TIME Marketing & Advertising

Think Your Local Tourism Slogan Is a Stupid Waste of Money? You’re Not Alone


To pump up tourism and attraction conventions, cities and states regularly roll out new logos, slogans, and marketing campaigns. Locals tend to view the efforts largely as nonsense or worse, a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Indiana Office of Tourism Development, which in February unveiled a new slogan for state tourism marketing, has already felt compelled to go public with a defense of the motto. “Honest to Goodness Indiana” will be replacing the previous slogan, “Restart Your Engines,” which was itself introduced in 2006. Responding to criticism that the new “slogan doesn’t have anything to do with travel or tourism and reinforces stereotypes of Indiana residents as unsophisticated bumpkins,” as the Associated Press summed up, tourism officials say that the slogan is good for branding, especially in light of the larger campaign that’s planned.

“The initial reaction that it’s too ‘Mayberry’ or whatnot, that can be tamped down when put in context with the whole branding campaign,” a tourism development spokesperson explained to the Indianapolis Star.

Last summer in Colorado, meanwhile, locals were taking aim at the state’s branding efforts via a newly launched slogan (“It’s Our Nature”) and logo, a green triangle with a mountain peak icon and the letters CO. “It looks like something my students could have put together in five minutes,” Darrin Duber-Smith, a marketing consultant and professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said to the Denver Post. “It reminds me of a haz-mat symbol, or something you’d find on a construction hard hat. It’s a very weak and non-creative effort.”

(MORE: Wanna Work With Weed? First-Ever Marijuana Job Fair in Denver This Week)

Philadelphia has a new slogan too: “PHL: Here for the Making,” which was introduced last month and will be the focus of a three-year marketing campaign.

And yeah, some Philadelphians aren’t fans—including folks who are in the business of promoting the city as a destination. “People don’t understand what it means,” Meryl Levitz, the head of VisitPhiladelphia, said of the new slogan, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Adding to the confusion—and arguably, adding to the idea that such marketing efforts are a waste of time and money—the Inquirer’s article explains that Levitz’s organization is one of two marketing agencies whose job it is to make Philadelphia attractive to outsiders. In addition to VisitPhiladelphia, a tourist-focused agency that is sticking with its own signature slogan (“With Love, Philadelphia, xoxo”), there is the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), which concentrates more on wooing conventions, and which is responsible for the new “Here for the Making” slogan. Each organization has its own website, staff, and high-paid chief executive (over $400K in Levitz’s case).

Naturally, these organizations argue that their campaigns are effective and necessary in order to achieve their goals. “There is no way the Convention and Visitors Bureau would be able to get the resources for a full-fledged tourist campaign and zoom leisure the way we have,” Levitz told the Inquirer, defending VisitPhiladelphia’s marketing efforts, as well as its existence as a separate entity from the CVB. Still, while agencies can and do point to rising visitor numbers or hotel room booking data as proof of their worth, it’s difficult to connect the dots and conclude that a slogan or broader advertising campaign is directly responsible in any way for a destination becoming trendy among tourists and conventioneers.

An Indianapolis Star story exploring the relative worth of Indiana’s new slogan cited the insights of Roger Brooks, a Renton, Wash., tourism and community development expert, who says that people don’t decide to go somewhere just because of a slogan. “Do you go to Disneyland or Disney World because their slogan is ‘The Happiest Place on Earth?’ Of course not,” says Brooks. “We go there because of our perception of it.”

(MORE: This Broke Country Is Basically Giving Away Free Villages)

The question is: to what extent does “The Happiest Place on Earth,” “Honest to Goodness,” “Here for the Making,” or any other slogan affect one’s perception of the destination?

A study published in the Journal of Advertising and Promotion Research indicates that at least in terms of Facebook and online engagement, the impact of slogans is mixed. “The overall results of the study indicate slogans have significant impact on the image of a destination and its Facebook tourism site,” the study states in its conclusion. “They also influence the potential tourist’s intention to visit the destination as well as its Facebook site. Slogans, however, do not make a significant difference in building awareness or attitudes, concerning either the destination or its site.”

An AdAge story on slogans for destinations as well as corporate brands argued that the best all-time slogans generally aren’t short two- or three-word phrases, which, ultimately, don’t mean much and are rarely memorable. A vague short slogan like “Honest to Goodness,” then, would seem to be pretty weak. Instead, the case is made that the best slogans tend to be a little longer, so that they can pack in some emotion and personality, and so they’re just plain easier to remember. Among tourism slogans, Sin City’s “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” and Reno’s “The biggest little city in the world” are highlighted among the all-time greats.

On the other hand, there has been no shortage of misguided “what were they thinking?” tourism slogans that have surfaced over the years. Some critics have taken slogans like “SayWA” (Washington) and “It Will Never Leave You” (Panama) to task. The Telegraph (UK) did a roundup of the world’s most dubious tourist slogans, which included Panama’s and one from Colombia: “The only risk is wanting to stay,” a backhanded reminder of the country’s reputation for risk and danger, including its status as a hot spot for kidnappings.

(MORE: Drink Up! Later Last Call Coming to a Bar New You?)

Slogans come and go. Some will resonate and be successful, while the vast majority will be forgettable or worse, loathed. The current debate about Philadelphia’s new slogan harkens back to the late ’90s, when the city’s freshly rolled-out tourism motto (“The Place That Loves You Back”) was widely bashed. “It’s marginally better than: ‘Philadelphia: The Place that Bombs Your Roof’,” observed Advertising Age’s Bob Garfield, per an Inquirer column at the time. “But, to me, it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to get people to change their summer plans.”

