Reagan Hales

From Oil Bust To Innovation Boom

How One Texas City Stopped Focusing On Oil And Started Investing In Entrepreneurs

Every city in Texas remembers the 1980's. Early in the decade, the Lone Star State was booming. Oil was king and everyone seemed to be a part of the royal family. Whether they were driving Cadillacs or pick-up trucks, most Texans were basking in the glow of the black gold that simmered just below the rich Texas soil.

Success, fame and fortune were just as accessible as a good pair of alligator boots. But within every royal family lies a scandal that eventually busts through that golden exterior. And the oil bust that blanketed Texas in the mid-1980s was no different.

Just like the haze that lifts after a night of celebration and debauchery, the glory days of oil production began to fade and the left the State's Lone Star not shining quite as bright. From the High Plains to the Gulf Coast, every city in Texas was affected by the 1980’s oil bust. Each city was left to decide what would come next. Would they ever return to the era of cigars and Cadillacs again?

In Amarillo, the community leveraged the legislature's new initiative to spur economic development with an aggressive half cent sales tax to lure new business and breathe life back into the small West Texas town with the establishment of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

But big business wasn't the only focus of the new organization. Bred from a long heritage of farming and agriculture, the Amarillo EDC leadership believed that the most fertile soil they could reap from was within their own city limits. Beginning in 1995, the Amarillo EDC began to annually invest $500,000 in the "EnterPrize Challenge," a business plan competition managed by the local university system business incubator, the West Texas A&M University Enterprise Center.

For more than 20 years, this annual investment — the largest business plan competition of its kind — has provided cash awards to more than 83 companies ranging between a micro coffee roastery to manufacturers serving the global renewable energy markets. These cash grants have
created more than 636 primary jobs and returned over $120 million to the area.

The investment in local innovation and West Texas grit continues today. As the Amarillo EDC and the West Texas Enterprise Center enter into the twenty-first year of supporting entrepreneurship, we've decided it's time for some good ol' Texas swagger.

This year, the Amarillo EDC and WTAMU Enterprise Center are excited to sponsor and highlight eight recent EnterPrize Challenge winners at the 2016 Inc. 5000 Conference & Gala. From app developers to global threat security strategists, these business owners and community ambassadors will not only sell you on their company, but also why business is as sweet as Texas summer tea in Amarillo.

Keep an eye out every week for a blog from one of our eight Inc. 5000 attendees and follow us on Facebook to stay in the know!

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