Skip to content
Quick Start for:

What is Rural?

Rural Texas Defined
Defining rural is not a simple matter. Most people “know rural when they see it” but pinning down a single classification system that captures the precise differences between rural and urban areas appears impossible. Even the two federal agencies most involved in defining rural have trouble settling on any one definition. On top of that, each of those definitions are revised at least every 10 years with a new census. Accurately identifying rural/urban and metro/non-metro can be crucial for designing public policy as well as providing the basis for many government funding formulas and assistance programs aimed at rural problems.

The U.S. Census Bureau is responsible for defining urban areas and rural areas for the federal government. Basically, the Bureau defines what makes up an urban area, and anything outside is considered rural. For the 2000 Census, the definition of urban is built on classifications of census blocks. An urban area is any area of census blocks with a population density of 1,000 people or more per square mile combined with any surrounding census blocks with densities of at least 500 people per square mile.

For this census period, urban area is further broken down into “Urbanized Areas” (UAs) and “Urban Clusters” (UCs). UAs contains 50,000 people or more while UCs have between 2,500 and 50,000 people. Urban areas contain a “central place,” usually the central city or most populous incorporated place, which serves as a dominant center for the urban area.

The 1990 census definition did not differentiate levels of urban—any place with 2,500 or more people outside a central city and its urban fringe was urban. Because of the change in definitions that requires a higher population density, some areas will go from an urban to a rural classification, and some UAs for the 1990 census will be reclassified as UCs for 2000.[3]

Rural When You See It

The case of Kenedy County, Texas illustrates the problems that can arise from applying arbitrary population standards to whole counties in order to define metropolitan. Kenedy County is the 13th largest sized of Texas’ 254 counties with 1,945.5 square miles in land area, but in 1999 was the third least-populous with just 436 residents. The large land area and small population combine to give Kenedy County a population density of just 0.22 persons per square mile, higher only than Loving County.[8]

The Kenedy County Wide Consolidated School District has just one school with 79 students enrolled in the 1999-2000 school year, the smallest of the nine counties with only one school (only Loving County has no schools). The county has just three communities. The largest town, Sarita, has a population of 250 and another town, Armstrong has just 20 residents.[9] In fact, in Kenedy, there were 108 times more cattle than people in 1999.[10]

Yet, using the new definitions from the Office of Management and Budget, the federal government would classify this county—the ruralest of rural—as a so called “micropolitan” county! Kenedy is considered an outlying county because more than 25 percent of the county’s residents commute to Kleberg County where Kingsville, an urban cluster, is located. In Kenedy, 37.2 percent of the residents are employed in the farm sector, 19.1 percent in the government sector, while only 43.7 percent work in the private sector.[11] The only place many residents can seek employment is outside the county. Without any other reality check applied to the commuting data, that makes Kenedy micropolitan—a new classification that ranks between metropolitan and non-metropolitan.

Since the 1940’s, the federal government has also classified all county-level units as either metropolitan or non-metropolitan to provide consistency to the data “collected, tabulated and published” by Federal agencies. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is currently responsible for developing a single set of geographic definitions solely for statistical purposes. According to the OMB, a metropolitan area is conceptually “an area containing a recognized population nucleus, and adjacent communities having a high degree of integration with that nucleus.”[4] Current (1990) standards for qualification as a metro area, which are applied to census data, are based on population levels (not densities) for any cities and/or urbanized areas located in a county or a group of counties. Under the 1990 standards, Texas has 27 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) made up of 58 counties.[5]

Counties will be reclassified by the OMB by 2003 based on new standards for the 2000 decennial census. A review committee including the Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service and National Center for Health Statistics has developed, with the OMB, the new standards to be applied to the 2000 census data. The OMB adopted the new standards on December 27, 2000, utilizing many of the final recommendations of the committee.[6]The new standards are a modified classification system based on densely settled concentrations of population called “cores,” using the Census definitions for UAs and UCs. All UAs and any UCs over 10,000 population would be classified as a core. The new statistical areas would be called Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) and would be divided into “Metropolitan Statistical Areas” including the counties in urbanized areas of more than 50,000 people, and “Micropolitan Statistical Areas” including the counties in urban clusters between 10,000 and 49,999 people. Counties containing urban clusters less than 2,500 would be considered outside the CBSAs. Both Metropolitan and Micropolitan areas can include more than one county, depending on job commuting patterns between the urban core’s county and the outlying counties.