TIME Food and Beverage Industry

Drink Up! Later Last Call Coming to a City Near You?

Getty Images

More cities want to be known as the city that never sleeps. Or at least as the city that isn’t so lame as to force bars to shut down soon after midnight.

Boston has a new mayor, Martin J. Walsh, and he’s hoping to change the city’s image from “puritan” to “cosmopolitan.” Nightlife has traditionally ended early in Boston, with most bars announcing last call at around 1 a.m. That’s also the time the city’s T subway system shuts down. Compared to cities like New York, where last call is 4 a.m. and the subway runs 24/7, Boston’s hours of business can seem like the equivalent of a nagging mom, making sure that everyone gets to bed on time.

Walsh wants to change all that, according to the Boston Herald, which reported that the mayor is announcing in a speech on Friday the launch of a “late night task force” whose mission is to shake off Boston’s stuffy image and make the city more vibrant and attractive to young people, international travelers, and anyone else who expects modern metropolises to offer food, fun, and entertainment 24 hours a day. It looks like the first step in this process will be pushing for later hours at bars and restaurants, perhaps with a 2:30 a.m. last call and the option of staying open until 3:30 a.m. for dancing. Weekend public transportation service could be extended into the wee hours of the morning as well.

Supporters of the initiative say that longer hours in a wide range of businesses have come to be expected in today’s world, and that the move is necessary for the city’s future from a purely economic point of view. “To me it’s not just about being out partying and drinking. I think the world has changed,” Greg Selkoe, founder e-retail apparel seller Karmaloop and creator of a youth-focused nonprofit called Future Boston Alliance, told the Herald. “It’s an economic development issue. If Boston wants to keep up with the rest of the world, it needs to loosen up a bit.”

(MORE: Q&A: Why Taylor Swift Thinks Nashville Is the Greatest Place on Earth)

Massachusetts as a whole seems more amenable to loosening up these days. A bill was recently approved in the house that would allow liquor stores to open earlier on Sundays; they’re currently banned from opening before noon, but if and when the bill officially becomes law, stores would be able to open at 10 a.m.

Boston isn’t the only city eyeing later last calls—and later business hours in general—as a means to juice local business and give downtowns a more youthful edge and vibrant, cosmopolitan feel. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Orlando, and Lincoln, Neb., are among the cities that have either approved or have been having discussions about giving the OK to open containers and longer bar hours in specific neighborhoods. Earlier this year in Colorado, lawmakers proposed new rules that would allow municipalities to let bars stay open as late as 4:30 a.m., rather than shut down at 2 a.m. like they do now.

In many cases, proponents of later hours make the argument that later last calls would make cities safer. Right now, the sidewalks flood with unruly crowds the moment the lights are dimmed, and many of the woozy bar patrons aren’t ready to call it a night. The theory is that with later closing times, bar customers would trickle out periodically as the night grows longer, decreasing the chances of a mob scene when the doors are finally shut.

(MORE: New Way to Save Downtown: Open-Air Drinking, Longer Bar Hours)

This is exactly the argument being made in Montreal right now, even though the bar closing time is currently 3 a.m. Mayor Denis Coderre is pushing a pilot project that would give bars to have the option of staying open until 6 a.m. “The reason is pretty simple, and it’s also a matter of security,” Coderre explained, per CBC News. “When we close the bars at 3 a.m., everybody is getting out into the street at the same time. And then you have some people fighting, you have some security problems, and of course you have the noise that comes with it.”

TIME States

An Ohio Government Agency Didn’t Realize It Had Porn Posted On Its Website

Hands typing on laptop computer, close-up
Getty Images

One of the videos was called "Sexy Babe," so yeah

The thing about porn is that maybe you shouldn’t allow it to be uploaded to the website of the government agency where you work.

But alas, that’s what somehow happened at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently. Two porn videos — one titled “Sexy Babe” — ended up on the agency’s division of oil and gas web page, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Along with the porn were music files and other non-official materials.

Here’s what happened: the site is home to a data management system that contains “comprehensive well data for over 100,000 wells permitted since 1980.” But no credentials were required to transfer and share files there, ODNR spokesperson Eileen Corson told the Columbus Dispatch, so anyone could access the system and post whatever they wanted. In this case: porn.

It might seem like the work of a bored hacker, but after a bit of investigation, the agency ruled that out.

“Someone was using it as cloud storage,” Corson said. “Unfortunately, that happens.”

The ODNR has since taken the non-official (and, uh, inappropriate) files down and will now require the proper credentials to access the system. So the site will in theory remain porn-free, unless an employee accidentally posts it, which kind of seems plausible.

(h/t the Daily Dot)

TIME Food & Drink

The Government Took the Time to Prove that Americans Really Love Pizza

heart shaped pizza
heart shaped pizza Getty Images

On any given day, 13 percent of Americans are eating it.

There are few things as universally adored and decidedly non-divisive as pizza. But even though we all know how much everyone loves to eat pizza, the United States government still went ahead and put together a report detailing just how much we love it and just how much we’re eating it. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 13 percent of Americans eat pizza on any given day
  • A quarter of males ages 6-18 eat pizza on any given day
  • For those who eat pizza on any given day, it accounts for 25 percent (among kids) and 29 percent (among adults) of daily energy intake
  • The people who eat the least amount of pizza are women ages 60 and over
  • Overall, men are eating pizza much more frequently than women

The most important finding, though? Pizza was, is and always will be delicious.

