The A&M administration asked that we attend a rally this afternoon that celebrates the launch of the AR-TX Regional Economic Development Inc. — a new non-profit organization aimed at bringing jobs and such to the region (which is rather poor). They wanted to get a good sized crowd since Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Texas Governor Greg Abbott both came to speak as well as the Grand Poobah of the A&M system, John Sharp. That classic sort of civic boosterism mentality.
After I finished teaching, I grabbed Brutus from home and we headed downtown to check out the event. I was excited to check it out because quite a bit of my research relates to civic boosterism. I wrote an entire chapter in my dissertation on Oklahoma’s 50th birthday celebration, showing how image, economics, and politics worked alongside college football to build a new Oklahoma. So witnessing this event was like watching one of my primary sources in real life — I am sure other political and Sunbelt historians can relate!
There was a lot of energy and a decent crowd, including at least three local high school bands. You can’t see most of the crowd in this picture because Brutus and I stood in the shade since we haven’t fully adapted to the 90*+ heat. It was fun hearing the rhetoric. There were familiar platitudes about economic development mixed with calls for unity and lessons from a shared history (including a reference to Stephen F. Austin). There was also overt symbolism, including knocking over the famous sign where people take their photo straddling the stateline, to denote the new unified of economic development. There were sports references too, of course. Hutchinson noted the last time the region was this unified was when Texas, Arkansas, and Texas A&M tied for the Southwest Conference title in 1975. Who knows how this will all workout or how long I will be around to see the development, but it is fun to witness the optimism.