Applying the new standards to 1990 census data would result in a different picture for Texas’ metro areas. Rather than 27 MSAs with 58 counties, the state would have a total of 65 CBSAs—25 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MeSAs) with 69 counties and 40 Micropolitan Statistical Areas (MiSAs) with 43 counties. (See Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2.) Under the new standards, 14 non-metropolitan counties would be re-classed as MeSAs while three counties would go from metropolitan to micropolitan status. (See Exhibit 3.) Forty more non-metro counties would move to the new MiSA classification.[7] Once the 2000 census is complete, the new OMB standards will be applied to identify the actual final MeSAs and MiSAs in Texas.

Exhibit 3
Texas Counties Which Would Change Metropolitan Status
With 2000 Standards Applied to 1990 Census Data
County Actual Metro Classification for 1990 Hypothetical Change to CBSA Classification
Aransas County Non-metro Metropolitan: Corpus Christi
Armstrong County Non-metro Metropolitan: Amarillo
Atascosa County Non-metro Metropolitan: San Antonio
Austin County Non-metro Metropolitan: Houston
Bandera County Non-metro Metropolitan: San Antonio
Callahan County Non-metro Metropolitan: Abilene
Clay County Non-metro Metropolitan: Wichita Falls
Harrison County Metropolitan: Longview-Marshall MSA Micropolitan: Marshall
Henderson County Metropolitan: Dallas MSA Micropolitan: Athens
Hunt County Metropolitan: Dallas MSA Micropolitan: Greenville
Jones County Non-metro Metropolitan: Abilene
Kendall County Non-metro Metropolitan: San Antonio
Lampasas County Non-metro Metropolitan: Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood
Medina County Non-metro Metropolitan: San Antonio
Rusk County Non-metro Metropolitan: Longview
San Jacinto County Non-metro Metropolitan: Houston
Wise County Non-metro Metropolitan: Dallas-Fort-Worth-Arlington
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Office of Management and Budget, and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Rural by Any Other Name...
The impact of how a particular area is defined can be felt in its residents’ pockets. If a federal or state grant distribution formula for a particular program includes population defined as rural/urban or as metro/non-metro, how that definition is derived can make a big difference on both eligibility for benefits and how much is paid out to whom.

Why It Matters—Rural By Any Other Name

One rural program administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest Dependent Rural Communities (Economic Recovery) Program, is designed to assist disadvantaged rural communities that are economically dependent on forest resources. The program offers aid in the form of project grants, use of property, facilities and equipment, and training to help these communities diversify their economic base and improve their social, economic and environmental well-being. Assisted activities can include upgrade of existing industries, development of new economic activity in non-forest related industries, technical assistance, and education and training to help meet the communities goals.[16] This program was appropriated more than $37 million in federal aid from fiscal year 1992 through 1999, with $120,300 for project grants in Texas.[17]

In order to be eligible for assistance, a rural community must have a population of less than 10,000. County-level assistance is only available if the county is not contained within a metropolitan area. For both cases, the county has to have more than 15 percent of its income from forestry and forest-related industries, broadly defined to include activities such as recreation and tourism. The community or county must also be located within 100 miles of the boundary of a national forest.

Both the use of county-wide income statistics (which is how the numbers are collected by the federal government) and the non-metropolitan requirement can prevent otherwise eligible communities and counties from receiving aid under this program. First, county-level governments or non-profit groups would not be eligible for assistance if the current metropolitan definition includes their county in a neighboring MSA. San Jacinto County, which has received three grants under the Economic Recovery Program, is a prime example. More than 60 percent of this county is part of the Sam Houston National Forest.[18] There are four cities in San Jacinto, with 1999 population levels ranging from 298 to 2,164, accounting for only 17 percent of the county’s population.[19] The county is considered by the USDA to be economically dependent on government, reflecting a narrow economic base, as well as having a high level of persistent poverty and large numbers of residents commuting out of the county to work.[20]

San Jacinto County and its communities met the requirements for aid since all areas are located within 100 miles of a national forest, no area is greater than 10,000 in population and the county was not part of a MSA (under 1990 definitions). Because the county has actually received grants of over $19,000 under this program,[21] more than 15 percent of the county’s labor and proprietary income as calculated by the National Forest Service must have been forest-related or they wouldn’t have been eligible. But, under the new 2000 metropolitan definitions, San Jacinto County would have been considered part of the Houston MSA in 1990.[22] That alone would have prevented at least two of the three grants that were made to county government, though individual communities in San Jacinto could still be eligible.

