COMMENTARY | I grew up in Midland, Texas. It’s a small city that’s regularly in the news for its prominent role in the nation’s energy boom. As west Texas and North Dakota revel in high oil prices and troubles in the Middle East make America’s energy security a perennial political issue, Midland has a voice far greater than its population would suggest. Despite the current boom, Midland has learned from the school of hard knocks: In October 1983 the bottom fell out of the original west Texas oil boom, sending real estate values plummeting and Rolls Royce dealerships packing. According to ABC, however, Midland has learned from its mistakes and its current leaders are aware that today’s oil boom won’t last forever.
As a resident of Midland who came back home amid the boom, I believe this city can serve as a positive example to other municipalities who experience significant rapid growth. In fact, Midland’s painful lessons from the 1970s oil boom and 1980s oil bust should be studied by all levels of government, including federal. When you’ve fallen from the top, how do you rebuild when prosperity finds you once more?
With the U.S. economy still struggling in the wake of the Great Recession, lessons gleaned from Midland’s fall and rise could be used as an important case study. As a citizen of Midland, I am please that the current boom is more driven by local producers, and resulting in local reinvestment, than the boom of the late ’70s. America, if and when it regains its economic footing, must focus on local reinvestment through providing real Americans with real jobs.
Like Midland, America must focus on investing its future riches on infrastructure and public education. It must avoid the lure of pork-barrel spending akin to Midland’s disco-era obsession with Rolls-Royces and luxurious flights to Vegas. It must become more self-reliant and encourage local innovation rather than continue its dependence on outside majors. Midland was hurt when major oil producers, such as Exxon, pulled out in the ’80s and early ’90s.
If America does not get its political act together and sees decreased investment or trade with major foreign producers like China, do we have enough local grit to thrive? Are we too dependent on foreign investors? Midland found out the hard way that outsiders can leave quickly when the going gets tough. With a deal just passed to end the government shutdown, as reported by CNN, perhaps America’s elected leaders should spend some time in the Tall City and learn from its failures and triumphs.