Hopkins County, which includes the town of Sulphur Springs, is a rural community located along the second busiest freight highway in the state of Texas, about halfway between Dallas and Arkansas. A positive business climate and strong economy—even throughout the recession—has made the community a prime example of the “Texas Miracle.”
The dairy industry has always been foundational to the local economy. “We are the Dairy Capital of Texas,” says Roger Feagley, Executive Director of the Sulphur Springs/Hopkins County EDC. The abundance of milk naturally led to a booming milk processing industry, which paved the way for a successful food processing industry throughout Hopkins County.
Another key factor behind the industry’s success is the community’s plentiful water supply. “This region of the state is very blessed with water. One of the reasons the food industry works so well for us is we have that water supply. We have never rationed or even discussed rationing of water. You go into the [Dallas-Fort Worth] Metroplex areas, and they have been under water restrictions for quite some time. We were in a drought for five years, but here in Sulphur Springs we had plenty of water. And that is going to become more and more important.”
Major food processers in the area include BEF Foods, the company behind brands such as Bob Evans, Owens, Country Creek, and Kettle Creations; the Canadian dairy company Saputo; cranberry juice giant Ocean Spray; Pilgrim’s Pride, the largest chicken producer in the United States; Newly Weds Foods; and Campbell Soup. In addition to dairy farming, the presence of these food manufacturers has facilitated the growth of local beef cattle operations and chicken farms throughout the region.
A wide range of manufacturers beyond the food processing sector have also been attracted to the area’s abundant water supply, skilled workforce, and strategic location. The county enjoys access to multiple rail served sites as well as to I-30, which connects to I-40, creating a straight shot into the major population centers of the mid-Atlantic and northeast.
Local manufacturers include Sulta, a custom steel fabricator; Custom Shutters Inc.; plastic fabrication company Cell-O-Core; high altitude balloon manufacturer Raven Aerostar; plastic bag manufacturer Aluf Plastics; metal fabricator XSF; Flowserve, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of pumps, valves, and seals; building product manufacturer Jeld-Wen; and custom fabricator Summit Energy Company.
All of the community’s industries have benefited from the “Texas Miracle”—a reference to the state’s economic resiliency through the recession—but that is only the beginning. Mr. Feagley points out that the County has enjoyed its own economic success. “Texas likes to tout the Texas miracle because [during the] recession Texas was routinely one point lower than the rest of the nation when it came to unemployment rates. What we like to talk about is the Hopkins County miracle. During that time the county’s unemployment was at least a point lower. Our unemployment never got out of the sixes.”
Part of that resiliency is due to the fact that Hopkins County industries supply basic necessities. “We might stop buying computers when a recession hits, but we are still drinking milk, we are still eating eggs, we are still drinking juice.” From restaurant workers to cashiers, most people kept their jobs. “We didn’t see that downward spiral. The folks at Wal-Mart were still at Wal-Mart because our primary employment stayed intact. It is a very stable community. For the last eleven years in our region, we have always had the lowest unemployment.”
Mr. Feagley is quick to add that the county has plenty of available workers for incoming industries, despite the low unemployment rate. “Some people [think that a] new industry might have a hard time finding employees.” The fact that surrounding counties have higher unemployment rates and that people are willing to commute means that Hopkins County has plenty of workers. “People come to work in Sulphur Springs. We are in a rural area, so our labor pool is much larger than our county.”
The community’s educational initiatives also help ensure a strong labor pool. The local technical school boasts top-notch technology to prepare students for a career in advanced manufacturing. “One of the things that we are proud of is the education that we have here. Our junior college has a campus here that just recently added a 3D printing machine so a student can learn the software for making a 3D model of whatever project they are working on and then go out there and actually make it. We believe that 3D modeling is the future of manufacturing.”
Low taxes add to the positive business climate. “We don’t have a state income tax; our state runs on sales tax. While it is high—8.25 percent—it is not even close to the highest one in the nation. We also think about hidden taxes such as fees, and we limit those. As a result, we are very fiscally conservative in the way we run our government.” This means that the state is not bogged down with the burdensome, unnecessary regulation that can stymie business growth. “By our nature, we are very independent in Texas. So we don’t like rules. And because we don’t like rules, we don’t write a whole bunch of them. As long as you aren’t affecting your neighbor in some negative way, your home or business is yours. I don’t have a right to tell you how to manage it.”
The Sulphur Springs/Hopkins County EDC is ready to help any company looking to take advantage of the region’s positive business climate. “One of the things that sets us apart from most EDCs is that we try to be as close as we can to a one stop shop. So when you come into our offices we help you with locating property, whether it is property we own or someone else’s. We also help you design your new facility and we will actually construct that new facility for you. And, we have no profit motive in what we do, so when we build your building there are no increases in the cost. We build it below market rate. And [after we build it for you] we will either sell you the building, finance it for you, or lease it to you.”
Local leaders are focused on maintaining a high quality of life as well as a positive business climate. “The community is investing in itself,” Mr. Feagley remarks. “So many towns don’t do that. The city and the county have worked together and completely redone all of the public infrastructure in the downtown area.” As a result, business owners are investing in the downtown’s older buildings, remodeling dated retail space and bringing in trendy boutiques and cafés.
The revitalized downtown has become a center for community entertainment. “They do a really good job of having events on the square almost every weekend. There is always something going on there.” Recent events include a crayfish boil (with three tons of crayfish served), the Red White and Brew Festival, as well as regular farmer’s markets, music festivals, and outdoor movies. “There are constantly different events there, and as a result tourists come in. But it also provides a quality of life [for residents] because there are more dining options, more retail opportunities.”
The community is also home to a range of outdoor activities, from softball tournaments to trails and parks. “Sulphur Springs has been known for years for the parks we have. We have over 200 acres of parkland.” Hopkins County is close enough to nearby cities that residents also have easy access to urban amenities. “One of the things we like to say here is that we really have the best of both worlds because we are about an hour drive from Dallas. You can watch the Cowboys play football, you can go to the opera, you can go to the museums – you can do all the things that a big city offers and then you can turn around and be home in an hour.”
The community also boasts a close-knit, rural friendliness, in which neighbors go out of their way to help one another. “The quality of life in a small town, where you know your neighbor and your neighbor knows you, is so much different from the big city where nobody knows anybody,” Mr. Feagley points out. “It is more like a big family.”
This family is eager to welcome newcomers and the EDC is ready to assist businesses looking to take advantage of the community’s positive business climate. From a healthy food processing and manufacturing sector to a high quality of life, the “Texas miracle” is alive and well in Hopkins County.