Another way in which an otherwise eligible community could be excluded from program aid is by the use of county-wide statistics for income. Since OMB has set the standards for federal data collection at the county level, certain statistics are only available for the whole county. In reality, different sections of a county can experience vastly different economic conditions. Walker County provides one example of the potential for strong non-forest economic activity in one part of the county to obscure the economic reliance on forestry of a different section.

Walker County, a non-metropolitan county, is home to part of the Sam Houston National Forest. The county is also home to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice headquarters and Sam Houston State University in Huntsville,[23] the county seat with a population of 32,000 in 1999. Half of the total county earnings are derived from state government activities[24] located in the northern half of the county.

New Waverly is located in the far south of Walker County on the very edge of the national forest, with one traffic light and a population of just 1,011 in 1999. The vicinity’s largest employer has been Louisiana-Pacific, a large plywood-manufacturing mill.[25] Other businesses in New Waverly include a U.S. Forest Service ranger station, Pioneer Furniture, Custom Furniture by Wood Designs and Timber Lodge RV Resort. Besides such small businesses as gas stations (2), day care (1), grocery stores (3), eating establishments (4), used car dealers (1), etc., New Waverly residents have to go to Willis, Huntsville or Conroe for most things.[26]

This town would seem to be just the type of small community the Economic Recovery Program was designed for—non-metropolitan, less than 10,000 residents, close to a national forest, and economically dependent on forest-related industries. In fact, with the November 2000 announcement by Louisiana-Pacific of the permanent closing of its New Waverly plywood mill,[27] New Waverly would seem to be in particular need of economic development assistance. But New Waverly loses out, because Walker County as a whole does not have more than 15 percent of its income from forestry and forest-related industries. If the community was located around 10 miles further east, in San Jacinto County, program benefits would be available.

How you define rural does matter.

There are 218 domestic federal funding programs (excluding programs limited to only indigenous populations such as Indians or specific geographic areas such as Appalachia) available to Texas’ rural areas.[12] Of these programs, 51 are either limited to rural areas or have some part of benefits directed at rural areas while 3 programs exclude rural and are limited to just urban areas. Each program has its own definition of rural and urban, many of which are based on population levels of 10,000 or fewer.

Depending on how rural is defined for any particular program, a rural area and its residents may or may not qualify for the program’s funds and benefits. Disturbingly, some programs include benefit criteria based on metro and non-metro definitions. Since these definitions were specifically developed only for statistical purposes for federal data, the OMB calls their use inappropriate for implementing non-statistical programs and determining program eligibility. In fact, the OMB cautions that their definitions “do not equate to an urban-rural classification” and that “programs that base funding levels or eligibility on whether a county is included in a Metropolitan or Micropolitan Statistical Area may not accurately address issues of problems faced by local populations.”[13]

But where do the programs go to get data? The only place to get the statistics on income, or poverty, or employment or any other criteria is from the federal agencies who are tabulating their numbers on a county-wide basis. Even when a rural definition can be devised based on lower-than-county level statistics for population, there are no other statistics available to use for analysis. If a program is designed to target low-income recipients (at least one-sixth of the 218 domestic programs above), how is the qualifying income basis to be determined except by use of county-level income statistics? In fact, a major issue in the just completed review of the OMB’s metropolitan standard was the question of “What geographic unit should be used as the building block for defining statistical areas?”[14] Though alternative approaches using census tracts to provide lower-level data were explored during the review process, the review committee ultimately recommended that despite the “well-known disadvantages of counties as building blocks for statistical areas—the large geographic size of some counties [particularly applicable in Texas] and the lack of geographic precision—were far outweighed by the advantages” of stability, familiarity and current availability of data.[15]

According to the General Accounting Office (GAO), for fiscal 1998 the federal government distributed $185 billion in grant funding to state and local governments based in some way on population counts. Of the twenty five largest federal grant programs, eight could have possible impacts on eligibility due to metro or urban definitions or requirements for population size. Fourteen of these largest programs have some type of income or poverty requirement, which could affect the amount of funds available or its distribution. Further investigation of how state and federal program funds are distributed seems merited.