TIME State of the Union 2014

You, the People

Obama urges Congress to quit bickering and just get the job done. Like the rest of us do

It is a well-known axiom of American politics that the word we is far more powerful than I. But Barack Obama demonstrated in his clever State of the Union message that you can be the most powerful pronoun of all. “It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong,” he said at the start of the speech. “Here are the results of your efforts.” And then a litany of good news: unemployment down, housing and manufacturing rebounding, increased energy independence, budget deficits cut in half.

Given the hand-wringing and rancor of the past decade, this was a fresh breeze. It informed the rest of the speech: We’re doing O.K., but there are things–not monster things, simple things–that we can do to make this a jollier place. “Give America a raise!” Obama said, smiling, joyous. He made it sound like fun. And there was, implicit in all this fun we could have together, a message to Washington: We the Politicians aren’t doing nearly as well as You the People. We’re having this big, important, out-of-proportion debate about the size of government, but when that debate “prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy–when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States–then we are not doing right by the American people.” So c’mon, let’s get our act together!

The speech was billed as a left-populist call to arms on income inequality, in which the President would assert his right to act independently of Congress. And yes, some of that was in there–but modestly so. There was no “soak the rich” rhetoric. Opportunity was the operative word, rather than inequality. “Opportunity is who we are,” he said–a nice, simple sentence. The deficit-reduction discussion of years past–another out-of-proportion debate–was pretty much gone too. There was an awful lot of uplift: The daughter of a factory worker who became the CEO of General Motors. The independent female entrepreneur who, with the help of a federal job-training program, built an auto-parts company in Detroit. Carefully, Obama avoided the reality that federal job-training programs are a mess, then promised to have Vice President Joe Biden sort them out, with a brief nod to the need to “streamline” the government.

There were elements that Republicans clearly didn’t like. The President’s flat-out statement that “climate change is a fact”–another nice, simple sentence–will probably roil the troglodytes, but in this ridiculous winter, it had some heft. Similarly, his defense of the Affordable Care Act contained the sharpest elbow of the night, aimed at the House Republicans’ witless pursuit of repealing Obamacare: “Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.” At the same time, he offered to seriously consider specific Republican proposals to reform the law.

Those proposals may finally be taking shape. Three Republican Senators recently announced a plan to “replace” Obamacare–that’s a necessary fig leaf for their party’s rabid base–which contained some interesting ideas and seemed, at the very least, a good way to launch some real negotiations on the law. The Republican opposition to Obamacare has been disingenuous from the start, but there are conservative, market-oriented ideas that could strengthen the program. The President himself has cited the need for medical-malpractice reform. Even if it succeeds splendidly–and it might–this is a law that will require constant bipartisan tinkering. It would also be nice to think that some progress could be made this year on immigration: “legalizing” undocumented workers rather than granting them full citizenship may be a good interim step toward defusing the poisonous status quo.

As I listened to Obama’s speech, I found myself thinking about the media’s role in creating the tense, toxic atmosphere of the past decade. We do gridlock a lot better than we do compromise. Our pages and broadcasts are overstuffed with fanatic pessimists. There is a chronic optimism deficit. We have been inured to this by a mudslide of shockingly bad news, from 9/11 to the Great Recession, and we have exploited it by succumbing to the entertainment value of contentiousness. We have wrapped ourselves in a straitjacket of cynicism.

And then comes a moment like Obama’s concluding celebration of Army Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, nearly killed by a roadside bomb, struggling to rebuild himself, to regain his voice–a metaphor for our country’s slow recovery from the bombs and crashes of the 21st century. The President drove this message home, but he didn’t need to: just the sight of Remsburg awkwardly, but triumphantly, waving a hand and trying to smile was enough: If he can, we can.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

TIME Currency

Currency Crises Abroad Are Benefiting the U.S.

Victor Albrow / Getty Images

Analysts are calling them “The Fragile Five,” a catchy sobriquet for five countries–Turkey, Brazil, India, South Africa and Indonesia–that have been experiencing serious turmoil in their economies and currencies in recent weeks.

To one degree or another these five economies have been rocked by foreign investors who are taking their money and parking it in safer and increasingly more lucrative investments in developed countries like the U.S. This capital flight has caused these nations’ currencies to plummet in value, forcing central banks to raise interest rates and possibly weaken economic growth at home. This week, the Turkish Central Bank raised its interest rate a stunning 4.5%, hoping to convince investors to keep their money in Turkey.

So what exactly does a currency crisis in Turkey or India have to do with the U.S.? In recent days, foreign leaders like Brazilian President Dilma Roussef reportedly laid blame for economic troubles in her country at the feet of the United States’ Federal Reserve, saying “the withdrawal of the monetary stimulus in developed countries” was fueling “market volatility.” Some analysts have dismissed this as simple scapegoating, but according to Eswar Prasad, a Cornell economist and author of a forthcoming book on the international monetary system, The Dollar Trap, the analysis is not entirely off the mark. Volatility in places like Brazil “isn’t an indictment of Federal Reserve policy, but it certainly is a side effect,” he says.

Presad explains that, following the financial crisis, the central banks of developed countries like the United States and Britain engaged in unprecedented efforts to keep interest rates very low, which motivated investors to look abroad for higher returns. Now that the U.S. is beginning to unwind this stimulus, and investors are beginning to worry about future growth prospects in places like Turkey, the reverse is happening. Money is flowing quickly from poorer countries to the developed world, fomenting economic instability in the process.

