Midland: The Second-Richest City in America

Residents in the more upscale half of the Permian Basin make more money per capita than people in New York, San Francisco, Dallas, and Houston. 
Fri November 30, 2012 7:50 pm
Flickr | Boston Public LIbrary

The Ewings aren't up to no good there. The Flatlanders don't have a song about it. And Grande Communications Stadium is not quite Cowboys Stadium, even if the former is the one that has a corporate sponsor.

But in 2012, it's Midland, rather than Dallas, that is the top symbol of Texas wealth. And a top symbol of American wealth.

That's because the same Bureau of Economic Analysis report that noted Texas incomes are rising at a higher rate than the rest of the U.S. found that Midland is the second-richest city in the country, ahead of San Francisco, San Jose and Washington D.C.

Bridgeport, Connecticut, a metropolitan area that includes such Wall Street-friendly suburbs as Greenwich and Stamford, tops the list, which is based on per capita income.

"Midland residents' personal income per capita was $65,173 in 2011, or roughly $20,000 more than the $41,560 average for U.S. metropolitan areas," as Dan X. McGraw of the Houston Chronicle noted.

For the more upscale half of the Permian Basin, that was an 11.9% increase from 2010, though as Sarah Higgins of the Midland Reporter-Telegram reported, per capita income in the city actually rose even more (12.9%) between 2009 and 2010. 

As we noted at the TM Daily Post  on Tuesday, Odessa had the highest percentage growth in the U.S. for 2011 at 12.4%, but its per capita income of $38,385 put it at 149th overall. 

While write-ups by Marketwatch and others understandably played up the shock that Midland was ahead of such cities as New York and San Francisco (to say nothing of Dallas or Houston), "for Texans, this news may not come as that big of a surprise,"  wrote Terence Henry of State Impact Texas:

Midland has been home to several oil booms, one of which went bust in a big way in the mid-eighties. This latest boom, thanks in large part to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) drilling technology, is well under way. In Odessa, personal income rose 14.8 percent last year. As we reported earlier this year, there aren’t enough homes to house all the oilfield workers. Midland has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, and sales at the local BMW dealership are up 50 percent from two years ago. 

"Of course, not nearly everybody makes that amount of money," Amarillo economist Karr Ingham told the Reporter-Telegram's Higgins, referring to the $65,173 average.  "What that means is that there are some people who make a bit more than that that and some who make a ridiculous amount more than that."

"Midland's second-place finish is a geological one," wrote Derek Thompson of The Atlantic . "The small city and its big wages are at the mercy of their natural resources and the globally-determined price of energy."

That being the case, Midlanders are circumspect about the ranking, at least according to a Reporter-Telegram online poll (left). 38.3 percent of respondents said the city "needs to diversify in preparation of a bust," while 27% said the city's wealth was a good thing for the community, but "only for some." 

As Sarah Blaskovich of  Pegasus News  noted, the boom extends to the hotel market, which is consistently besieged with both business travellers and temporary workers. 

"It's tough to get a hotel room," Blaskovich wrote. "If we wanted to snag one for tonight, for instance, at least a half-dozen hotels in Midland are charging more than $200 for one night."

Indeed, you do not often see  figures like  $265 and $269 next to names like "Comfort Inn" and "Country Inn and Suites by Carlson."

"Ah, Midland: the West Texas land of opportunity," the Dallas-based Blaskovich continued. "Couldn't pay me to move there."

But someone might try--and many others would. 

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