Thursday, February 28, 2013

Drought has big implications for a Texas town

The New York Times reported today on the closure of a meat processing plant in Plainview, Texas, a consequence of two years of drought.  The story also focuses, in turn, on the consequences of the closure for the town and its families.  Plainview has just about 22,000 residents, and about 2,300 were employed by the Cargill plant, which had a $15.5 million annual payroll.  Many of those families are now leaving Plainview, some for jobs at another Cargill plant in Dodge City, Kansas.  

Manny Fernandez's story described the plant's workforce, noting that several generations of some families worked there, many of them Mexican-Americans who have "long called Texas home."  He writes:
They spent decades rising into the middle class on an average hourly pay of $14.27 and becoming highly skilled at the grisly process of turning slaughtered cattle into beef products, though many lacked high school diplomas. 
* * *  
Cargill executives said they were idling the plant and not permanently closing it, and it could reopen if the drought breaks and the cattle herd rebounds, a process that would take years.   
On the day the plant closed, federal officials released data indicating that the number of cattle in the state of Texas was at its lowest point since 1967.  The plant was built in 1971.

The plant closure is expected to have significant impacts on the city's 12 schools. Among the 5,700 students, about 1,000 had at least one parent at Cargill.  If half of those students leave the district, the financial blow will be about $2 million in state and local funding.

Fernandez closes his story with this vignette:
Every Saturday morning, a group of residents and laid-off workers gather outside the plant to walk four miles around the perimeter. They do it not as a protest, and not strictly for the exercise. They encircle the plant with prayers. 
“It’s going to have to be a miracle,” said Manuel Balderas, a police captain who organizes the walks. “That’s what we’re praying for.”
Plainview is between Lubbock and Amarillo in the Texas panhandle.  It is the county seat of nonmetropolitan Hale County, population 36,000


Patricija said...

I am always struck at the precarious nature of rural economies. Cities hum around a diverse array of industries - many of which rely on intellectual capital. On the contrary, rural communities tend to revolve around a single industry - one that is often reliant on mother nature. Natural conditions such as storms or droughts can have a devastating impact on any community. However, the short-term effect on rural communities is likely to be much greater, and the long-term effect is most certainly greater. Given the shortage in population, diversifying their economics seems a difficult if not impossible task for rural towns. But I wonder, what (if anything) can rural communities do to protect themselves?

Pearl Kan said...

Record droughts will be the new norm as the effects of climate change start settling in. It's so important to have local stories of what climate change actually looks like when it hits our everyday lives. I really strongly feel like the biggest changes that will impact policy change must be local ones, grounded in local stories, and local impacts. All these international meetings and summits and discussions really miss the point don't they? This image of laid off workers walking four miles around the perimeter of the plant speaks volumes -- moreso than any executive report, any press release can.