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LONE STAR ON THE RISE

By Paul Van SlambrouckStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 18, 1981



Houston

The oil gushers may be gone, but the Texas energy boom lives on. In 1981 it is not the puncture of geologic formations by grinding drill bits that drives the Lone Star State.The oil reservoirs that spewed like black fountains from the Texas landscape after the turn of the century have probably seen their better days.

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Today, Texas throbs with a new kind of energy -- that of people and ideas. Housing developments, office buildings, and industrial plants all seem to sprout as naturally as cactus flowers in the spring. And there is the tide of fresh new faces -- men, women, and families seeking new opportunities here and being greeted with a warm "howdy" and scarcely a discouraging word.

"Think of Texas as a country," this reporter was advised not long after moving here. What sounded like braggadocio at the time proves more true each day:

Along the humid Gulf Coast weather-worn shrimp boats share the bays and estuaries with gleaming, modern refineries and petrochemical plants. In the western regions ranchers on horseback against the open sky cut an image of the cowboy of today. In the panhandle grain farmers help feed a hungry world. To the south, bleached architecture and animated conversations in Spanish bespeak a Mexican heritage so strong that one can begin to see why some people consider the border as artificial -- "like a fence through our backyard," as one Mexican-American put it.

But it is all Texas -- bound by vitality and an optimism that have made the state a standout in growth and increasing prosperity in a nation that searches for ways to restore those qualities.

"There is an attitude here that is different. . . . It's very positive," says a Houston banker who moved here from Michigan four years ago. "People want to do things of a grand and great style."

At the same time, the Texas success story is entering a new phase. While people in the rest of the nation don western wear, ride mechanical bucking bulls , and dance the cotton-eyed Joe, this state is shedding some traditions to make way for the future.

The crux of the change is a growing awareness that the rapid, relatively unrestrained growth of the 1970s has caused some problems that must be addressed and, at the same time, has set the state on top a fast-moving wave that requires more foresight than in the past to prevent it from crashing or unexpected shoals 10 or 20 years from now.

"We're going to try to engineer and plan for growth in a constructive way," says Gov. William P. Clements Jr.

This does not mean bigger government, Mr. Clements insists, but rather government that better anticipates the changes that lie ahead.

Governor Clements has established the Texas 2000 Commission to identify the key issues facing the state over the next two decades.

In the small town of Simonton, out-of-state businessmen from a convention in nearby Houston pile off a bus for an evening of rodeo. Wobbling on stiff new cowboy boots, some debate whether it is proper to wear their also-new Stetsons indoors.

But as the evening wears on, their self-consciousness wears off. By closing time they are whooping and cheering with unrestrained delight -- like children at Disneyland for the first time. One could not help but wonder who in that group might soon be his new neighbor.

After all, in Houston and surrounding Harris County alone, about 200 newly registered vehicles pour onto the streets each day. Indeed, most of the metropolitan areas of Texas are expanding fast, with migrants from nearly every region of the United States.

This success story is no tall tale. American migration patterns in the 1970s -- from North to South, East to West, and urban to rural -- all benefited Texas with a burgeoning population of relatively well-educated, opportunity-seeking new residents.

The newcomers have blended well in a social environment that has long encouraged and valued entrepreneurship and individual initiative.

Through most of the 1960s Texas was a net exporter of people. In the 1970s, however, the state population swelled by more than 27 percent. In two decades Texas has climbed from the nation's sixth most populous state to third, behind California, and New York. If the New York population continues to fall, as it did over the '70s, Texas will likely surpass that state before the turn of the century.

With the swell of people has come new political and economic clout. Texas will pick up three more congressional seats as a result of the 1980 census. And -- with Texan George Bush as vice- president and James Baker III as White House chief of staff -- the state now has closer ties to Washington than it has had since the administration of Lyndon Johnson.