The reason for this instability, Prasad argues, is dominant position of the U.S. dollar in global finance. But this is not just a worry for the citizens of The Fragile Five. It also affects the lives of everyday Americans in countless ways, from how much they pay for their mortgage to how much the U.S. government can afford to spend on things like Social Security.

A series of financial crises from those in Latin America in the 1980s, to the Asian crisis of the 1990s, to the global meltdown we experienced five years ago has convinced developing countries that they need to amass large currency reserves to stabilize their own currencies and enable banks and businesses in their home country to continue operating during financially stressful times. Turkey, for instance, sold its dollar reserves last week in an attempt to prop up the price of the Turkish lira and quell instability.

Instead of just holding onto dollars, however, central banks like to keep much of their reserves in U.S. treasury debt so that it can earn a return from the savings, while still being “liquid,” or easy to convert to cash in a pinch. The result is massive foreign demand for U.S. government debt. As of June 2013, roughly one-third of the U.S.’s outstanding $16.8 trillion in debt was owned by foreigners, while the Federal Reserve owned one-tenth. That’s a whole lot of demand for U.S. debt that is purely the result of the dollar’s role as the world’s “reserve” currency.

The effect of all this foreign demand is to keep interest rates in America much lower than they otherwise would be. That means that we’re paying less for our cars, mortgages, and government debt that we would without that demand. It also means that the swift reduction in the deficit we’ve seen in recent years is probably unnecessary, especially because turmoil abroad is only going to make investing in U.S. government debt more attractive to investors in the near term. “The U.S. is in a very good position,” Prasad says. “All of this turmoil is going to drive even more capitol to our shores.”

So is there any downside to the dollar’s dominance of the globe? Unfortunately, yes. While demand for U.S. debt abroad drives down interest rates, it also drives up the price of the dollar, making U.S. companies less competitive internationally. And at a time when Americans are starved for good paying jobs, it can ill afford to be fighting for its share of exports with one hand tied behind its back. So while the reign of the U.S. Dollar might make it easier for the U.S. government to take care of its citizens, it’s making it harder for Americans to take care of themselves.

TIME Public Safety

Your Texting Addiction is Starting to Cost the Government

A pedestrian crosses the street in Chicago while talking on her cell phone. Getty Images

Cities unveil plans to fight the latest urban scourge: distracted walking

The stories sound like jokes with the same punch line: Why did the man almost walk into a bear? Why did the woman tumble into a fountain? Why did the tourist fall off a pier? Because they were so engrossed in their phones that they had ceased paying attention to their surroundings. Yes, all those things actually happened. And apparently the man, the woman and the tourist are in good company.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that more than half of cell phone users have been affected by “distracted walking,” which they defined as respondents who had either bumped into something or been bumped into because someone was overly fixated on their screen. Researchers at the University of Washington observed more than 1,000 pedestrians and found nearly one in three was distracted by a mobile device as they crossed high-risk intersections; texters were less likely to look both ways or obey lights. Another study from The Ohio State University analyzed hospital data and found that injuries involving walking and using a cell phone more than doubled between 2005 and 2010.

These findings come as pedestrian fatalities are on the rise nationwide. A pedestrian now dies roughly once every two hours in a traffic collision, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Though the federal government doesn’t tally how many deaths involved an electronic device, the problem of people walking on busy roads with their eyes on a phone and headphones in their ears has become serious enough that the government is dishing out money to fight it. When the Department of Transportation announced $2 million to combat pedestrian deaths, distracted walking was singled out as a problem that needs to be addressed. Recipients of the grants have not yet been announced, but the money will go to places where pedestrians are more likely to be victims; in New York City, for instance, travelers who are on foot account for more than 50% of traffic collision deaths.

“It’s like a drug. People are addicted to it.”That comes on top of a $400,000 federal grant given to TriMet, the public transit service in Portland, Ore. This February, TriMet will start testing buses outfitted with different types of gear designed to wake pedestrians up. Over six months, officials will conduct the nation’s first research on whether bright headlights or audio messages like “Pedestrians, bus is turning” or big signs that simply say “BUS” are best at cutting through the electronic fog. “It is something we face daily in our work,” says TriMet’s Roberta Altstadt. “People are out there and they’re just not paying attention no matter what we say.”

Lawmakers in at least five states have attempted to pass laws that address distracted walking, but the measures have so far fallen flat. In 2013, Nevada Assemblyman Harvey Munford proposed making it a crime to type or text while crossing a highway. “I notice it when I’m driving, people texting away on that phone. As soon as school is dismissed, students are out the door and the first thing they’re doing is pulling out their phones. I see it when I’m driving up and down where the resorts are on the Strip,” Munford says. “It’s like a drug. People are addicted to it.”

The bill never made it out of committee, much like a New Jersey effort to designate September as Distracted Walking Awareness Month. Munford says he may introduce an updated distracted walking bill this year. The last one inspired debates about what level of use rises to distraction—talking? texting? just glancing to see who called?—and which roads would be affected—just highways? boulevards? two-lane streets?—as well as how a law might affect liability in accidents.