One Definition
Rural and urban can be compared on many things: by population, or by population density, or by occupational opportunities, or by the relative presence of agriculture, or by the size of nearby cities and towns or by quality of life, another concept that is hard to pin down. Added to the elusive definitions is the lack of reliable statistics to use in measuring the differences. Few statistics are collected at a level below the county unit. So devising a clearer definition that is based on criteria for which no numbers are available wouldn’t help.

Others beside the federal government take different approaches; Leland Beatty, one-time general manager of Texas Rural Communities, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the interests of rural residents, claims that “rural is anyplace where volunteers really do the bulk of the public work that gets done. There may be a city administrator and a county road and bridge crew, but it’s really volunteers that do most of what gets done. Urban is anyplace where they have whole buildings of guys like...me to do the work for them.” He also states that in actual practice, he tends to think of rural as anyplace outside a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA), but even then, there are varying degrees of “outside.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), using the 1990 Census Bureau and OMB definitions, classifies all American counties by a code based on population, the size of any towns or cities in the county, and the county’s proximity to a metropolitan area. (See Exhibit 4 and Exhibit 5.) Counties are considered “adjacent” to a metro area if they share a border with a metro county and at least 2 percent of their employed labor force commutes outside the county to work.

Exhibit 5
USDA's County Classifications

Urban:

  • Type 0 - Central counties of metro areas with 1 million or more residents
  • Type 1 - Fringe counties of metro areas with 1 million or more residents
  • Type 2 - Counties in metro areas with 250,000 to 1 million residents
  • Type 3 - Counties in metro areas of fewer than 250,000 residents


Rural:

  • Type 4 - Counties with urban populations of 20,000 or more, adjacent to a metro area
  • Type 5 - Counties with urban populations of 20,000 or more, not adjacent to a metro area
  • Type 6 - Counties with urban populations of 2,500 to 19,999, adjacent to a metro area
  • Type 7 - Counties with urban populations of 2,500 to 19,999, not adjacent to a metro area
  • Type 8 - Counties with fewer than 2,500 urban residents, adjacent to a metro area
  • Type 9 - Counties with fewer than 2,500 urban residents, not adjacent to a metro area
Source: USDA Economic Research Service.

In 1993 (the most recent figures available), USDA classified 196 of Texas’ 254 counties as rural; of these, 106 were adjacent to metro areas. Less than a quarter (58) of Texas’ counties can be considered urban. Almost the same number (57) are completely rural—containing no town with a population of 2,500 or more—and the rest lie somewhere in between.

Between 1983 and 1993, nine Texas counties—about 6,900 square miles of the state—were reclassified as urban.[28]

Rural Types
The six different USDA rural county types that classify the state’s non-metro counties encompass over three-fourths of all Texas counties (Exhibit 6). Obviously, no two counties are exactly the same, but counties within each USDA category do share some similar characteristics. Let’s take a closer look at these types.[29]

Exhibit 6
Texas Counties by Type
1993 USDA County Type Number of Counties Total Population 1999
Metro Counties Types 0-3 58 16,960,123
Type 4 "Bedroom Counties" 6 241,071
Type 5 "Lone Stars" 6 304,298
Type 6 "Home Town Counties" 76 1,609,296
Type 7 "Small Town Counties" 51 669,062
Type 8 "Satellite Counties" 24 159,803
Type 9 "Lonely Counties" 33 100,488
Total Texas 254 20,044,141
Sources: USDA Economic Research Service, U.S. Census Bureau, and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Type 4—the “Bedroom Counties”: The “Bedroom Counties,” located next to urban centers, are the most populous of the state’s rural counties, due at least in part to their proximity to major cities. Texas has six of these counties, ranging in population from 30,000 to 55,000 residents. The typical Bedroom County has enjoyed growth in population, employment, and personal income since 1990.

Counties with Urban Populations of 20,000 or More Adjacent to a Metro Area

Type 4—the “Bedroom Counties”: The “Bedroom Counties,” located next to metro centers, are the most populous of the state’s rural counties, due at least in part to their proximity to major cities.

Navarro County, south of the Dallas area, is fairly representative of these counties, with a 1999 population of 41,872. Since 1990, Navarro County’s population has risen by 4.9 percent; its employment rose by 23.9 percent, while the total personal income of its residents grew by 52.6 percent. Its 1999 unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, lower than the state average of 4.6 percent.

Navarro County’s economy is based on agribusiness, diversified manufacturing, distribution, and oil-field operations, with an average annual income per person of $20,294, higher than the average non-metro income of $18,938. The county also features oil and natural gas production and a varied range of agricultural production, including beef cattle, cotton and various crops.

