As a whole, leaders said initial objectives have been reached. Wages have increased, and employment levels are up. Plus, Midland now is considered by industries that before knew nothing of the Tall City other than it was once the home of former President George W. Bush.
"Has it been a failure?" asked Robert Rendall, current board chairman. "Right now, we've got the strongest economy probably in the country. I don't think anybody would say that's because of the MDC, but we've been driven to help facilitate that growth, and we've been able to feel advantages of that in our community. I don't think we've been a failure."
Economic development history
In the 1960s, the then-First National Bank hired its own economic development staff with the idea that two-thirds of any new workers likely would make deposits at that bank, said Doug Henson, former board chairman, who was hired out of college to work in the bank's economic development department.
Then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the group Forward Midland formed. Members believed the city might be better sustained through the boom-and-bust cycle if enough money could be raised to attract certain businesses, Henson said.
"Businesses don't grow without management and people," he said. "Communities don't grow without leaders helping."
The creation of an official economic development corporation was sought for several years. The tax was voted down by residents twice in the 1990s. It was approved in 2001 by just more than 58 percent of voters.
Jerry Morales, now an at-large councilman and former MDC board member, was among those who campaigned for the measure in 2001. At the time, the economy was in just the right place to bring forth such an initiative, he said.
"Everybody knew oil and gas was the base for this economy, but there was opportunity for medical, aviation, warehousing at that time," Morales said. "We felt like we really could go into some areas that weren't happening in other parts of West Texas."
He and others campaigned for the tax on that theme of diversification. Morales said they found others agreed industries were needed that could add stability to the ebb and flow of the oil and gas industry.
Abilene, Amarillo and Odessa already had passed economic development taxes by the time voters took a third look at the idea in Midland. Amarillo had landed a deal with Bell Helicopter that brought more than $25 million in investment and now employs more than 1,000 people.
Grant Billingsley, the MDC's first board president, said it was time for Midland to get in the game. Economic development in Texas increasingly was being done through organizations on the local level. Unless Midland agreed to compete in that arena, it would be left on the sideline.
"Seeing those successes in our geographic neighborhood, I felt like we needed to be able to compete with them," Billingsley said. "I always felt we would be able to compete once we chose to compete."
When it started, the MDC didn't have a staff. It was operated solely by the board while it worked to establish guidelines and set a course of action for the corporation.
During that time, Billingsley said the board worked to follow leads and prospecting was done from the office because there wasn't a budget to attend conventions or do much marketing.
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