I’d promised myself I’d do it before the end of the year. And I did.
Because Tucson, where I’d been before moving here a couple of years ago, had plenty of Jack in the Box restaurants, I stayed away from the one just opened at 50th and Quaker awhile in deference to those who’ve lived here longer and have addressed their cravings by demanding a “Jack stop” as part of any trip to Dallas or Midland.
After all, I wasn’t as “deprived.”
The opening hullaballoo has caused some interesting reactions. One of my colleagues ate there four times in its first 37 hours. Another noted the traffic stacking up on 50th to get in during the first week and commented on Facebook, “It’s just a freakin’ Jack in the Box.”
So, on the last noon hour of 2010 — 12:44 p.m. to be exact — I swung Alfred the truck into the drive-through line that spiraled around the month-old restaurant, thinking about a friend who’d said, “I’ll wait until the crowd thins out.”
Considering I finally had my order — a Jumbo Jack and three egg rolls — at 1:14 p.m., I suspect it’s still a little too crowded for her liking.
Yep, 30 minutes. Understandable, though. The dining room was packed, and given the nature of drive-though life — you may have a simple order, but the person in front may be making a food run for a volunteer painting or moving crew — things were about the best they could be.
And a restaurant so packed there’s still a half-hour wait for food a month after the place has opened probably is a good place to kick off a look back at 2010.
We came into the year wondering how much more to the recession, how much of the national downturn had washed into the South Plains, and were we starting to find traction.
The problem with figuring out where recessions begin and end is that it’s not a simple as turning a switch on and off. Usually economists can’t spot it until we’re already well into the mire, and we’ve usually cleaned off our boots and are walking well down the dry trail when the economists tell us the problem has passed.
My feeling? It poked us harder than we realized, because it affected Lubbock’s economy in ways that don’t really leave a mark —incidents too small for the radar screen, or plans scaled back and held up before they’d started.
The problem with plotting a recession in a place such as Lubbock is the lack of big statistical indicators. We don’t have many big employers, so when people wondered why we didn’t heard about layoffs, the answer is “size.”
A 20-employee company lays off three people, which doesn’t sound like much, and isn’t enough to require any kind of government notice. But within that business, that’s 15 percent of the work force gone.
And we won’t know how many little layoffs there were, how many small employers accepted an employee’s resignation and left the job open for 30, 60, 90 days or longer, how many businesses might have asked employees to take a cut in hours, cut in pay.
We’ll never know how many potential expansions were put on hold until “things get better,” entrepreneurs who kept their business plans on the shelf for a better economic climate.
So we’re left with contrasting images — one of the nation’s more enviable unemployment rates on the one hand, juxtaposed against a relatively low job growth climate in 2010, and a growing number of people who are drawing on community assistance to make ends meet.
Lubbock, however, is a resilient, steady place. It’s economic peaks aren’t outrageously high, and its valleys relatively shallow.
It’s a place that, as LEDA Chairman Curtis Griffith told U.S. Sen. John Cornyn during the Texas Republican’s March fact-finding trip to the South Plains, “takes the word ‘community’ very seriously.”
What follows is one relative stranger’s view of the community’s economic high and low spots for the year with an occasional trip to the unusual.
Restaurants R Us
One sign of economic get-up-and-go was the willingness to expand. In February, TGI Friday’s closed its Lubbock location on Slide Road north of the Loop. At year’s end, Genghis Grill had moved into the space.
Other openings included the return of Jack in the Box, and new arrivals Blue Sky Burgers, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Einstein Bros. Bagels.
At the same time, some prominent local eateries changed hands in the liquidation of Benny Judah’s business empire. Local Buffalo Wild Wings owner Kendall Howard bought the Las Brisas Southwest Steakhouse operations out of receivership, while Brownfield-based Sonic Drive-In operator Rodney Warren is buying the Harrigan’s and Moose Magoo’s businesses, as well as the Abilene Zoo-kini’s location.
For those who’d rather cook
Another sign of traction and belief in the economy was the October opening of Sun Harvest Farmer’s Market in Kingsgate Center. It was the first new store in several years for the Texas affliiate of San Diego-based Henry’s Market’s. More than just a store, it brought 100 new jobs to town, all of which were local hires.
And longtime grocery exec Kent Moore announced plans to develop a niche grocery store in Overton Park to serve the Tech student population living off-campus. The store will feature fewer selections, and items offered in sizes that make more sense in student lives, along with “grab and go” food. The second phase of the building will include a restaurant.
Developer Delbert McDougal put on his consultant hat in June and updated the Lubbock City Council on downtown redevelopment strategies, counseling patience as decisions are made about which buildings might be kept and which razed in developing “superblocks.”
One change from earlier concepts is the addition of office space to the mix. Earlier approved concepts envisioned multi-story buildings with retail space on the ground floor and residential space above.
A couple of delay issues came up at the time — setting a timetable for burying electric lines after LP&L’s acquisition of Xcel Energy’s in-city customer base is completed, and the time and costs connected with asbestos remediation in older buildings.
One major shift in downtown took place last fall with the purchase of the Omni Office Building by a Houston investor who plans to revive the vacant building as offices.
Avenue K was closed for several months, and the building marked as unlawful for occupancy on the summer after marble tiles fell from one side.
Kudos to Rigney Auto Parts, which turned 82 years old this year. Sanford & Tatum Insurance had its 75th anniversary, and Brandon & Clark celebrated a rise from humble beginnings to a leader in the electric motor repair business at 60 years.
