facing their communities. Participants discussed their current situations and goals for their communities, identified what could be done to achieve their goals based on available resources, discussed growth strategies with peers, and developed community growth plans.
On March 23, participants from over 20 Texas communities of the Fall 2020 Regional XLR8 cohort came together for a reunion, where five selected leaders from the communities of Marshall, Odessa, Nocona, Rio Hondo, and Boerne shared stories of how the program impacted their communities. Outstanding progress was noted through all community stories, including:
- The resilience and creativity of West Texas communities illustrated by the outstanding work in Odessa to overcome the pandemic-induced economic and health crises;
- Community collaboration between Rio Hondo and Harlingen facilitates the sharing of business training, potential funders, and tourism resources while growing regional markets for businesses; and
- A systematic strategy to grow new industry clusters in Boerne – fitting new industry with the community’s character and assets, local roundtables to promote and support each cluster, and regional promotion campaigns to draw in new businesses.
In addition to these brief summaries, we wanted to highlight detailed aspects from two communities, Marshall and Nocona.
The main challenge facing Marshall has been workforce. This issue was experienced by the community as numerous residents experienced job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, new jobs opened through a new distribution site offering about 500 positions. Still, some businesses expressed workforce challenges, being unable to find fitted candidates to facilitate expansion. Marshall’s local government sought to spread awareness of job openings and available opportunities through marketing campaigns. Also, the city launched two initiatives to expand workforce: collaboration with the Entrepreneurship Center at The University of Texas at Tyler to assist new local business creation; and exploring innovative strategies linking K-12 and higher-ed institutions in the Marshall area to support small business growth. The city of Marshall anticipates an increase in the number of new company relocation events in 2021 and is working to evaluate and respond to leads appropriately.
Nocona also experienced job losses due to the pandemic, but approached this challenge using different strategies. Knowing that local cattle ranchers face up to a 2-year delay to be serviced by out-of-town meat processing sites, Nocona facilitated establishment of a new meat processing plant to support needs of ranchers. The new processing plant will create new jobs and encourage stable and local living for residents. The people of Nocona worked together to create more jobs and local revenue through place-based opportunities including: a drive-thru margarita service being introduced in June 2021; an event center and bed and breakfast placed in a renovated railroad station; and a new coffee shop under construction offering upscale brands and an extensive menu. In addition, the former Nocona boot factory building has been repurposed to house a destination brewery, cutting edge industrial manufacturing facility for Nokona leather products and a community service not-for profit. These initiatives, among many others, came with the intention to create more local jobs while enhancing the quality of life for residents. Through these efforts Nocona has sought to support jobs that can be classified as “essential” businesses to offer some protection against the difficulties of this pandemic, and provide “pandemic-proofing” against future events.
While the official Regional XLR8 program ended in 2020, participants expressed continued interest to keep meeting to encourage one another with positive stories and learn new strategies to address community challenges from peers. The Regional XLR8 reunion was a timely reminder of how communities can encourage, inspire, and empower a positive future in the face of adversity.