Resilience & Recovery in Rural Texas Communities

March 15, 2021

Photo: Reinhart Julian

Exacerbating economic losses from the COVID-19 Pandemic, some economists estimate that Winter Storm Uri will cost the state of Texas $120 billion in lost productivity, business closures, and residential repairs. The sudden, unexpected, and preventable consequences of #Snovid echo IC2 Institute Executive Director Art Markman’s message to prioritize economic resiliency even at the cost of short-term individual profits and business efficiency.

How can we make rural Texas communities more resilient in the face of economic stress, disasters, and population decline? How do rural residents themselves think about their capacity for community economic recovery? Continuing the presentation of findings from the Bureau’s 2020 survey of Texas communities about their economic development priorities, we highlight, below, attitudes about community resilience, unmet needs, and ways to improve local economic conditions.

In Theme 1, we summarized survey findings about how the COVID pandemic was affecting survey participants’ health, their families, their jobs, and their communities (see here for more on survey methodology). In the current analysis, we continue to highlight the West Texas region in comparison with the rest of the state and examine what Texans think about their ability to improve their communities’ quality of life and economic conditions.

These charts highlight the commonalities and differences among Texans about how resilient they perceive their communities to be. The timeliness of these findings is hard to ignore: the state is recovering not only from a pandemic but also from a winter weather catastrophe that nearly crashed the Texas electrical grid. While individual Texans showed their resiliency and resourcefulness in these crises, these charts show that Texans have identified areas for improvement.

Chart 1 – Resilience

Chart 1 presents the results of a question that asked survey participants to rate their communities’ resilience on a scale of “low,” “medium,” and “high,” where someone answering “low” indicated that their community had a low ability to adapt to adverse events. Most participants indicated that their community was fairly resilient, but significantly more West Texas residents believed that their community had low ability to adapt to adverse events compared with residents in the rest of rural Texas or in urban areas of the state. Similarly, about a quarter of participants in urban and rural areas of the state outside of West Texas believed their communities had a high ability to adapt, but only about 18% of West Texas did so. Although we do not show it here, within West Texas itself, there was not much difference in responses between residents living in the main urban part of the region (Midland/Odessa) and the smaller communities of the Permian Basin.  These findings suggest that residents from West Texas more than other Texans recognize a need for greater preparation in their communities to respond to adverse events, like the oil bust that rocked the region in 2020.

Chart 2 – Unmet Needs

Chart 2 shows that West Texas residents perceive a greater level of unmet need in their community compared to residents in other rural and urban Texas communities. The survey asked participants to rate the degree to which their needs are being met in their community. On a scale of 1-7, where 1 and 2 were considered to be a low degree of needs being met, and 6-7 were considered to be a high degree of needs being met, survey participants in West Texas indicated a much higher level of unmet needs than those living in the rest of rural Texas or in the major metros. Given that “needs” are culturally relative, we did not provide a specific definition so that survey takers could interpret their “needs” broadly. In several focus groups conducted in the northern and southern edges of the Permian Basin before launching the survey, participants considered a variety of aspects of life in their communities when answering the question, such as quality of life, economic conditions and opportunities, availability of jobs, etc.

Chart 3 – Economic Sustainability

Chart 4 – Quality of Life

Charts 3 and 4 drill down on perceptions of community quality-of-life and economic sustainability. Survey participants were asked, on a scale of 1-7, the extent to which their community has room to improve its economic and quality-of-life sustainability, with 7 being “great extent,” and 1 being “no room at all” to improve. The higher the number, the more room a community has to improve its economy in Chart 3, and local quality of life, in Chart 4. Overall, very few respondents across the state, in any community type, thought their community had little need or capacity to improve. Both charts show that rural Texans, far more than urban residents, are less satisfied with their community’s economic sustainability and quality of life and see room for improvement. Art Markman points out that small communities represent an opportunity to fill gaps in the domestic supply chain. These findings suggest that rural residents recognize that there is need and room for improvement in their quality of life and economic resiliency.  

Chart 5 – Survival

Finally, Chart 5 presents the strongest evidence, among the questions we asked about resilience, that rural and West Texans feel that changes in their communities are necessary to survive the challenges they face. The chart illustrates findings from a general question about community survival. On a scale of 1-7, with 7 being a “great extent” for a need to improve to survive, and 1 being “no need at all” to improve to survive, survey participants from West Texas were more willing than residents in other parts of the state to indicate that general improvements are needed.

These findings have stressed the resilience that Texans possess in the face of common challenges. Keep in mind that this data was collected during the early months of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Were we to survey these communities after #Snovid, approximately 45,000 Texans dead from the coronavirus, and many coronavirus survivors with long-term health complications, Texans might identify an even greater need for economic resiliency than these charts indicate. Especially in West Texas, rural Texans are open to new ways of making their towns more resilient and sustainable.

In the coming weeks, we will release more detail from our survey about how rural residents prioritize the economic development choices and challenges they face, and how they would allocate resources toward those choices.

We encourage your feedback and would like to hear from you. Email BBR Director, Dr. Bruce Kellison, with questions about the survey, the findings, or the analysis presented here.

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