Mayors from across West Texas and the Panhandle met this week to discuss a variety of economic and educational issues pertinent to the region, notably one particular project, the long-awaited Texas Tech University medicine school.
The confab included top city leaders from Amarillo, Abilene, Big Spring, Lubbock, Midland, and Odessa. Texas Tech University System Chancellor Robert Duncan spoke to the mayors on Wednesday about the progress of the vet school expected to be located near the university’s health science center in Amarillo. This new facility will address the state’s shortage of large animal veterinarians.
“The Texas Tech University System is proud to serve West Texas and its communities,” said Duncan. “This region has an indelible impact on the prosperity of our state, and I am proud to work alongside such tremendous leaders as we partner with and support each other in our missions to solve problems and strengthen our communities. We are truly stronger together.”
Duncan also spoke on the university system’s educational impact on the region and meeting the needs of West Texans.
Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: “It’s exciting to think about the prospect of what (the vet school) will mean for the entire West Texas region.”
She said that much of the group’s conversation centered on the positive impact the vet school will have in the region.
“The economic development opportunities, the research opportunities, and there are many areas of industry we need to be proactive on such as food safety… the overall goal is to support the partnership across the region to meet what we know is a regional need, but has a national impact with regard to supplying vets to cover a shortage,” stated Nelson.
The road to Tech’s vet school has a long and arduous one. The university initially announced that it wanted to open a vet school in 2015, although Representative John Smithee (R-Amarillo) previously told the Avalanche-Journal, Texas has needed a second veterinary medicine school for four decades.
Texas A&M, currently the only university with a program, staunchly opposed the project. The Texas Tribune reported that A&M Chancellor John Sharp “aggressively fought Texas Tech University’s plan to open a new veterinary school in Amarillo – which would end the A&M veterinary school’s status as the only one in Texas.”
Despite pushback that resulted in numerous stops and starts for Tech’s vet school, state lawmakers finally allocated more than $4.1 million in seed money during the 2017 legislative session, the result of unwavering efforts by numerous West Texas legislators and support from the state’s House of Representatives. However, the university must raise a projected $80 million to $90 million to build the facility.
During the meeting, Duncan did not present a timeline on the vet school; instead, he indicated that Tech is in talks with a potential land donor, noting that may soon be the next development in the process they announce.
Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope told KCBD: “We’re very pleased with the efforts of all our West Texas legislators to get the seed funding, that $4.1 million that came out of the session and allows them to do the planning for the vet school.”
In a past press release, Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center underscored that Texas is the nation’s leading producer of cattle, a $13 billion industry in 2012, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture. They accounted for more than 248,000 ranches and farms in Texas, the most of any state in the U.S., with large animals and food-producing livestock.
“Agriculture is at the heart of every aspect of our daily lives, and Texas Tech has been at the forefront of agricultural research and discovery since its founding,” said previous university President M. Duane Nellis. “As our population grows, so does the reliance on agriculture. Increased and enhanced infrastructure is necessary now and will continue to be in the future. Texas Tech is offering solutions to meet those needs.”
The mayors met for the first time to discuss common interests in July. In addition to education, they addressed public safety, job creation, health care, and water concerns. They plan to continue these meetings in 2018.
“Rural West Texas must stand strong as the state becomes increasingly urban,” added Pope. “West Texas provides the fiber, fuel, and food that our state depends on. We are stronger together.”
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