Navarro’s major city is Corsicana, the county seat, with a population of nearly 23,000. Corsicana is a major distribution center and home to Navarro College, a Texas Youth Commission facility, and various manufacturing and distribution businesses. The county contains 19 other, much smaller towns ranging in population from 40 to 1,650.

Bedroom Counties Type 4

Hale County

Jim Wells County

Kleberg County

Matagorda County

Navarro County

Walker County

Source: USDA Economic Research Service.

All six of the Bedroom Counties would have been MiSAs in 1990 under the new OMB standards.

Type 5—the “Lone Stars”: Type 5 counties contain relatively large towns but are not located near any metropolitan areas. Texas has six Lone Star counties, ranging in population from 32,000 to 78,000 residents.

All of the Lone Stars have a major town as their county seat and benefit from at least one additional major government activity. These include higher education (Nacogdoches in Nacogdoches County and Paris in Lamar County); state or federal prisons (Big Spring in Howard County); state or federal medical institutions, such as the Veterans Administration hospital in Howard County’s Big Spring; forest service installations (Lufkin in Angelina County); international crossings (Eagle Pass in Maverick County and Del Rio in Val Verde County); or a military institution (Del Rio in Val Verde County).

Like the Bedroom Counties, the Lone Stars also enjoyed rising population, employment, and personal income in the 1990s. All six of the Lone Stars would have been considered Micropolitan in 1990 under the new metro/non-metro standards.

Counties with Urban Populations of 20,000 or More Not Adjacent to a Metro Area

Type 5—the “Lone Stars”: Type 5 counties contain relatively large towns but are but not located near any metropolitan areas.

Nacogdoches County in eastern Texas is fairly representative, with a 1999 population of 56,147. Its economy is based on agribusiness, timber, manufacturing, education, and tourism, with an average annual income per person of $19,520. The county’s population has risen slightly since 1990 (2.4 percent); total employment rose by 12.5 percent over the decade, while personal income grew by 50.7 percent. Nacogdoches County’s unemployment rate in 1999 was 3.8 percent, lower than the average metro area rate of 4.4 percent.

Nacogdoches County’s major city is Nacogdoches, the county seat, with a population of almost 31,000. Nacogdoches is a trade center and home to Stephen F. Austin State University, hospitals, lumber mills, wood products and other varied manufacturing enterprises. The county also contains nine other, much smaller towns ranging in population from 70 to 1,100.

Nacogdoches offers many recreational activities, including fishing and boating on Lake Nacogdoches and the Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The county also is home to the Angelina National Forest as well as numerous historic sites. The county produces a substantial amount of timber as well as oil and natural gas, and is a leading poultry and dairy county.

Lone Star Counties Type 5

Angelina County

Howard County

Lamar County

Maverick County

Nacogdoches County

Val Verde County

Source: USDA Economic Research Service.

Type 6—“Home Town” Counties: Type 6 counties contain smaller towns than Type 5 counties but are located near a major metro center. Texas has 76 Home Town counties, more than any other type. They range in population from 4,000 to 57,000 residents.

In the 1990s, the typical Home Town County enjoyed even more growth in population, employment, and personal income than did its larger relatives, the Bedroom Counties. This growth was not uniform, however. Population changes for the 76 counties ranged from a gain of more than 70 percent in Polk County to a loss of 14 percent of Reagan County’s residents. Employment growth ranged from a high of nearly 71 percent in Kendall County to a loss of 11 percent of Andrews County’s jobs. The same variety was seen in personal income growth, from a rise of more than 103 percent in Starr County to a loss of over 7 percent in Martin County.

Under the new OMB standards, 17 Home Town Counties would have been classified as MiSAs in 1990, while another 11 of the 76 would actually been part of MeSAs and not considered rural at all.

Counties with Urban Populations of 2,500 to 19,000 Adjacent to a Metro Area

Type 6—”Home Town” Counties: Type 6 counties contain smaller towns than Type 5 counties but are located near a major urban center.

Burnet County in Central Texas, northwest of Austin and adjacent to both the Austin metro area and the Killeen-Temple metro area, is an example of a thriving Home Town County. Burnet County’s economy is based on agribusiness, stone processing, manufacturing, tourism, and hunting, which provide average annual incomes of $19,910, higher than the average for Texas’ rural counties. Burnet County’s population rose by more than 50 percent in the 1990s, while its total employment grew by 55.9 percent and its personal income jumped by an impressive 78 percent. The county’s 1999 unemployment rate was 2.7 percent, only three-fifths of the average unemployment rate for the state.

