Reports of the death of the Great Plains are greatly exaggerated.
“Far from dying,” America's breadbasket, the central swath of plains from Texas to North Dakota, is enjoying a “historic recovery,” according to “The Rise of the Great Plains: Regional Opportunity in the 21st Century,” a study by Joel Kotkin and others sponsored by the Office of the President of Texas Tech University.
Lamentations over the Great Plains' demise are as cyclical as rain and crop production — from the above-average rainfall that encouraged settlement in the late 1800s and the reality that set in later, to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, to dire predictions during the farm crisis of the 1980s.
Chapter titles hit the highlights of the past decade, which, for the most part, reflect the highlights promoted in the past century-plus.
• “The Agricultural Opportunity,” “Rebound on the Farm,” “Plains Agriculture: The High-Tech Future.”
• “The New Energy Boom,” “The Great Plains Gusher,” “The Plains and the Natural Gas Revolution” (that's new), “Drilling Activity: An Ongoing Boom,” “Renewable Opportunities: Wind, Ethanol and Biofuels on the Plains” (new), “The Future of Plains Energy.”
• “The Industrial Resurgence,” “Plains Manufacturing: Areas of Strength,” “The Plains: An Industrial Export Superstar” (new).
• “The Great Plains in the Information Age” (new), “The Post-Industrial Plains” (new), “Research and Development on the Plains,” “Building the Brain Belt” (new).
• “The New Demography of the Plains,” “Not Just a Bunch of Old People,” “The Immigrants Return,” “Native Americans.”
The report outlines challenges, too:
We need to foster economic diversification. We need to encourage more people to move here. We need to upgrade basic infrastructure — road, rail and pipeline. We need to keep training and educating our workforce. We need to continue fostering collaboration across the Plains.
“The resource boom on the Great Plains is likely to continue, with perhaps an occasional slowdown, as developing countries demand more food, fiber, energy and manufactured goods,” the authors conclude.
Then they hit a tone that has resonated since before Oklahoma statehood:
“Yet the region's appeal and future prosperity rest on far more than such assets as open land, ample resources and lower costs. The area's appeal lies deep in that part of the American character that seeks access to open spaces, and looks for opportunities where until recently there were few.”
The report came out last fall, but just came to my attention Friday. Architect Dennis Wells, of Oklahoma City's Miles Associates sent it over, pointing out that a view of downtown Oklahoma City — with Devon Tower still under construction — graced the cover, a photo by Cooper Ross of Insight Visual Media in Edmond.
The 118-page study can be downloaded here: http://gis.ttu.edu/center/GreatPlains/index.php.