Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Think Tank Row logic doesn't follow


May 1, 2019

The title of a New York Times op-ed for April 23 looked ridiculous on its face: “The Best Way to Rejuvenate Rural America? Invest in Cities.”

The report by Nathan Arnosti and Amy Liu did not disappoint. It made as much sense as another recent opinion piece that said one solution to rural America’s problems would be to make it easier for country folk to afford living in cities.

People live in rural areas for a reason: They like it there.

The consensus of recent opinions I have read seems to be that rural towns like Tucumcari, Logan, San Jon and House in Quay County are fading in job opportunities, population growth and economic activity, and nobody seems to know what to do about it.

The April 23 piece that says investing in cities will save small, rural towns was cleverly written by two thinkers in the Brookings Institute, a well-known brainy outfit located on “Think Tank Row” in Washington, D.C.

Think Tank Row is on one of those odd-angle streets in Washington that renders visitors lost within two blocks. I think that might explain the April 23 article.

Their logic seems to be that small towns located within commuting distance of bigger cities benefit from city growth, because more small-town folks then find jobs in the city.

That makes sense, but not for isolated communities like Quay County’s towns, located 50 to 100 miles from the nearest city, which is Clovis with a population of about 39,000 people, 100-plus miles from Amarillo, Texas, and 2-1/2 to three hours from Albuquerque, the nearest large city.

The Brookings authors don’t really offer any solutions for isolated rural communities, except better broadband service and rural entrepreneurship programs, ignoring business principles that say good money flows to growing markets, not places where markets and workforces seem to be in decline.

A chart that accompanies their column shows isolated rural areas dragging the bottom in economic growth since the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008. In recent years, the isolated rural curve rises feebly, then drops again.

I don’t think that boosting aid to cities would be any more effective in advancing small towns, especially out-of-the-way villages, than the “trickle-down” theory has been in assuring that more money for the wealthy through lighter tax bills will make its way down to working families. It never has and probably never will.

That being said, my own recent eyeball analyses seem to indicate more traffic on Tucumcari streets now than in years past. At the same time, frequent travel from Tucumcari to Clovis and Amarillo shows lots of expansion in wind energy developments in the wide-open spaces that separate Tucumcari from the larger cities.

My guess is that these two phenomena are connected, and Mesalands Community College seems poised to advance renewable energy trades and professions. That doesn’t follow Liu and Arnosti’s odd logic, but it makes sense based on readily observable developments that you can’t see in the cubicles of Think Tank Row.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a semi-retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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