To anyone with more than two years of experiencing life in Seminole, it has become clear that something is going on in the old town. One could only spend a few minutes standing at the corner of Main Street and Hwy. 180 to know that traffic patterns have changed.
In fact, one county official who is better apprised of such things than most, put the number at more than 22,000 vehicles that recently entered that intersection during one peak day. At that rate, if every man, woman, and child in the city drove a vehicle and was in the mood to cruise on a given day, they would have had to cross that intersection nearly four times over a 24-hour period. In the real world, Seminole is clearly getting a lot of visitors.
The same observation applies to the by-pass that city planners designated for traffic moving primarily from the direction of Andrews to Hobbs, or vice-versa. The change is welcomed by truckers who find the right turn from Hwy. 180 West onto Main Street, heading south, to be a hard right turn that would test the abilities of any good tight end. As a result, once sleepy 11th street has become a major thoroughfare for those negotiating the big rigs through town. Once a safe crossing zone for tumbleweeds, small animals and large insects (and only the most directionally challenged of humans), the nearby Frankel City Highway rumbles with the sound of new traffic.
While those traffic patterns may be one small indicator of local economic growth, however, actually quantifying that growth is a bit more problematic. With no insterstate highway within 60 miles of Seminole, it is safe to say that the town, an intersection of two fairly major north-south and east-west state routes is, for many, simply a reason to slow down on one's way to somewhere else. The short explanation, simply put, is primarily the recent oil boom, and that "somewhere else" could be any one of a number of growing communities scattered around oil-rich West Texas and eastern New Mexico.
But how much of that boom - which actually has made a slightly bearish dip in recent weeks - translates into actual growth to the city, is akin to planning the preparation of a five-course gourmet meal for a party of 5,000. It's an incremental effort that requires a variety of resources. As County Auditor Rick Dollahan recently said about making such a determination, "there is no single button you can push..."
The reality is, Seminole's growth itself might be considered moderate, but Gaines County is booming. It is, in fact, according to City Administrator Tommy Phillips, the 39th fastest growing county in the United States. That impressive number will likely come as a surprise to some, but not to Phillips. "I think that number should probably be lower," Phillips said. "I think there may be population growth that the census didn't pick up."
For long-tme residents, a recollection of the green roadside signs that greet visitors at the city limits reveal little change in population over the last five decades of so. With little interest in expanding the city limits out into the county - a natural progression in larger metropolitan areas where the city attempts to manage "urban sprawl" and reels in the suburbs to expand its fleeing tax base among its more affluent citizens, Seminole is, geographically, what it is. In fact, conventional wisdom dictates that those numbers would have likely dropped to the levels of Denver City or Seagraves had it not been for the expansion of the Mennonite community that began in the late 1970's.
In Seminole, the most attractive residential real estate has largely been developed, new home construction is seen as somewhat of an abberration. Even during boom times, those attempting to sell larger existing homes in some neighborhoods within the city limits are finding a leaner market than they expected. The good news, however, is that, as the County goes, so goes the city, and its coffers. During the last two County Commisioner's Courts, the North Place subdivsion in Precinct 2, north of town, and two new subdivisions located off the Frankel City Highway in Precinct 3, promise to add more than 100 new lots available for new home construction in just those areas, with more likely to come.
The availability of commercial land for business development, necessary to service a growing population within the county, still provides plenty of room to grow inside the city limits. Realizing the potential of the Seminole and Gaines County marketplace, the Tractor Supply Company had little trouble finding an attractive piece of land for its new retail outlet on the East side of town, and site preparation is well under way.
Unlike those more compartmentalized metropolitan areas, where a resident of Kennesaw, Georgia, for example, could spend a lifetime without ever needing to visit downtown Atlanta to its north, a growing population 10 or 15 miles outside of Seminole will do business in Seminole and spend most of its social life there. And they will call her "home."
With no "single button to push", and In the absence of an expensive government or industry-funded study, the answer to how one becomes the nation's 39th fastest growing county lies only in speculation based on increased activity within a variety of service related governmental and business entities. In the next edition, we will explore the indicators, if any, and find out if they offer a hint of the area's growth over the last couple of years.