With a 1999 population of 34,120, Burnet has two major towns. The largest is Marble Falls (population 6,100), which relies primarily on tourism, ranching, stone quarrying and varied manufacturing. The second largest town is Burnet, the county seat, with a population of 4,800. Burnet is a center for government services including a state prison, a hospital, ranching, tourism, quarrying, and chemical manufacturing. Seven smaller towns in the county range in size from 90 to 2,000.

Burnet has a number of recreation activities, including water sports on Lake Buchanan, Inks, Lake, LBJ Lake, Lake Travis and the Llano and Colorado rivers. Burnet, part of the Texas Hill country with its hilly terrain is a favorite for hunting, birding and wildflowers. The county also is the state’s granite capital and a major source of limestone. Burnet has limited agricultural activity, mostly centered on livestock, hay and pecans.

Home Town Counties Type 6

Anderson County* Hamilton County Morris County

Andrews County* Hill County Nolan County*

Aransas County** Hockley County* Palo Pinto County*

Atascosa County** Hopkins County* Panola County

Austin County** Hutchinson County* Polk County

Bee County* Jack County Reagan County

Bosque County Jackson County Red River County

Burleson County Jasper County Refugio County

Burnet County Jim Hogg County Robertson County

Calhoun County* Jones County** Runnels County

Callahan County** Karnes County Rusk County**

Camp County Kendall County** Starr County

Cass County Lamb County Swisher County

Cherokee County* Lampasas County** Terry County

Clay County** LaSalle County Tyler County

Coleman County Lavaca County Van Zandt County

Cooke County* Lee County Ward County

Crane County Limestone County Washington County*

Deaf Smith County* Live Oak County Wharton County*

DeWitt County Lynn County Wilbarger County*

Erath County* Madison County Willacy County

Falls County Martin County Winkler County

Fannin County Medina County** Wise County**

Garza County Milam County Wood County

Gonzales County Moore County* Zapata County

Grimes County

**Would have been Metropolitan under new OMB standards.

*Would have been Micropolitan under new OMB standards.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service.

Type 7—“Small Town” Counties: Type 7 counties feature small towns, like the Home Town Counties, but are not located near an urban center.

Texas has 51 counties of this type, ranging in population from 3,000 to 43,000 residents.

In the 1990s, the Small Town Counties enjoyed less growth in population, employment, and personal income than their Home Town counterparts. Still, many have prospered by developing other industries, such as tourism, to provide broader employment opportunities.

Eight of the 51 Small Town Counties would have been classified as Micropolitan counties in 1990 under the new OMB standards.

Counties with Urban Populations of 2,500 to 19,000 Not Adjacent to a Metro Area

Type 7—”Small Town” Counties: Type 7 counties feature small towns, like the Home Town Counties, but are not located near an urban center.

Gaines County in West Texas provides an example of a Small Town County. With a 1999 population of 14,767 people, its economy is based on agribusiness and oil and natural gas production, with an average annual income per person of $18,191, slightly lower than the average income for all non-metro counties. Gaines County’s population swelled by 4.7 percent in the 1990s; employment rose by 17.8 percent through 1998, while personal income grew by 34.4 percent. Gaines County’s unemployment rate in 1999 was 5.4 percent, above the state average of 4.6 percent.

Gaines County’s major city is Seminole, the county seat, with a population of 6,800. Seminole is a market center and has a hospital. The county has only two other towns, Seagraves and Loop, with populations of 2,400 and 300 respectively.

Gaines County is one of the state’ leading oil producers and is home to a variety of agricultural operations that produce cotton, peanuts, and irrigated vegetable crops, as well as cattle, sheep, and hogs.

Small Town Counties Type 7

Bailey County Fayette County Montague County

Baylor County Floyd County Ochiltree County

Brewster County Freestone County Parmer County

Brooks County Frio County Pecos County

Brown County* Gaines County Presidio County

Castro County Gillespie County Reeves County*

Childress County Gray County* San Saba County

Cochran County Hansford County Scurry County*

Colorado County Hardeman County Shelby County

Comanche County Hartley County Stephens County

Crockett County Haskell County Sutton County

Culberson County Houston County Titus County*

Dallam County Kerr County* Trinity County

Dawson County* Kimble County Uvalde County*

Dimmit County Llano County Yoakum County

Duval County McCulloch County Young County

Eastland County Mitchell County Zavala County

*Would have been Micropolitan under new OMB standards.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service.

