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Times have been tough across America for the past three years, but in large part the economic woes that have plagued the other 49 states have skipped over Texas. And now, not surprisingly, new numbers show that the Lone Star State is leading the rest of the pack when it comes to economic recovery.

In some states, agriculture has gotten short shrift from legislatures as budgets have tightened. In others, agriculture is being called on to shoulder more of the load as other industries collapse.

In Florida, for example, the recession has crippled construction and tourism; 30 years ago, agriculture was that state's leading economic contributor, but was bypassed as the population exploded. Now that tourism has toppled and construction stopped, ag is once again being called on to bail out the Sunshine State.

But in Texas, a supportive government, a business-friendly climate and geographical advantages have combined to keep the economy healthy, if not robust.

"Agriculture is a major economic driver and employer in Texas, and it is critical that agriculture leaders in the state work with our elected officials to create public policies that balance the needs of both urban and rural areas," Drew DeBerry, deputy commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, told The Produce News. “It remains imperative that our policymakers maintain an understanding and awareness of the interests of agriculture and rural Texas. Legislators must keep in mind laws created to address agricultural issues will impact the food security of rural and urban Texans. The Texas Department of Agriculture works diligently to inform and educate policymakers on the issues impacting agriculture. It boils down to the simple fact that agricultural policies are designed to benefit consumers of food and fiber, and in Texas, 85 percent of consumers live in urban areas.”

Texas added 47,900 jobs in October even though unemployment remained flat at 8.1 percent, according to a mid-November report from the Texas Workforce Commission.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington submarket, unemployment actually rose slightly to 8 percent from 7.9 percent the previous month, a figure that is anomalous with the rest of the state.

Results of a study conducted by economists with BBVA Compass Bank earlier this month said that rising energy demand, a relatively stable housing market, continued private job creation, limited fiscal challenges and strong exports will sustain the state’s economic recovery into 2011.

“Although most states have experienced a growth deceleration in the second half of 2010, Texas’ growth has accelerated and remains solidly positive,” the study said.

The study predicts that the Texas gross domestic product will grow 3 percent this year and 2.8 percent in 2011, with both rates above the projected U.S. average of 2.7 percent in 2010 and 2.3 percent next year.

Through the first nine months of the year, Texas created 182,200 private sector jobs — roughly 16 percent of the U.S. total and the most of any state in the country.

“We’re proud of the state and how our economy has held up,” said Darrell Wolven, vice president of sales for the Tom Lange Co. in Mesquite, TX. “I think our government has business in general on the top — they want business, they support business in our state, whether it be through tax breaks, legislation, whatever — business in general is good in Texas.”

“When the Texas economy thrives, all sectors benefit,” Mr. DeBerry said. “It’s no secret that Texas has weathered the economic storm better than most states across the nation. Our state’s business-friendly environment, low taxes and fair regulatory system have enabled us to be a national leader in job creation. And we continue to receive national recognition for being a frontrunner in the nation’s economy. This is benefiting all Texans in one way or another. A strong agriculture industry benefits the Texas economy by providing an engine for growth. In Texas, the agriculture industry provides a $100 billion impact to our state’s economy, and one out of every seven working Texans is employed in an agricultural-related job. And as our population grows, so will the demand for agriculture and the need to grow the industry.”

Agriculture is a critical part of Texas’ economic well being, but Mr. DeBerry said that the industry means more than just money to the state.

“There is no more important economic indicator than being dependent on a domestically produced, affordable supply of food,” said Mr. DeBerry. “The economic health of consumers and food producers is connected via the dinner table and the pocketbook. Put very simply, when the ag economy prospers, the whole economy benefits and consumers get the most affordable food supply in the world. This industry in Texas will maintain its prominence, providing economic opportunities for all Texans; but only if the federal government finds a way to control its overreach and continual issuance of unreasonable mandates for which costs are known but benefits are obscure. If more costly regulations are imposed on our farming and ranching families, the food security we enjoy will be threatened. Think about it this way ñ right now, we are already dependent on foreign nations for fuel; we cannot become dependent on foreign countries for food.”