According to local lore, Orange County, Texas acquired its name from native orange groves that attracted the attention of boatmen as they navigated the Sabine River, which marks the eastern boundary of the county. Today, Orange County is a bustling place of roughly 83,000 people located in southeastern Texas, right against the border with Louisiana. The county is renowned for chemical manufacturing, ship-building, fishing tournaments, ecotourism and an enviably low cost of living.
Jessica Hill, executive director of the Orange County Economic Development Corporation, wants people to know, “that we are ready to move forward. That we’re open for business … we have over 6,000 acres of land that’s developable. We have transportation infrastructure. We’re strategically located on the Gulf Coast. We have cultural opportunities and family-oriented opportunities that families can take advantage of throughout the year.”
Hill says Orange County wants to attract new industry, retail and residents alike. In addition to its strategic locale and well-developed transportation routes, it offers companies an established manufacturing base on which to build and a pro-business attitude. The county hopes to attract chemical processing, warehousing and maritime industrial companies. Orange has ample charms for potential residents as well, including nearly year-round warm weather, a family-friendly environment, jobs and bargain housing prices.
Situated close to the Gulf of Mexico, Orange County is spread out over 362 square miles. The county seat, with roughly 19,000 people, is also called Orange. The Sabine and Neches rivers in the county drain into Sabine Lake, which in turn feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Some residents choose to live in the county while commuting to jobs in larger metropolitan centers such as Houston.
Orange County is well served by transportation routes. Interstate 10 goes “right through the middle of the county and the city of Orange,” says Hill, adding that other state highways crisscross the county as well.
In terms of additional forms of transportation, “there is a county airport that primarily serves small aircraft, located near Chemical Row, home to our large manufacturing facilities. Jack Brooks Regional Airport is approximately twenty miles from Orange. The regional airport flies directly to Dallas on American Airlines. We have a robust shallow water port … we’re only twenty minutes to two deep water facilities.”
In addition to offering excellent “access to infrastructure and access to markets” Orange boasts “a skilled workforce that’s capable of working in just about any type of manufacturing industry,” she adds.
For much of the year, the weather in Orange tends to be hot and humid, with the highest yearly rainfall in the state giving it a climate of subtropical humidity.
While the average growing season lasts 240 days in Orange, “for the most part, the agriculture business is not as prominent as it used to be … we have a deep history in manufacturing … we’re located close to oil refineries in Lake Charles, LA and Jefferson County, TX, so companies in Orange provide a good amount services to them,” states Hill. Orange also has its own natural resources in the form of salt domes, sand and gravel.
Orange County has a rich heritage – a bonus for history buffs. Spanish explorers were investigating the region in the early sixteenth Century. A French colony was established in what is now Orange County in 1713. France then ceded the area to Spain, and it became part of Mexico for a while. American settlers started arriving in the 1820s.
“Because of its proximity to the Gulf and serving as a gateway to Texas and the west, the city [of Orange] quickly developed as both a maritime and cultural center,” notes the Texas State Historical Association.
A Civil War naval clash called the Battle of Sabine Pass occurred in 1863. This clash on the water stopped the Union army from advancing into Texas. Only five months after the end of the war, a hurricane destroyed the town.
The region was rebuilt after the hurricane and the lumber industry and ship building became well-established. In 1881, the Southern Pacific railroad was extended to Orange County, and it became an important rail centre on the new direct route from New Orleans to San Francisco.
Manufacturing flourished in Orange County. The county’s economy was hard-hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s, however. Orange rebounded during the Second World War to become a huge ship building center. The population doubled to 40,567 by 1950. Companies such as DuPont, Firestone and Goodrich-Gulf began setting up shop in the county.
The population of Orange County continued to leap for a time. By 1960, some 60,357 people were counted in the county, a figure that grew to 71,170 a decade later. By 1980, the population had reached 83,838. It has stayed in that range ever since.
Orange is ready to expand again, says Hill. “We want consistent growth, year over year.”
Orange County has preserved elements of its history for the benefit of modern-day tourists. The W. H. Stark House, for example, is a fully-restored 1894 Victorian home built by William Henry Stark and his wife, Miriam M. Lutcher Stark, a prominent couple in the area. The three-story Stark House spans 14,000 square feet and contains some of the family’s original furniture and possessions.
Tourists also visit for bird-watching. Orange County is home to a wide variety of avian species. Fish-eating and migratory birds common to the area include white pelicans, herons, egrets and wood storks. Shore birds include gulls and terns, snipe, sandpipers and woodcocks while inland birds include pheasants, quail, turkeys, ducks, geese and jacksnipes.
While Orange County is situated near the Gulf of Mexico, Hill says “salt water does not touch our borders … we have recently become a hotbed for fishing tournaments. We have hosted two Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments with over 30,000 people in attendance and one hundred fishermen.”
Boating is also a common recreational activity in the county along with festivals. “There’s a crawfish festival that takes place every year, which celebrates crawfish season. We have a BBQ festival that brings in musical acts and entertainment. We have art and culture – the Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center has shows throughout the year. There is currently a ‘Big Bug’ exhibit on display – gigantic bugs made out of all-natural materials,” says Hill.
Popular festivals include Art in the Park, a one-day festival to showcase local and regional artists. Visitors can admire various artworks while listening to blues and jazz music. The barbeque that Hill mentions is held annually and also features live music along with food and a carnival-like atmosphere.
The Frances Ann Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts is another Orange County attraction. Since its opening in 1980, the theater has been one of the largest of its kind in the region. The theater has hosted memorable performances of famous plays such as To Kill a Mockingbird and musicals such as Mamma Mia! The Lutcher Theater “brings in Broadway shows every year. Fantastic lineup. It is one of the best small town theatres you’ll find in the country,” says Hill.
Other enticements for potential new residents include low housing costs: the median price of a house in Orange County is roughly $114,000 at present.
As a further bonus to job seekers thinking of raising families in Orange, Hill notes that the county school districts are good and cost of living is low. In terms of post-secondary schools, Orange houses several facilities devoted to higher education.
“We have a two-year institution in Orange County—Lamar State College-Orange. There is Lamar University in [nearby] Beaumont, which is a four-year institution. We also have Lamar Institute of Technology in Beaumont. The opportunity to create training programs for businesses that stay here is exceptional,” says Hill.
“I’d like to see exponential growth like our neighbors to the east and west have experienced,” says Hill of where she’d like to see Orange County in five years’ time. “Moving more product out of here while bringing more residents in. I think we can make ourselves known as not only a job-creating community but also a place you can vacation and raise your family, a place where you want to move because there are cultural and artistic opportunities. There’s entertainment and recreation. We’re a community that you want to be a part of.”