But even a very tailored bill will encounter forces that have helped kill such measures in the past. The notion of government presuming to say what people can and cannot do while putting one foot in front of the other is enough to set off nanny-state alarm bells among many lawmakers and their constituents. After the Utah Transit Authority instituted a $50 civil fine for anyone crossing light rail tracks while texting, talking on cellphones or wearing headphones, the agency asked the legislature to make that behavior a violation of state law. A committee voted the proposal down. “”You can’t legislate [not being] stupid,” State Rep. Craig Frank told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “This is way out of bounds. I’m surprised we have the guts to look at stuff like this.”

There is at least one precedent for putting new laws on the books: Rexburg, Idaho, where the City Council voted 4-to-2 in 2011 to make texting while in a crosswalk illegal. Violators may find themselves $50 poorer on the first offense. (It was widely misreported that Fort Lee, N.J., passed a similar ban.)

In the meantime, many local governments have opted for less punitive awareness efforts. San Francisco, where three pedestrians have already died this year, will launch a “Be Nice, Look Twice” campaign in February to encourage people to be more aware of their surroundings. In Delaware, highway safety officials have tried plastering sidewalks with stickers that say “Look up.” A Maryland county partnered with the organization Safe Kids Worldwide for a “Moment of Silence” campaign, started after a 15-year-old girl who was crossing the street while listening to music and looking at her cellphone was killed by a passing car. Students are asked to remember her and put their devices away before stepping into the road.

A few amateur activists have opted for a lighter take. In New York City, half the members of an improv comedy group donned bright orange vests that designated them as “Seeing Eye People” and led the other half around on leashes while they texted away, claiming it was a city pilot program. The videos are hilarious, but their joke about a buddy system highlights a serious truth: most of the time, no one is going to be around to protect distracted walkers from themselves. And the government certainly isn’t going to subsidize the habit. The most cost-effective fix is for pedestrians to decide to put their phones away. “At the end of the day,” TriMet’s Altstadt says, “it comes down to some amount of personal responsibility.”

TIME States

Why Texas Is Our Future

The United States of Texas Cover Story
Photo-illustration By Sarah Illenberger For TIME

Correction Appended: Oct. 21, 2013

They say the Lone Star State has four seasons: drought, flood, blizzard and twister. This summer 97% of the state was in a persistent drought; in 2011 the Dallas–Fort Worth area experienced 40 straight days in July and August of temperatures of 100° or higher. The state’s social services are thin. Welfare benefits are skimpy. Roughly a quarter of residents have no health insurance. Many of its schools are less than stellar. Property-crime rates are high. Rates of murder and other violent crimes are hardly sterling either. A recent report from the FBI found that the home state of Chuck Norris led the nation as the place the most people got punched or kicked to death in 2012.

So why are more Americans moving to Texas than to any other state?

Texas has acquired a certain cool factor recently. The pundit Marshall Wittmann has called it “America’s America,” the place where Americans go when they need a fresh start. The state’s ethnic and cultural diversity has made places like Austin and Marfa into magnets for artists and other bohemians.

But I believe the real reason Americans are headed to Texas is much simpler. As an economist and a libertarian, I have become convinced that whether they know it or not, these migrants are being pushed (and pulled) by the major economic forces that are reshaping the American economy as a whole: the hollowing out of the middle class, the increased costs of living in the U.S.’s established population centers and the resulting search by many Americans for a radically cheaper way to live and do business.

One of these pioneers is Casey Colando. When he was just 19, he bought–sight unseen–five acres of Big Bend mountain desert country in Texas as an investment. It was just $300 an acre, far away both culturally and geographically from his native upstate New York. Four years later, in 2008, Colando moved to his homestead in the magnificent but remote region of West Texas.

A graduate of the State University of New York at Canton, where he studied alternative energy, Colando now lives with his wife Sara some 80 miles from the nearest town (Alpine, pop. 6,000). The couple bought more land adjoining their original property, and they run an alternative-energy business that serves various settlers who have moved to this isolated corner of Texas–helping their neighbors eschew what Colando calls “the big electric company” and live off the grid by installing solar and wind power.

Colando says he first tried to launch his alternative-energy business in upstate New York. “It was difficult work for a small business there,” he says. “The costs were higher, and there were fewer business opportunities, more regulations. So I came out West, and I haven’t looked back.”

To a lot of Americans, Texas feels like the future. And I would argue that more than any other state, Texas looks like the future as well–offering us a glimpse of what’s to come for the country at large in the decades ahead. The U.S. is experiencing ever greater economic inequality and the thinning of its middle class; Texas is already one of our most unequal states. America’s safety net is fraying under the weight of ballooning Social Security and Medicare costs; Texas’ safety net was built frayed. Americans are seeking a cheaper cost of living and a less regulated climate in which to do business; Texas has those in spades. And did we mention there’s no state income tax? (Texas is one of only seven states in the union that lack the levy.)

There’s a bumper sticker sometimes seen around the state that proclaims, i wasn’t born in Texas, but i got here as fast as i could. As the U.S. heads toward Texas, literally and metaphorically, it’s worth understanding why we’re headed there–both to see the pitfalls ahead and to catch a glimpse of the opportunities that await us if we make the journey in an intelligent fashion.


The first thing to understand about our more Texan future is what’s happening to the American workforce on the whole: average is over.

More and more workers are leaving the middle class–headed both up and down–and fewer workers are moving into it. Median household income has fallen about 5% since the Great Recession ended in 2009; in that same period, 58% of job growth was in lower-wage occupations, defined as those paying $13.83 an hour or less.

However, it’s not that incomes are stagnant generally. Earners at the top have done very well–but the gains have been distributed quite unevenly. Last year the top 1% of earners took home 19.3% of household income, their largest share since 1928. The top 10% of earners didn’t do so badly either, taking home a record 48.2% of household income.

