Lack of new jobs lead to population sag in Victoria

Gabe Semenza

Dec. 19, 2010 at 6:19 a.m.
Updated Dec. 20, 2010 at 6:20 a.m.

Victoria's population growth rate for 40 years and counting lags behind that of the state and many similarly sized Texas cities.

Despite the city's emergence as a retail and medical hub, Victoria can't quite get over the population hump.

Yet, Victoria's physical size more than doubled during the same 40 years.

The story of how this contrast came to be begins in the early 1900s and continues today.

History shows Victoria's population is susceptible to boom-and-bust cycles. The key today, however, is the lack of a boom for four decades.


Since its founding in 1824, Victoria, like most cities, underwent sporadic population booms. Victoria's booms always coincided with major economic injections.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the most significant population increases were:

A 62 percent jump - from 3,673 to 5,957 residents - during the 1920s.

A 56 percent jump - from 7,421 to 11,566 residents - during the 1940s.

A 105 percent jump - from 16,126 to 33,047 residents - during the 1960s.

Introduction or expansion of the cattle, oil and petrochemical industries fueled those booms.

"While many factors affect population, most often it is affected by both natural increase - when births exceed deaths - and the migration in and out," said Ray Perryman, a state economist. "The latter is generally affected by economic conditions. More jobs attract more people."

The infusion of new jobs during the 1960s catapulted Victoria to the top of Texas' list of fastest-growing cities.

The city's growth rate, however, peaked a decade later - and then that rate began a gradual decline.

What makes Victoria's growth rate decline since the 1970s so curious is the city's emergence as a retail and medical hub.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Victoria blossomed with a regional mall, national retailers and big box stores - and hospitals expanded.

"It's a unique situation to be in. It's not the norm," said John Kaminski, the city's director of planning. "Our sales tax revenue and the retail sector grew, but our population really didn't."

Part of the explanation for this oddity is the type of jobs created.

Retail positions are not typically high-paying, primary jobs and thus don't always attract permanent residents or drive new home construction.

So, lacking an explosion of jobs like that enjoyed during the 1960s, Victoria's growth rate fizzled.

A century's worth of population data show the city's shifting dependence on single types of industry rather than a diversified economy, according to "Victoria 2025," the city's plan for the future.


If the city experienced lackluster population growth for four decades, it's not because Victoria could not handle new residents.

The city's physical size grew three-and-a-half times the rate of population growth since 1970.

In terms of incorporated acres, Victoria grew from 10,599 in 1970 to 22,640 in 2007.

The most significant decade for annexation occurred between 1980 and 1990. During that decade, the city annexed 6,532 acres, including:

The remaining land between Houston Highway, Loop 463 and U.S. Highway 59, as well as tracts along both sides of the John Stockbauer Drive.

The Victoria Mall area and commercial land north of there.

Land between the Victoria Country Club and Woodway, and the Tropical Acres subdivision just northwest of Woodway.

This growth can somewhat mislead, however. Part of the city's growth includes the annexation of vast tracts of undevelopable land, including surface water reservoirs west of the Guadalupe River.

"In order to annex an outlying area, you end up having to take the land in between to get there," Kaminski said. "If you annex land in the northeast, you can't just skip over the land between here and there."

Despite significant annexation, not all of the land - land in the floodplain, for example - can be used for new growth, and some is owned by people who won't necessarily sell.

"What we have tried to do in the last 10 to 15 years is to go out and annex areas to allow room for future growth," Kaminski said. "That way, we're there before the demand hits."


Despite preparing for future growth, the city's growth rate hit rock bottom during the last decade.

During the same time, Texas' population grew substantially - outpacing even California, Perryman said.

"The slowdown in Victoria's population mirrors much of the United States and reflects both the aging of the Baby Boomers and the tendency of people to concentrate in suburbal regions," the state economist added.

A lack of significant job growth clearly played a role. Victoria lost new jobs to Texas metro areas, which experienced most of the growth during the past 10 years, Kaminski said.

Some say, however, Victoria is now primed for at least a mini-boom. Caterpillar, a Fortune 100 company, announced plans to build a manufacturing plant here.

The 500 permanent jobs Caterpillar will create - and the jobs likely to open from new support businesses - could help to spur population growth. Most agree: Caterpillar won't drive a spike like that witnessed during the 1960s.

"I don't have a magic number I'd like to see our population at, but I'd like to see it at some level seen as critical mass," said Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp. "That will help drive economies. Right now, we don't have a self-sustaining economy. Our goal would be to get us to that critical mass where it's almost self-sustaining."

Will the city's work to revitalize its downtown and to expand its university pull the stagnant population growth out of a 40-year slump?

"I think we will see a different kind of growth than what we've seen in last couple of decades," Kamsinski said. "We'll see growth in manufacturing, associated home construction and services. I don't think growth will be on the same scale as during the 1950s and 1960s, but it'll certainly be on a larger scale than anything we've seen in the last 20 years."



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