Denim to Dairy in Texas: Lamb County’s Road to Revitalization Through EDA Partnership
In 2015, one of the last remaining denim mills in the United States shuttered its doors permanently, leaving 300 workers in Lamb County, Texas, without a job. In an area with nearly 6,000 residents, the loss of the denim mill was devastating to the county and region.
The empty mill, which remained standing, kept its potential for new economic opportunities. This potential was recognized by the South Plains Association of Governments (SPAG), an EDA-funded, regionally-focused Economic Development District (EDD) that brings together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment, and create jobs.
SPAG got to work. In assessing the opportunity the old denim mill presented while industries were expanding in 2016, SPAG and Lamb County determined the booming dairy sector was a perfect fit. Some changes would be necessary, however, to attract a new dairy business. Primarily, the road leading to the denim mill (aptly named “Denim Road”) was an outdated, narrow county road unable to handle the dairy trucks and increased traffic.
A year after the denim mill closure, EDA awarded $1.28 million to Lamb County for road infrastructure improvements to help attract the growing dairy industry and support regional economic diversification. Together with a local investment of $1.5 million and partnerships with the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), the EDA grant made it possible to build a wide, heavy load-bearing road with expanded capacity for dairy trucks. The county completed the road infrastructure project in 2018 and Continental Dairy Company renovated the denim mill, turning it into a state-of-the-art dairy processing plant that immediately employed 200 local residents. In addition, a special effort was made to reemploy those who previously worked at the denim mill.
“This project is one of the best examples of how all levels of government can come together,” said Lamb County Judge Mike DeLoach. “Lamb County, EDA, and the TDA made this project possible. This project not only repurposed an existing manufacturing facility it brought over 200 new jobs to our county.”
Today, the dairy processing plant is a key provider of powdered milk, a major component in everything from yogurt to ice cream. It is also expanding to incorporate butter manufacturing, a move that is expected to create an additional 100 jobs in the facility.
Due to the health and safety precautions already in place for processing raw milk, the plant has not only continued operations, it has expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. The road project has also been an economic force multiplier: with the additional dairy truck traffic, more businesses have opened in the immediate area, including the county’s first major truck stop and rest area.
EDDs like SPAG play a critical role in identifying and meeting the economic development needs of regions across the country. In Northwest Texas, SPAG’s work with Lamb County restored lost jobs, created new regional business opportunities, and advanced innovative ways for local economies to thrive.
For more information about EDA, visit www.eda.gov.