We know the forces driving this: globalization, advances in computing, and automation mean that Americans are facing tougher competition than ever before from workers overseas, machines and smart software. The individuals moving up the economic ladder are the ones who’ve responded to this competition by upgrading their skills and efforts. The ones moving down are largely those who have failed or been unable to respond at all.

The group struggling the most is the young. People with four-year college degrees earn less today than graduates did in 2000, and over time this will translate into persistently lower earnings. And too many young people today, even if they have jobs, have failed to establish themselves on career ladders. If we look at Americans ages 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in school, only 36% are working full time, 10% less than in 2007. A 24-year-old who is working part time for a website, as a Pilates instructor or in retail may be having fun, but he or she probably won’t be receiving strong promotions a couple of decades down the line.

Meanwhile, the cost of hanging on to a middle-class lifestyle is increasing. As a 2010 report by the Department of Commerce found, looking at economic data from the past two decades, “The prices for three large components of middle-class expenses have increased faster than income: the cost of college, the cost of health care and the cost of a house.”

Texas isn’t immune to any of this, of course. But it just may be the friendliest state for those who worry about their prospects in this new normal. For starters, the job scene is markedly better (more on that in a moment). And more crucially, it’s cheaper to live in Texas and cheaper to thrive there too. Don’t underestimate the power of that lower cost of living, for it can be the difference between a trailer and an apartment–between an apartment and a home.


As davy crockett said in 1835, as his political fortunes ran out in Tennessee, “They might all go to hell, and I would go to Texas.” The phrase Gone to Texas (sometimes abbreviated GTT) was the expression once used by Americans fleeing to the Lone Star State to escape debt or the law–posted as a sign on a fence or scratched into the door of an abandoned home.

While today’s migrants aren’t the vagabonds and outlaws of the 19th century, people are still “gone to Texas.” Texas is America’s fastest-growing large state, with three of the top five fastest-growing cities in the country, according to Forbes: Austin, Dallas and Houston. In 2012 alone, total migration to Texas from the other 49 states in the union was 106,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since 2000, 1 million more people have moved to Texas from other states than have left.

To get a sense of who these migrants are, consider Tara Connolly. In 2005 the New York City native was sharing a 500-sq.-ft. apartment with her then boyfriend in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn–a gentrified neighborhood where studio apartments rent for about $2,000 a month and sell for about half a million dollars. Feeling stressed, restless and in need of a change, she read an article about Austin and decided to pack up and move, with little more than the hope of finding a job in her field, graphic design.

Eight years later, Connolly is in her mid-30s and works at a hip marketing company in Austin, and she’s the owner of a vintage midcentury home twice the size of her old New York City apartment. It comes with a mortgage payment half the size of her big-city rent. “Buying a house was not something I was thinking about when I came to Austin,” Connolly says. “But here you have people in their 20s buying houses.”

When Connolly announced that she was moving to Austin, she was met with looks of alarm from her Bronx-born family. But she says that after visiting her and seeing her new home, her family has changed its tune. “They say they can’t believe how green it is,” she says. “They thought it was all tumbleweed.”

Connolly’s story is hardly unique. And the general pattern is by no means a new one, according to Bernard Weinstein, an economist and associate director of Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Energy Institute. Weinstein has been observing the Texas economy for more than 30 years and says that “whenever the economy is bad in the rest of the country, that pushes people to the Sun Belt.” Along with the affordable housing and a warm climate, newcomers are drawn by the notion that in the case of Texas, jobs are plentiful. Texas’ unemployment rate is currently 6.4%–high for Texas but below the national rate of 7.3%.

And as Connolly’s story shows, these pilgrims aren’t coming just from places like Michigan, where a major industry has collapsed, but also from more prosperous states like New York and California. Over the past 20 years, more than 4 million Californians have moved out of California, according to Weinstein. “That’s two cities the size of Houston,” he notes.

Jed Kolko, chief economist for San Francisco–based real estate website Trulia, says that from 2005 to 2011, 183 Californians moved to Texas for every 100 Texans who moved to California. “Home prices, more than any other factor, cause people to leave,” Kolko says.

Why is California, for instance, so expensive and Texas so cheap? “God wanted California to be expensive,” Kolko says, with its ideal climate and attractive but limited real estate squeezed between the mountains and the ocean. The demand for a piece of the California dream was destined to be expensive, and lawmakers passed strict building codes to add to the bottom line.

Texans might argue that they have some beautiful real estate too, but in the wide-open spaces surrounding the state’s major urban areas, there is no ocean to constrict growth, and there are far fewer stringent rules. There are no zoning laws in many unincorporated areas beyond the booming urban centers, where Texas has lots of land.

The lower house prices, along with a generally low cost of living–helped along by cheap labor, cheap produce and cheap gas (currently about $3 a gallon)–really matter when it comes to quality of life. For instance, the federal government calculated the Texas poverty rate as 18.4% for 2010 and that of California as about 16%. That may sound bad for Texas, but once adjustments are made for the different costs of living across the two states, as the federal government does in its Supplemental Poverty Measure, Texas’ poverty rate drops to 16.5% and California’s spikes to a dismal 22.4%. Not surprisingly, it is the lower-income residents who are most likely to leave California.

