Best Rural County in Texas

Matagorda County, TX
Written by Nate Hendley

The Matagorda County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC) is working hard to attract new industries and commercial businesses to county. The group also is working to expand the agriculture sector as well as established local businesses and tourist infrastructure.
Matagorda County wants to be the “best rural community in Texas,” in the words of Heather Menzies, director of communication for the Matagorda County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC). While other communities in Texas might claim they deserve this title, there’s no denying that Matagorda County enjoys some distinct advantages. Located on the sunny Texas Gulf Coast midway between Galveston and Corpus Christi, Matagorda boasts a laid-back ambiance, lush agriculture, a rich historical heritage, ample land to expand and an eager group of civic boosters.

“There’s lots of opportunity here … we have all the resources here to be successful: rail, water, ports. We’re near highways and there’s plenty of land,” says Eva Peterson, executive director of the MCEDC.

As of 2015, a total of 36,975 people, with a median age of 37.24, call Matagorda County home. The county is spread out over 1,114 square miles of coastal prairie and features more than sixty-five miles of coastline. Bay City serves as county seat and headquarters for the MCEDC. The only other incorporated city is Palacios. The county has a nuclear power plant, two shallow draft ports and is served by two state highways and two rail lines. There is one Regional Airport in Bay City and a municipal airport in Palacios.

Matagorda County might be rural, but it is far from isolated. The community is within an hour’s drive of the Houston Metro Area – the nation’s fourth largest city.

“We are a coastal town, and there are other coastal counties in Texas, but I would say we are strategically located, in that we have such great infrastructure with two ports, state highways, two rail lines, a regional airport and a much-coveted EPA Air Quality Attainment designation – all of this while sitting on the very edge of the Houston Metroplex,” says Menzies.

Bordering the Gulf of Mexico is another strategic plus for Matagorda County. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (ICWW) runs behind Matagorda County’s barrier islands for about sixty-five miles. The ICWW is frequented by commercial barges traveling all along the Texas coast and the Gulf of Mexico and into the Mississippi waterways.

The Port of Bay City has many assets including five thousand square feet of warehousing and a turning basin. It is also a mere ten miles from the ICWW at Matagorda. The Matagorda Harbor on the ICWW at Texas mile 440 is also owned and operated by the Port Authority. The harbor itself has slips for roughly 222 pleasure boats and is close to remarkable fishing locations, both in the bay and offshore. More than three hundred commercial shrimp boats make their home at the Port of Palacios dock facilities

At present, the educational services, healthcare and social services sector is the biggest employer in the county. About a fifth of Matagorda’s labor force have jobs in this field. Manufacturing also has a significant presence in the community.

Farming and ranching are two other major economic drivers. Farms in the county produce sorghum, corn, cotton and rice, with the latter being particularly popular.

The Bay City Lions Club hosts an annual Rice Festival in this county known for its rice farming. The two-week event features awards, a rice recipe contest, parades and a carnival in celebration of the $80-million industry.

Matagorda County also hosts a Livestock Show and Rodeo every March. This two-week event features a rodeo, youth livestock shows, cooking and arts and crafts competition and midway rides.

Farmers in Matagorda County hope to plant more crops that would be suitable for renewable fuel production such as corn (used to make gasoline substitute ethanol).

The MCEDC is looking to expand existing chemical, power production and agricultural businesses in the area and attract new, more diverse industries. TenarisBayCity, a $1.5 billion seamless steel pipe manufacturer, is the newest company to move to the area. The company, which will begin manufacturing in 2017, will employ some six hundred people.

The county’s nuclear plant is also slated to expand in the near future. There are gas and oil storage, production and manufacturing facilities in Matagorda, chemical firms and a network of pipelines. Large tracts of open land are available that would be suitable for solar and wind farms and biomass production.

Birding is massively popular in Matagorda County, and visitors come from around the globe to see birds in this coastal prairie habitat. The National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count sees more species of birds documented in Matagorda County than anywhere else in North America.

Birds aren’t the only tourist attraction in Matagorda. The county is steeped in history and was, in fact, the primary entry port for an early band of settlers led by Stephen F. Austin (aka “The Father of Texas”).

“Stephen F. Austin – father of Texas – he landed here in Matagorda County and had a settlement here for a while. We have quite a few national historic treasure sites in the county that people from miles around come to see. We have the oldest Episcopal Church in Texas. You can find Revolutionary War heroes buried in the Matagorda Cemetery. It’s pretty incredible,” says Menzies.

Matagorda County also features eleven landmarks that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Among other interesting bits of history, Matagorda County Museum contains artifacts from ‘La Belle’, a ship belonging to famous explorer René-Robert Cavelier, that sank in Matagorda Bay in 1686.

Matagorda County has two shallow bays and is renowned for bay and off-shore fishing. To this end, over sixty fishing tournaments take place in the county each year. The Colorado and Tres Palacios rivers and Caney Creek offer freshwater fishing. Shrimp and oyster boats work the waters off the county as well.

The Matagorda County Convention and Visitors Bureau works hard to promote these tourist attractions. In partnership with the MCEDC, the Convention and Visitors Bureau does “television, radio, and magazine ads all over the state and nation,” says Menzies.

Matagorda County boosters want to see their community increase in population, but not by too much. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, within the next five years, I would like to see us increase one to three percent annually. That might not be a lot to other cities [but], we really like the way Matagorda County is … so one to three percent would be really positive and help the tax base,” says Peterson.

In addition to an expanding economy and enviable lifestyle, there’s another good reason people might consider moving to Matagorda County: the cost of living is low. The median housing price is only $100,000. On top of that, winters are generally mild.

Peterson says that residents, “can go just about anywhere within forty-five minutes to an hour and be in an [urban] environment with major retail stores and malls … we’re small enough that you can drive to work in the morning and it takes you three to five minutes. I passed my hairdresser this morning [while driving to work] … the southern hospitality here, you can’t beat it. You don’t have to worry about traffic. I can take my dog down to the beach, but if I want to go to Houston, go to a major ballgame, I can drive an hour, an hour and a half, and be at the Hard Rock Café.”

“The thing about Matagorda County, we get to live in a tourist attraction every day without feeling [engulfed] in a tourist trap … it’s a charming community. It’s easy-going and a nice pace here … we don’t want to be something that we’re not. So we’re not trying to grow into the Houston area. We’re trying to be a very successful rural community that offers all of the amenities needed for a great quality of life,” adds Menzies.



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