Lubbock’s development has been a balancing act of the best kind: Thanks to its geography, business diversity and leadership, the city has come to occupy a sweet spot in the economic life of the state and the nation. The region of about 640,000 people, in fact, is known as the “Hub City” of West Texas, with a varied and welcoming economy—and with a foot in the state’s hallmark oil and gas business but without dependence on it.
“We have a steady economy, given that we have education, agriculture and healthcare as our primary industries, which are all very reliable,” says John Osborne, CEO of the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance (LEDA). “And companies that we do have in oil also tend to be in multiple industries but want to have access to the oil fields south of us.”
Lubbock’s economic diversity means that it provides a great platform for growth for all types and sizes of companies. Its outsized educational pipeline, which graduates about 13,000 new workforce candidates each year from local colleges and universities, aligns with the increasing talent needs of business. And Lubbock’s reasonable cost of living, manageable size, strategic location and West Texas friendliness complete what can be an irresistible formula for CEOs making site decisions.
“Some people say it’s the flattest place you’ll ever see—but the people are absolutely wonderful,” says Lloyd Whetzel, president and CEO of XFab Texas, a unit of a German company that employs about 420 people in Lubbock making semiconductor chips and most recently received a $1 million investment by the City of Lubbock in a clean room that launched XFab into the solid-state-battery business.
Mike Williams seconds that emotion. “The labor pool is a very good one,” says the managing director of the Lubbock operation of Red River Commodities, a seed product company with two facilities and about 140 employees in the city. “They’re very capable and hard-working individuals who always do their jobs and are willing to help one another if there are tough times.”
Lubbock boasts a number of distinct advantages over other U.S. cities, including others in Texas. The hometown of rock-and-roll legend Buddy Holly is centrally located in West Texas, on Interstate 27 and smack between Interstate 40, which runs through Amarillo about 75 miles to the north, and Interstate 20, which runs through Midland and Odessa about 75 miles to the south. Not insignificantly, Lubbock is located on the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway that connects major metropolitan areas of the Central and Western United States. Lubbock also rests on the northern fringes of the famous Permian Basin oil formation. “A lot of people who live in the basin come and shop in Lubbock, and companies locate here for easy access to the Permian Basin, but we aren’t as affected by the labor shortages—or the busts—that can occur because of the oil industry,” Osborne says.
Still, perhaps the biggest edge enjoyed by businesses in Lubbock is its workforce. With sprawling Texas Tech University, two other universities and one of the state’s strongest community colleges, Lubbock continually generates an ample supply of talent to satisfy the growing needs of companies in a number of sectors.
“We are an engineering-dependent company, with 70 engineers here in Lubbock, so we have great cooperation with Texas Tech,” says Whetzel, whose company is a major supplier of chips for automobiles ranging from tire-pressure monitoring sensors to airbag controllers. The university “also has a lot of capabilities in material science.”
The city’s community college, South Plains College, opened a technical training center featuring state-of-the-art equipment and spaces for specialties, including automotive repair, culinary arts and IT networking in 2017. The college also partnered with a Lubbock arm of the Austin Coding Academy and four truck-driving simulators, to help supply talent for the local industry, and is currently undergoing major renovations, including plans to open a new academic campus in 2022.
For CEOs who love what they see in Lubbock and need a little something extra for their site decisions, LEDA comes through. For example, when Fargo, North Dakota-based Red River weighed adding a second facility to its wild bird seed processing plant in Lubbock, the company was able to get city and county tax abatements to beat out Dallas-Ft. Worth and add about 45 jobs.
LEDA also extended job-creation incentives to XFab a few years ago, assisted with obtaining tax abatements, and even helped garner state support for its solid-state battery initiative. “They’ve been very good,” Whetzel said of the agency, “in helping us expand our capacity and capabilities in different technologies and market segments.”