On the flip side, Texas has a higher per capita income than California, adjusted for cost of living, and nearly catches up with New York by the same measure. Once you factor in state and local taxes, Texas pulls ahead of New York–by a wide margin. The website MoneyRates ranks states on the basis of average income, adjusting for tax rates and cost of living; once those factors are accounted for, Texas has the third highest average income (after Virginia and Washington State), while New York ranks 36th.


Of course, it’s not just cheap living that draws people to Texas. It’s also jobs. In the past 12 months, Texas has added 274,700 new jobs–that’s 12% of all jobs added nationwide and 51,000 more than California added. In a Moody’s Analytics study, seven of the top 10 cities for projected job growth through 2015 will be in Texas. Four Texas cities topped the list: Austin, McAllen (in the Rio Grande Valley), Houston and Fort Worth. “For the past 22 years, Texas has outgrown the country by a factor of more than 2 to 1,” Dallas Federal Reserve president Richard Fisher tells TIME, echoing an April speech in which he laid out the story of Texas growth at some length.

“My uninformed friends usually say, ‘But Texas creates low-paying jobs.’ To that I respond, You are right. We create more low-paying jobs in Texas than anybody else,” Fisher says. “But we also created far more high-paying jobs.” In fact, from 2002 to 2011, with 8% of the U.S. population, Texas created nearly one-third of the country’s highest-paying jobs.

“Most importantly,” Fisher says, “while the United States has seen job destruction in the two middle-income quartiles, Texas has created jobs for those vital middle-income workers too.” From 2001 to 2012, the number of lower-middle-income jobs in Texas grew by 14.4%, and the number of upper-middle-income jobs grew by 24.2%. If you look at the U.S. without Texas over the same period, the number of lower-middle jobs grew by an anemic 0.1%, and the number of upper-middle jobs shrank by 6%.

“The bottom line,” says Fisher, is that “we have experienced growth across all sectors and in all income categories … If you pull Texas out of the puzzle of the United States, the rest of the country falls down!”

How did Texas do it?

Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder credits the “Texas model” in her recent book, Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn From the Strange Genius of Texas. “The Texas model basically calls for low taxes and low services,” she says. “In a sense, it’s just a limited-government approach.” Chief Executive magazine has named Texas the most growth-friendly state in the nation for nine years in a row. The ranking is based on survey results from its CEO readership, who grade the states on the basis of factors such as taxes and regulation, the quality of the workforce and the living environment. Cheap land, cheap labor and low taxes have all clearly contributed to this business-friendly climate. But that’s not the whole story.

“Certainly since 2008, the beginning of the Great Recession, it’s been the energy boom,” SMU’s Weinstein says, pointing to the resource boom’s ripple effect throughout the Texas economy. However, he says, the job growth predates the energy boom by a significant margin. “A decade ago, before the shale boom, economic growth in Texas was based on IT development,” Weinstein says. “Today most of the job creation, in total numbers, is in business and personal services, from people working in hospitals to lawyers.”

Of course, not everyone’s a fan of the Texas model. “We are not strong economically because we have low taxes and lax regulation. We are strong economically because of geography and geology,” says Scott McCown, a former executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities who is now a law professor at the University of Texas. “We’ve built an economy favoring the wealthy … If that’s the ultimate end result of the Texas model in a democratic society, it will be rejected.”

So will the rest of the country follow Texas’ lead? People are already voting with their feet. The places in the U.S. seeing significant in-migration are largely in relatively inexpensive parts of the Sun Belt. These are, by and large, affordable states with decent records of job creation–often with subpar public services and low taxes. Texas is just the most striking example. But Oklahoma, Colorado, the Carolinas and other parts of the South are benefiting from the same trends–namely that California, New York and the other high-tax, high-cost states are no longer such good deals for much of the U.S.’s middle and lower-middle classes.

The Americans heading to Texas and other cheap-living states are a bit like the mythical cowboys of our past–self-reliant, for better or worse.


For Americans heading to these places, the likelihood is that they’ll be facing slow-growing, stagnant or even falling wages. Yet it won’t be the dystopia that it may sound like at first. Automation and globalization don’t just make a lot of goods and services much cheaper–they sometimes make them free. There is already plenty of free online education, graded by computer bots, and free music on YouTube. Hulu and related online viewing services are allowing Americans to free up some money by cutting the cable cord. Facebook soaks up a lot of our free time, and it doesn’t cost a dime. The near future likely will bring free or very cheap online medical diagnosis.

This suggests that wages and GDP statistics may no longer be the most accurate gauges of real living standards. A new class of Americans will become far more numerous. They will despair at finding good middle-class jobs and decide to live off salaries that are roughly comparable to today’s lower-middle-class incomes. Some will give up trying so hard–but it won’t matter as much as it used to, because they won’t have to be big successes to live relatively well.

“The world of work is changing, and what we are learning is it’s no longer about the 9-to-5, it’s about the work itself,” says Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk, a global job marketplace that sells tools to allow businesses to hire and manage remote workers. “Millennials, they are about how to make an impact … They want freedom in their lives, and they care more about that than they do the financial rewards.”

For an example of one of these “new cowboys,” take Joe Swec. For most of his life, Swec, 32, has lived in beautiful (and, he notes, expensive) places. Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, he graduated from California Polytechnic State University with a degree in structural engineering and went to work in Healdsburg, working on the construction and restoration of several Sonoma County wineries. Then he headed south to work in Malibu. But he was not content.

“I wanted a career change,” he says. “I wanted to do something more creative, and I would fantasize about being an artist.”

