Andy Timmons is a West Texas farmer who switched from growing cotton, peanuts and wheat, to growing grapes. He decided to make the switch after taking an in-depth look at the future of his crops.
“I got to analyzing what I was doing and I felt like it was not going to be sustainable so that I could leave something to my family,” he said.
With only half as much water as he had 10 years ago, switching to less water-intensive crops made sense. A mentor helped him start a five-acre patch of merlot. When he expanded to 30 acres, he started to see returns.
“It’s an expensive up-front cost, but longevity and net returns from it far outweigh what you can do row crop-wise,” he said of the grapes.
As it turns out, the High Plains AVA of West Texas offers the perfect climate for growing grapes. The low humidity, an ample amount of rain and an elevation of 3,500 feet all work in the fruit’s favor.
“The temperatures are hot during the day, but at night they cool off, some nights down to the 60s,” Timmons said. “That allows the plant to cool itself at night naturally. It doesn’t have to expend energy to cool itself through a process called respiration, which pulls acidity out of the berries. So, that’s how we are able to grow grapes well here in the High Plains.”
Turns out, the climate in the Lubbock area is perfect for other types of business, too.
Josh Allen was born and raised in Lubbock and knew he never wanted to leave.
“I love Lubbock. It’s a great place to be a youth, to go to college, to start a family and to find a job,” he said.
He graduated from Texas Tech and became an accountant, like his father. His wife, also a Lubbock native who graduated from Tech, didn’t want to leave either.
“We couldn’t think of anywhere else where we would want to start a family,” Allen said.
Having spent time in bigger cities, it was Lubbock’s hometown friendliness he missed.
“We are a big city, but we still know a lot of each other,” he said. “We don’t just say, ‘Hey how’s it going?’ We really talk. You can go anywhere in Lubbock—the grocery store, the post office, and you will see someone you know. You could stop at a light and roll your window down and say hi to somebody. That’s what I like about Lubbock and that’s why I stayed here. We have a great civic-minded city. We have a great infrastructure built up around our city, great churches to be a part of. We just didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
After establishing his financial firm, Allen Financial Agency, Allen became a partner in several restaurants, including the first franchise outside of Louisiana for Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar, a Cajun-themed sports bar.
“We thought Lubbock would be a great place for a Walk-On’s since Lubbock is a hub,” Allen said. “We have outstanding medical and agriculture industries and outstanding colleges and universities. We have a great demographic of people. I think that was what caused us to have so much success. We are in a great place. We have a population here of businesses, people and community groups who want to come and eat in a family-friendly place. I think that’s why Walk-On’s is so successful.”
Cassie Johnston is from a small Texas town and came to Lubbock for college. The Texas Tech grad moved to Houston for a few years but missed Lubbock’s friendliness and sense of community. Thinking they would never return to Lubbock, she and her husband found themselves in the large, congested city missing what they left behind.
“Lubbock has the workings of a small town, just bigger. There is a different level of friendliness and community feel. You are close to your neighbors. The networking in the professional community is just amazing. We didn’t have any of that when we lived in Houston because it’s just so big and spread out and there’s just so many people.”
So, when Johnston started her nonprofit, Alstrom Angels, after her daughter was diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder, she wasn’t surprised that the Lubbock community embraced it.
“Lubbock is just very unique in that way,” she said. “I don’t know if it would have the same type of support elsewhere. Here, it’s personal to them, whether they have children with special needs or not. People here wrap their arms around you and rally behind you in times of need. That’s what makes Lubbock so special and different from other larger cities. I truly do not believe that Alstrom Angels would be what it is— or if it would even be a functioning organization—if I had started it somewhere else.”
But it’s not just farmers, restaurateurs and nonprofits that find Lubbock’s climate to be conducive to their business success.
Todd Knowlton is in the high-tech industry. He founded Smooth Fusion, a custom web and app development company. His customers are all over the country—companies like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Welch’s and TransAmerica Insurance.
“Some just assume Lubbock is a suburb of Dallas,” he said. “But people are learning more about Lubbock all the time. We were out in Portland and Seattle and a lot more people knew about Lubbock because of a basketball game. People were saying, ‘Aren’t y’all where Texas Tech is?’ It gives us the opportunity to tell them why we are here and the advantages of being here.”
Those advantages include an affordable cost of doing business, an excellent talent pool, a central location equal distance from both coasts and a collaborative spirit within the business community. Those ingredients create the perfect recipe for a fantastic business climate, Knowlton said.
“It’s better than it’s ever been at this point. Our competitors are in places like Seattle and San Francisco, so that is a huge competitive advantage for us because our costs are much lower. We are also centrally located. We have clients on both coasts. In fact, most of our clients are on a coast, and our airport’s great. I can fly somewhere faster than someone who lives in Dallas,” he said.
Knowlton said his company also has no trouble retaining their talented workforce.
“When we find people who want to do the kind of work we do, we tend to hang on to them,” he said. “People live in Lubbock for family reasons, and we have been able to bring people back to Lubbock.”
All but three of the company’s 26 employees live in Lubbock.
That spirit of collaboration is the glue that holds it all together.
“I think there is a willingness here to collaborate and help each other and work with each other to support what’s going on in businesses here,” Knowlton said. “Maybe in those bigger markets there is not as much of that.”