Small towns with populations of under 1,500 people dot the landscape in Texas, each with its own economic ups and downs, and some drying up and blowing away altogether in these economic times.

Not so with Hico, a town with a population of 1,374 according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Like its counterparts in the state, it’s had its boom times and rough times, but largely due to a dedicated group of civic-minded citizens over the past 100 years, this little town just keeps on cranking.

Mike James, executive director of the Hico Economic Development Corporation says, “One way to basically gauge economic development is by the number of new businesses coming in, of course. But it’s also your sales tax revenues that the city generates – that’s primarily from people coming into Hico and spending money here. A large part of every town’s principal income is sales tax.

To see how we’re doing, it probably makes sense to go back a bit to before the recession. Before that happened, we were showing solid growth in sales tax revenue for years. In 2007, we had a growth of 11.1 percent, in 2008, 9.8 percent, then in 2009 when the economy was in deep trouble, we showed a net loss of 11.5 percent. In 2010 it was flat, zero percent. But in 2011 we were back up to 11.8 percent, and in 2012 it was 4.6 percent. We estimate that we’ll see about 7.1 in 2013. If you average the last three years out, Hico’s shown 7.8 percent average growth since the recession hit, so things are definitely moving in the right direction for us.”

He continues, “As examples, over the last year we’ve been fortunate enough to fill up three previously-empty buildings with antique stores. We had another building that was empty and we had a construction/retail/interior design company come in called Hill Country Designs. And a building that had sat empty for seven or eight years is now Pecan Street Inn and Suites that has three suites up stairs with a wine, beer and liquor store on the ground floor. That’s five empty buildings we had occupied this last year.

“Another example of economic growth in Hico is that our local doughnut shop expanded into a full bakery, restaurant and convenience store. That’s called Paradise Bakery. Our long-time local pharmacy was bought out by another company and they’ve completely renovated the facility inside and out and added a drive-through.”

James cites local business, Ranglers, as another example of how well things are going in Hico. It’s a convenience store and gas station and they’ve just applied to expand their store with a $200,000 addition.

“Since the City/EDC has renovated the RV park - spending about $80,000 putting all new electrical hookups in, all brand new sewers, water, picnic tables and pads – rental revenues are up by 800 percent.”

James points out that a new subdivision in town called Poplar Court is underway and will eventually build 28 new housing units.

“That’s considerable for a town the size of Hico,” he says.

Two of the most successful projects the EDC has been involved with are a new Sonic coming to town and the dramatic success of the annual, internationally-known Texas Steak Cookoff.

“I’m really proud of those accomplishments. They should be breaking ground on the Sonic this next week; that’s going to create 25 new jobs and should add about $900 thousand a year in ad valorem tax and sales tax. It will be a big economic boost for Hico.”

The Texas Steak Cookoff showed a profit of $31,000 last year, double what was made the year before. James says, “That allowed the EDC to offer incentives to Sonic to locate here, without having to tap into our sales tax revenues to encourage them to come to Hico.”

The city was recently awarded a $3.1-million-dollar grant for a major overhaul of the water system and the construction of a new ground storage water tank, James says.

“That grant will also allow us to go to all-electronic water meters that eliminate the need for someone to go out and read the meters. The data is all fed directly into a computer; it’s very exciting technology.”

“I think we’ve done really well in Hico in relation to a lot of other cities. As you can see, the economic growth in the city is doing very well and we’re very proud of what we’re accomplishing here.”