Xcel Energy announced on Wednesday thay crews working on the Hale Wind Project in the Texas Panhandle have erected 69 turbines. The Minneapolis based company says that about 400 workers are building the wind farm southeast of Plainview, in Hale County. Xcel officials say about 20 full-time jobs will be created when the wind farm is completed in June. But why aren’t those jobs coming here to the coast? The answer really isn’t simple.
South Texas and the Coastal Bend are prime areas for wind energy production—just like west Texas is. But the catch here seems to be oil money.
South Texas and the empty metropolis of Corpus Christi specifically have found themselves in a real struggle ever since major oil players packed up and moved to Houston some 30 years ago. The struggle to comeback has been both a dichotomy and real.
“Corpus Christi has a lot of potential,” says energy investor Kyle Marks of Austin. “But then again, it has a lot of pitfalls, too.”
Marks points out how the regional EDC has spent a lot of money trying to attract big oil back to town and how they have had some light success with it in the short term. However, Marks also points out how when it comes to thinking outside of the box, the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation finds themselves behind the eight ball.
“You can get a plastics manufacturer to bring in jobs and microplastic pollution and you can get pipeline and fracking technology to come to town. But beyond that, it’s that typical EDC tunnel vision that is killing the region,” Marks says.
Other investors feel the same way. Investors like Chris Simon of Dallas who invested in and owns a company that manufactures and distributes parts for assembly line automation.
Simon points out that when he was looking for a location to build his second distribution center in Texas, he considered Corpus Christi, but backed out when he realized the potential nightmare that could unfold.
“Corpus Christi has great accessibility to the Gulf of Mexico for shipping and it’s reasonably close to Mexico and southern trade routes. But really, it’s isolated,” Simons says.
Simon points out how Corpus Christi finds itself not being on a major rail route and finds itself with an “oil stigma” that the area just can’t seem to get rid of. He also points out the limited air service at Corpus Christi International Airport as being a big reason investors shy away from the region.
“Let’s say I need to go to Mexico City for a meeting,” Simon points out. “I can’t go directly there from Corpus Christi.”
He also points out the lack of innovation when it comes to spreading the area’s proverbial wings when it comes to giving people in Corpus Christi things to do.
“If you don’t fish or are not outdoorsy then there just isn’t much for you to do,” Simon argues. “Corpus just has very little to offer beyond that.”
Simon points out La Palmera mall and how though it is always full, a city the size of Corpus Christi needs a bigger, more attractive marketplace that fits the bill and La Palmera doesn’t seem to do that for most of them.
“When you talk about bringing in wind energy jobs and new technology innovators to an area, you have to know what kind of people they are and Bend a little,” says economist Paul Sayers. “It is a bit of a gamble, but smaller cities like Plainview are doing it and they are winning.”
Sayers says it’s a failure to buy into risk, accept change and take on a challenge to adapt to new ideas.
“Look at Round Rock before Dell Computers and other locations around Texas that are benefiting from the growth that the state is seeing and you really get a feel for where places like Corpus Christi are failing,” Sayers points out. “You have people who come from the oil and gas industry and they work harder at convincing others that their old way is right and your new way is wrong. They don’t embrace change.”
Sayers points at all of the empty and dead office space in the downtown area as an indicator of just how bad it really is.
You have great old buildings downtown and the owners are scared shitless that they are going to get taken advantage of and they require security deposits and paid parking and so on. What they need to focus on is filling those damn offices and showing some life, not collecting deposits and charging for parking so you can have a bigger bank roll to show your accountant and investors,” Sayers said.
Sayers along with other economists point out that when young investors drive down Shoreline Drive on a Tuesday afternoon, they see dead and empty and that turns them away from even considering Corpus Christi as a place to do business or relocate too.
The talent pool is certainly in Corpus Christi. It’s home to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Del Mar College. The University provides innovation resources and research opportunities while the College offers affordable tuition and base level college training. But the sad fact is that once the younger generation graduates, they leave for places like Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas—they do not stay in Corpus Christi.
“The reason they leave is economics,” says Sayers. “They go to the places that have great jobs in their field and that’s not Corpus Christi.”
The Texas economy is in fact is booming and growing by leaps and bounds—but contrary to popular opinion and convinced ideas, Corpus Christi is being left behind because they are simply trying to reinvent the wheel and bring back the glory days of what used to be as opposed to the train that’s moving forward. There is an old saying in Texas “they gotta go before you grow.” And if that proves true, places like Plainiew and Round Rock will continue to prosper while places like Corpus Christi just play the rat in the cage.