So five years ago, Swec moved to Austin. “My friends thought I was crazy–why would I move to Texas?” he says. “They also wondered why I would leave a six-figure job. I saw it differently. I wanted my job to give me a happy life.”

After moving, Swec first worked as a bartender, then as a waiter. Then he got a job doing silk screens for a design company. Inspiration came along when he came across papers his grandfather had collected–scrapbooks filled with calligraphy and hand lettering. He found he had an affinity for the art of lettering, and as he worked on an outdoor mural, he wondered why he didn’t do this for a living. So he took up a career as a sign painter.

His hand-lettered signs now appear on the walls and doorways of some of Austin’s newest, liveliest restaurants and pubs. “My friends out in California don’t understand why I like it here,” Swec says. “But I have just developed a fondness for the local way of life.”

In the coming decades, some people may even go to extremes in low-cost living, like making their home in micro-houses (of, say, about 400 sq. ft. and costing $20,000 to $40,000) or going off the grid entirely. Brad Kittel, owner of Tiny Texas Houses, blogs about his small homes built from salvaged materials at tinytexashouses.com His business, based in the small rural community of Luling, east of San Antonio, offers custom homes, plans, and lessons on how to be a salvage miner. So far he has built about 75 tiny homes, and he has plans for a tiny-home community built around a sort of central lodge house. Kittel, 57, is a former Austin developer who pioneered the gentrification of a crumbling East Austin neighborhood in the late 1980s. These days most of his buyers are baby boomers. “Downsizing was just a whisper. Now it’s turning into a mantra,” Kittel says. “My generation, we were accumulators–big houses, big cars. But now we have no big resources.”

The micro-home trend is being watched by traditional homebuilders as well. Texas-based developer D.R. Horton, a member of the New York Stock Exchange and one of the largest homebuilders in the country, built 29 micro-homes sized from 364 to 687 sq. ft. in Portland, Ore., last year for an average price of $120,000 to $180,000–admittedly far from the company’s headquarters in spacious Fort Worth.

In some ways, the new settlements of a Texas-like America could come to resemble trailer parks–culturally rich trailer parks, so to speak. The next Brooklyn may end up somewhere in the Dakotas. Fargo, anyone?

Nonetheless, America, a historically flexible nation in cultural and economic terms, will adjust. One of our saving graces may end up being just how wasteful we’ve been in the past. It will be possible for many consumers to cut back significantly on spending without losing too much in terms of material well-being and happiness.

The new frugality born of the Great Recession is unlikely to give way to the old conspicuous consumption anytime soon, if consumer studies are to be believed. Nick Hodson, a partner and member of the consumer and retail practice at Booz & Co., points to his company’s 2012 study of 2,000 grocery shoppers across the country. The study found that “value-seeking behavior” was here to stay.

“The recession caused about 20 to 30% more shoppers to adopt these behaviors as they adjusted to straitened personal circumstances or simply followed a set of perceived ‘acceptable’ frugal behaviors,” the study concluded. “Today, 75 to 90% of consumers are exhibiting these frugal shopping behaviors. What’s important is that a majority–perhaps two-thirds–of the newly frugal shoppers report that they will not revert to their previous behaviors as the recession ends.”


There are, of course, major downsides to the future I’m describing here. A lot of health care will become more expensive and harder to access. Many Americans will have to downsize their living quarters involuntarily. People in the shrinking middle class who want to have more than one child may find the costs too high. There is no longer the expectation, much less the guarantee, that living standards double or even increase much with each generation.

But it’s not all bad news–especially if we take the right steps to prepare. The flood of Americans moving to Texas shows us where we need to focus our attention; what these migrants have found in Texas shows us ways many of our cities and states can improve.

Most critically, across the country, our K-12 education system needs to be much more rigorous, so that more Americans will be prepared to succeed in the new high-tech era to come. Right now, labor markets and jobs are changing faster than schools, and that means graduates are being left behind. Education at all levels needs to be cheaper and easier to access–and family support for students needs to be much stronger as well.

There are also many small but important ways in which states and cities can adjust in order to incorporate some of the lessons Texas has to teach.

For instance, states could deregulate building so that rents and home prices could be much lower. Housing is one of the biggest costs in most people’s budgets, and it will be difficult to bring those costs down without greater competition and significantly higher urban density. In other words: San Francisco needs to become more like Houston when it comes to zoning.

Likewise, it would be a tremendous boon for low-skilled workers if we scaled back much of the occupational licensing that exists at the state and local levels. There’s no reason a worker should need legal permission to become, say, a barber or a cosmetologist, as is currently the case in many states. Is there any good reason that Nevada, Louisiana, Florida and the District of Columbia should require interior designers to take 2,190 hours of training and pass an exam before having the legal right to practice? By relaxing these and many other requirements, we could create a lot more decent jobs and lower prices for consumers at the same time.

A little more freedom in strategically targeted areas–that is, a little more Texas–could go a long way.

Don’t be scared. As Tara Connolly found, Texas is a welcoming place: “Everyone is just so friendly, and they look you in the eye.” And she wouldn’t even think of going back to New York City. “The constant stress doesn’t seem appealing,” she says. “The cost was insane, and it was time to start fresh. This was a good place to try.”

–Reported by Hilary Hylton/Austin

Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He is the author of Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation (Dutton, 2013).

The original version of this article misstated the number of Californians who have moved to Texas. More than 4 million people have moved out of California over the last 20 years, according to economist Bernard Weinstein at Southern Methodist University, and about one-third of those migrants moved to Texas.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,173 other followers