ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: INVEST IN SUCCESS

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By James M. Decker 

It’s time for the 89th annual Texas Cowboy Reunion in Stamford, Texas. In the past, I’ve written about the history and heritage of this event and why the TCR thriving and growing even today. But today, I’m thinking about the TCR, and events like it, in the context of a bigger picture.

As I’ve said before, I haven’t figured out the silver bullet or the magic potion for revitalizing a small town. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. Successful small towns have all done it in different ways, using the tools and resources at their disposal, in a way that fits their specific circumstances and demographics. But ultimately, the goal is all the same: more people visiting the town, moving to town, or both. We want a better economy that provides more jobs. We want more businesses in town to serve our needs. We want a local government provides better services, more efficiently, at a minimum cost. These goals require more spending and new investment in town. On that, we can all agree.

I’m reminded every year during the TCR that not everyone cares about a rodeo. That’s a fairly shocking theory to 10-year-old James, who could not have imagined such a mindset. But it’s true. All of our towns have key events that are very important to the community, but the specific topic may not appeal to all of us. Many West Texas communities have a thriving hunting economy and yet, not everyone in the town is an avid hunter. Some community leaders couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a shotgun. High school football can be a prominent part of a community’s ecosystem and be a positive economic driver. Not everyone in town loves football.

That’s not to say that any of these opinions are right or wrong. We all have our own tastes and preferences. But as I’ve grown over the years, I’ve learned the importance of support for events. It’s not about supporting the underlying event as much as it’s about supporting the community that benefits from that event. A man may not care about a rodeo, but the Texas Cowboy Reunion will drive thousands of visitors into town over a four day period and boost the economy like no other four-day period in the year. You don’t even have to know the difference between a shotgun and a rifle to recognize that your hunting economy should be supported.

I recently heard a story from my friend Jim Astin about the late Gene Swenson, who was president of the Swenson Ranch and president of the Texas Cowboy Reunion. One late evening at the TCR, Jim saw Gene walk up to the ticket window, purchase a ticket to the dance, and walk off in the opposite direction of the dance pavilion. Jim knew that Gene Swenson didn’t dance. Then it hit him. Gene was making a statement and a show of support. Even if Gene couldn’t care less about late-night dancing himself, the dance was an important part of the TCR. Gene was going to invest in its success by purchasing his ticket.

People notice when we invest in events and when we show up to them, whether or not they’re our particular cup of tea. We all have a lot of demands on our time and our money, so it’s easy to pass on attending an event when we’re tired. It's easy to pass on buying a ticket when we’ve got other things to purchase. But sometimes, it’s important to remember the big picture. People notice when we support events and it encourages them to do the same. Community leaders backing an event, especially a new one that's just starting out, give it more validity. Remember that our community is better because of that event. Remember that it’s bringing new people and new money to town. Even if we’re not the target audience for that event, we’re the target audience for the economic boost that the event brings to our town. May we all take a page from Gene Swenson, and make a point to invest in the bigger picture, our community’s success.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.

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