Hitchcock is a small town with a big future and plenty of undeveloped economic opportunity, despite the financial challenges many of its residents face, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

That’s one of the main takeaways of a new “State of the Community” report that a group of Texas A&M University students, participating in the Texas Target Communities program, published this year.

The report, which examines several key areas of life in Hitchcock, including housing, economy, environment and community facilities, aimed to take a look at not only what Hitchcock is now, a year after Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 20 inches of rain on the city, but also what Hitchcock, population 7,464, could be in the future.

The city has plenty of unrealized potential, said Abbie Hotard, one of the report’s co-authors.

“If you go to Hitchcock and take a look around, you can see it,” Hotard said. “The people there are resilient.”

The report, which was one of a number of similar publications that students participating in the Texas Target Communities produced, reflects this. Working from U.S. Census Bureau and American Communities Survey data from 2010 to 2016, the report takes a look at the changes over the last decade. What it comes away with is encouraging, for the most part, Hotard said.

For instance, from 2005 to 2015, Hitchcock’s economy experienced a surge of job growth, the report found, with the total number of jobs growing from 514 to 1,392, an increase of nearly a 171 percent.

Among the 878 added jobs, 322 jobs came from educational services, which was the fastest growing industrial sector in Hitchcock. Two other rapidly growing industrial sectors were manufacturing, which added 189 added jobs, and construction, which added 148 added jobs.

Despite the growth, however, income inequality and difficult financial circumstances still create a harsh reality for many of the city’s residents, the report states.

The median household income as of 2016 was $44,588 and 5.6 percent of residents were unemployed, the report found. Additionally, as of 2016, 24 percent of residents were in poverty and 21.4 percent of residents had used food stamps in the past 12 months.

“Median household income alone doesn’t tell the whole story,” Hotard said. “Especially when there are large income disparities along racial and ethnic lines, like there are in Hitchcock. Income disparities like this can translate into disproportionate poverty levels among minority groups.”

The disconnect between the state of Hitchcock now and the potential it holds is one of the big reasons it was chosen as a Texas Target Communities city in the first place, Jamie Masterson, associate director of the Texas Target Communities program, said. The program, which provides opportunities for faculty and students to work alongside local governments and community stakeholders, aims to assist small, under-served communities in creating sustainable futures throughout Texas, she said.

“The city of Hitchcock contacted us last spring and expressed its interest in participating,” Masterson said. “When we looked at the potential for the kind of reports students could publish by studying it, it was clear that Hitchcock would make a useful subject where a lot of good can be done.”

Indeed, one report that won the American Planning Association’s Legacy Project contest for urban planning in 2018 highlighted some of the economic insecurities that Hotard’s report outlines with census data.

That report, written by students in Texas Southern University’s Urban Planning Department, brought attention to the fact that Hitchcock’s only grocery store, Baywood Foods, closed in September 2014 and a new one never opened to replace it. The closure created a so-called food desert, an area where substantial numbers of low-income residents have little access to grocery stores or other retail outlets for healthy, affordable food, the report states.

It’s examples like this that illustrate how Hitchcock has room to grow, Andret Rayford, one of the co-authors of the report, said.

“A grocery store doesn’t seem like a big deal, until it is,” Rayford said. “It shows how with a little bit of development, people who aren’t in a good place right now can be helped.” 

Aaron West: 409-683-5246; aaron.west@galvnews.com

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