Type 8—“Satellite” Counties: Type 8 counties are the smallest of the rural counties located adjacent to a metropolitan area. Texas has 24 of these counties, ranging in population from 1,300 to 23,000 residents. The typical Satellite County has enjoyed growth in population, employment, and personal income since 1990.

Three Satellite Counties would have been part of Metropolitan areas in 1990 using the new OMB standards, while one county would have been Micropolitan. Two of the counties that would have been part of MeSAs, Bandera County and San Jacinto County, were among the top three Satellite counties in population, income and employment growth this decade.

Counties with Fewer than 2,500 Urban Residents Adjacent to a Metro Area

Type 8—"Satellite" Counties: Type 8 counties are the smallest of the rural counties located next to a metropolitan area.

Goliad County in South Texas (adjacent to the Victoria metro area) with a 1999 population of 7,125, is a typical Satellite County. Goliad County’s economy is based on oil and gas production, beef cattle operations, grain and fruit crops, an electric-generating plant, and tourism, which help produce an average annual income per person of $15,451, lower than the rural average. In the 1990s, Goliad County’s population rose by 19.5 percent, but total employment moved up by only 12.2 percent. Personal income rose by 36.3 percent. Goliad County’s unemployment rate in 1999 was 4.3 percent, less than the average for the state.

The county seat, Goliad, is one of the state’s oldest towns, with a population of 2,300. Three other smaller towns in the county range in population from 250 to 400.

Satellite Counties Type 8

Armstrong County** Glasscock County Oldham County

Bandera County** Goliad County Rains County

Blanco County Hudspeth County San Jacinto County**

Carson County Irion County Schleicher County

Coke County Leon County Shackelford County

Concho County Marion County Somervell County

Crosby County Menard County Sterling County

Delta County* Newton County Upton County

**Would have been Metropolitan under new OMB standards.

*Would have been Micropolitan under new OMB standards.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service.

Type 9—“Lonely Counties”: Type 9 counties are the most “rural” of all, located away from any metropolitan area and featuring small towns only. Texas has 33 counties of this type. The Lonely Counties range in population from just 113 (the least-populous in the state) to 10,500 residents.

In recent years, the Lonely Counties have seen the lowest growth in income in the state; 20 counties saw drops in real income. The typical Lonely County saw relatively little growth in population or employment during the 1990s, and nearly two-thirds of them actually lost population.

Two Lonely Counties would have been considered part of MiSAs in 1990 under the new OMB standards. Kenedy County would have be an outlying county in Kingsville’s Micropolitan Area, while Roberts County would be part of Pampa’s.

Counties with Fewer than 2,500 Urban Residents Not Adjacent to a Metro Area

Type 9—”Lonely Counties”: Type 9 counties are the most “rural” of all, located away from any metropolitan area and featuring small towns only.

Collingsworth County in the Panhandle is a good example of a Lonely County. With a total 1999 population of 3,172, Collingsworth County’s economy is based on agribusiness and manufacturing, which support an average annual income per person of $18,065, less than the state’s average non-metro per capita income of $18,938. During the last decade, the county’s population shrank by 10.6 percent, but both total employment and personal income rose (by 17.9 percent and 3.8 percent respectively). Collingsworth County’s unemployment rate in 1999 was 1.1 percent, the state’s lowest.

Collingsworth’s major town is Wellington, the county seat, with a population of 2,200. Wellington’s economy is based on peanut processing, agriculture, varied manufacturing, and a hospital. Three other smaller towns in the county have about 100 residents each.

Lonely Counties Type 9

Borden County Hemphill County Mills County

Briscoe County Jeff Davis County Motley County

Collingsworth County Kenedy County* Real County

Cottle County Kent County Roberts County*

Dickens County King County Sabine County

Donley County Kinney County San Augustine County

Edwards County Knox County Sherman County

Fisher County Lipscomb County Stonewall County

Foard County Loving County Terrell County

Franklin County McMullen County Throckmorton County

Hall County Mason County Wheeler County

*Would have been Micropolitan under new OMB standards

Source: USDA Economic Research Service.