Dalhart fights rural out-migration

Posted by John Kanelis on

A former state representative, David Swinford, once half-jokingly suggested that the Texas Panhandle break off from the rest of the state because the power brokers in Austin often acted as though the Panhandle wasn't actually part of Texas.

We were too remote, too removed from the state capital, Swinford once observed. So why not break away and form our own state?

Swinford no longer serves in the Texas Legislature. And the Texas Panhandle is still part of the Lone Star State.

A lot of communities are suffering serious shrinkage and a "brain drain" as people look for more opportunities in larger communities. They've moved "to town," meaning Amarillo. Or they've moved even further away.

Panhandle PBS's public affairs series "Live Here" takes a look at how Dalhart is coping with that out-migration pressure in its next segment, which airs Thursday at 7 p.m.


"Small Town Survival" tells a story of how Dalhart seeks to remain viable. Its story is no different than stories that other communities are telling about themselves and their own struggles for survival.

David Hames talks about Dalhart's farming and ranching legacy and how people's desire to eat and to keep eating is the community's ace in maintaining is relevance to the rest of the state and the nation. "If people are eating or are wanting to eat," he said, "we're going to make it."

Dalhart straddles the border separating Dallam and Hartley counties. It seeks to attract businesses that need local people to provide services to the community. The Hilmar Cheese Co. opened a huge plant some years ago, with help from the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, which offered a $5 million grant to the community. Hilmar relies on the local labor market to produce cheese. The cheese plant has spurred more dairy activity in the northern Panhandle region as well.

Has that stopped the out-migration? No. But the community is seeking to maintain an optimistic outlook as it moves toward the future.

One possible strategy would be to pay teachers more to teach Dalhart students, according to Dalhart Independent School District Superintendent John Massey, who told "Live Here" the district is considering ways to restructure teachers' salaries to make the district more competitive with larger school districts downstate -- or in other states.

Some folks joke that Dalhart and other towns throughout the northern Panhandle are closer to state capitals in five other states than they are to their own state capital in Austin. Former state Rep. Swinford, who is from Dumas, was trying to make that point when he suggested possibly forming a new state way up yonder.

"Live Here" continues that discussion this week.

What are your thoughts about the future of rural Panhandle communities? What does your community need to do to stay vibrant? If you were running the show in your town, how would you make it a place to stay instead of somewhere to flee?


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