LEDA on the march
John Osborne joined LEDA as its new CEO March 15, coming from the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. He’s been doing double duty since arriving, acting also as the head of Visit Lubbock, The Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, filling a slot open since the summer 2009 departure of Marcy Jarrett.
The economic development agency continued its string of successes, finishing the year with a major coup — birthing a deal with X-Fab and Minnesota-based Cymbet to make Lubbock the world’s highest-volume solid state battery producer. The $900,000 incentive deal was announced in December, and is expected to mean 77 new jobs and $12 million in capital investment in the first phase.
Hi, folks. Send MONEY!
Funds from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund found their way for the first time into two Lubbock businesses in 2010. Smartfield, which uses infrared sensors to help farmers remotely monitor irrigation needs on a crop-by-crop basis, received $250,000 to help move the company to market faster.
Meanwhile MicroZAP, a food safety business, received TETF funds of up to $1.5 million to bring its technology — a system that uses microwaves to sterilize food — to market quickly.
At the same time, the National Institutes for Health awarded two grants to Selenium Ltd., an Austin-based company using continuing research at Texas Tech — to research the use of selenium’s microbe-fighting ability to make safer dental equipment and tympanostomy tubes. The latter are tubes sometimes inserted surgically though the ear drums of children who suffer from chronic middle ear infections.
Really, now? Really?
• The Cap*rock Wine Co. bankruptcy entered its second year just before Christmas, at least on paper. The winery itself is operating under new ownership, but it took two auctions to sell the facility. Cathy Bodenstedt, wife of San Antonio fast food honcho Jim Bodenstedt (who doesn’t have any fast food restaurants in Lubbock), now owns the Woodrow Road facility after the second auction.
The first auction remains unresolved, as the bankruptcy trustee has sued the previous high bidder, Albuquerque winemaker Laurent Gruet for breach of contract after he failed to honor his stunning $6.5 million bid for the winery. Gruet said at the time he’d planned to probably get out of the bidding at $3.5 million but stayed in because he doesn’t like to lose. Although the lawsuit doesn’t specify damages, $4 million — the difference between his bid and the $2.5 million Jim Bodenstedt paid the second time around — is a likely sum.
• Kudos to Rockie Nolan for playing it cool when she could have just lost it. Nolan, a Lubbock native studying photography at the Savannah School of Art and Design, locked horns over the summer with a clothing combine in Poland over a T-shirt design. The photo, a self-portrait, was used in the design. After she initially complained to the company, the company blamed a “black sheep” design contractor and offered her small sums for the use of other photos.
Nolan ultimately worked the deal out without a court fight.
•Lubbock and Amarillo were among the cities Internet crooks in Europe chose to run an interesting scam — creating an online auto sales business using an existing firm’s name. In Lubbock, the owner of Platinum Auto Sales got several phone calls from people wanting to buy cars from him that he didn’t have, including a senior Army noncommissioned officer scheduled to rotate stateside from Iraq.
•Elm Grove, apparently, was only the beginning of IRI Golf’s problems in Texas. Landowner Bill McMillan, whose dad took advantage of one of Lubbock’s few natural hills to design a nine-hole golf course, booted the management off the course in 2009 and sold the site in January.
Since then, San Diego-based golf management company’s presence in Texas has dwindled from managing five courses to just one.
When McMillan canceled the lease, IRI was several months behind on payments, and IRI principal Jeff Silverstein had used the property — which he didn’t own — as collateral to secure a $1.2 million loan from a Kansas bank.
Beyond here, there be ...
Hope. That’s a good place to start.
There’s a different feeling in the air right now. Some of it probably derives from some announcements that reflect a renewed belief in what 2011 will bring to town.
Some of it is anticipation. The first spending from the record 2010 cotton harvest are coming into the economy as growers are starting to upgrade trucks and other equipment.
And cotton’s not the only crop to do well. Everything we’ve had in the ground has been commanding good prices, and the weather’s been quite kind for the most part.
And that all trickles into different parts of the economy and swirls around a while.
Oil? Well, that’s a double-edged sword. Some analysts are suggesting 2011 could be a year where prices hit $100 a barrel — and stay there. Because of growing global competition, that’s good news for producers, and a potentially big pill for consumers to swallow.
Auto sales have risen from a dismal two years and are at least on a more typical pace.
Construction had a solid start to the year, but lately pace has slowed, perhaps because contractors are hungry and laborers have been very available.
Home sales? It was a fickle year, opening strong with the final months of the stimulus-fueled homebuyers’ tax credits. Those are gone, and for the first time in a long time, first-time buyers are having to address saving and other strategies to make that down payment happen.
For the business community, financial uncertainties remain. A lot of outfits are sitting on plenty of cash because they’re not sure at this point what the new political structure in Washington’s going to mean in terms of health care and other issues.
And nobody’s sure what the recession meant for consumers just yet. Was it a game changer that prompted us to look differently at our money and how we spend it? Do we revive conscious saving habits, or will we return to swiping plastic and spending more than we get?
• Speaking of streets, if you’re interested in the future of 34th Street, mark your calendar for Jan. 11 and plan to be at a design concept public meeting at the Family Life Center, Sunset Church of Christ, 3631 34th St. The open house will be at 6 p.m., and the meeting itself kicks off at 7 p.m.
• The Lubbock Chamber of Commerce is conducting a second survey to flesh out training needs members identified in November. At that time, members said they were looking for training in human resources, marketing/public relations, accounting/taxes, customer service, and leadership/management. The follow-up survey is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/7HMXWK9
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