Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Transforming Dodge City

Just the name ‘Dodge City’ conjures up images of a wild west town. I was there to do a tour of the town with Mike Stevens, CEO of Centera Bank, a $175 million community bank that Mike and a few other local citizens in nearby Sublette, KS (population 1,592) bought in the mid 80s when rural America was going thru a major recession. It took a lot of guts and vision for them to do that purchase.

Dodge City was founded in 1872 when the Santa Fe Railroad reached the town. Nearby Fort Dodge had been established in 1865 to protect wagon trains that were making their trek west on the old Santa Fe Trail. Millions of buffalo roamed the nearby plains and a new tanning process allowed their hides to be turned into usable leather for shipment to the east and onto Europe. The slaughter was on with a good hunter able to make more than $100 per day.

The next boom was when the cattle drives from Texas began. From 1875 until 1886 over 5 million head of cattle were driven to the rail yards of the town. During these early wild and wooly days, Dodge City was the home to notable lawmen and gunfighters such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bill Tilghman, Bat Masterson and many others. Its famous Boot Hill Cemetery (now a wonderful museum) was only used 1872 to 1878, but is firmly established in cowboy lore as where the cowboys were buried with their boots on.

Dodge City has had a number of wonderful titles over the years, including: Buffalo Capital of the World, Cowboy Capital, Queen of the Cowtowns, Wickedest Little City in America and others.

Today it is a town of 25,176 that is going through a transformation. Two major packing plants that process over 15,000 head of cattle each day give the city and region a strong industrial base but one that is dominated by this one industry. Of the 16,022 jobs in Ford County, 36.7% (120th highest rank in the USA) are in the manufacturing sector.

Most of those jobs are held by recent immigrants, with 37% of the county of Hispanic decent. The downtown is dominated by Spanish language signs and Mike Stevens estimated that over 70% of the children in the school system spoke Spanish at home. These new immigrants have created some very unique issues but I’m convinced that Dodge City will be a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity in the future as a result.

Dodge City will be an interesting town to keep track of in the future.

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