"It's like a whole other country." That’s the slogan used by the Texas tourism office, and for nine years, the Lone Star State was indeed an independent republic. The second largest state in the U.S. both in terms of land area and population, Texas boasts a legendary history befitting its size.
A vast, untamed territory claimed consecutively by France (1685), Spain (1690) and Mexico (1821), Texas won independence from Mexico in 1836 after a six-month revolt in which the severely outnumbered "Texans" - led by Sam Houston of Tennessee - rebounded from defeat at The Alamo to prevail over the forces of General Santa Anna. Just 16 years after its admission to the U.S. in 1845, Texas seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy, but was readmitted in 1870. In less than 200 years since European settlement, six different flags flew over Texas, symbolizing its glorious and volatile history and inspiring a themed amusement park near Dallas. In true Texas fashion, Six Flags is now the world's largest amusement park chain.
The Texas climate and topography defies easy characterization. You could say it has a little bit of everything, as it includes great plains and canyons in the panhandle; sandy beaches, bayous and the Piney Woods in the east; high desert and mountains in the west; and rolling hills in the center. Ranked fourth in the U.S. for agricultural output in 2014, Texas farmers make the most of these variations to lead the nation in the production of cotton, hay, mohair, cattle, goats and sheep. The state also boasts more farms and ranches than any other state – a whopping 248,800 – which collectively total over 130 million acres. Approximately 1 in 7 working Texans is employed in an agriculture-related position, and the industry has an economic impact of over $100 billion annually.
But that’s only one piece of Texas’ enormous economy. The state posted a GDP of over $1.6 trillion in 2015, second only to California. It doesn’t hurt that Texas was also the nation's leading producer of four different types of energy in 2014: crude oil, natural gas, lignite coal and wind energy. Plus, the state accounted for 29% of the country’s petroleum refining capacity. In 2014, the oil and gas industry alone generated a record $15.7 billion in state and local taxes and royalties and directly employed 418,000 Texans, with another 1.8 million residents employed by related industries. Thanks in part to these oil and gas royalties and leases, Texas’ Permanent School Fund is now the largest public school endowment in the U.S. at over $37 billion.
Yet the state famous for cowboys, dusty trucks and armadillos is becoming increasingly high-tech, too. Advanced manufacturers such as General Dynamics, Bell Helicopter and Texas Instruments abound in the Dallas area, while Houston, the busiest international port in the country, is home to the prestigious Texas Medical Center, the world's largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions. Furthermore, in 2015, the state claimed 54 Fortune 500 companies, the second highest collection after New York. While the Texas energy giants – including Exxon Mobile (#2), Phillips 66 (#7) and Valero Energy (#13) – dominated, the group also included diverse companies like AT&T, American Airlines, USAA, Kimberly-Clark, Whole Foods, Waste Management, J.C. Penney and iHeartMedia.
Collectively, Texas’ Fortune 500 companies had a strong job growth rate of 4% in 2015, compared to a 5% workforce reduction for New York’s biggest companies. That’s one big reason why Texas is the second fastest growing state in the country with a population growth rate of over 9% between 2010 and 2015. As of early 2016, the state had over 26 million people and counting, with approximately half of all residents living in either the Dallas or Houston metro areas. The fourth and fifth largest metropolises in the U.S., they each have estimated metro area populations of more than 6.9 million (Dallas) and 6.4 million (Houston) people.
Another major factor fueling growth is the state’s affordable real estate prices, which remain below the national average. As of early 2016, the statewide median home value was $152,393 – roughly $30,000 less than the U.S. median – while the median rental price was $1,008. And among the four largest cities, only Austin, the hip capital and music mecca located in scenic Hill Country, had a median home value above national standards at $290,967. Median values within the city limits of Dallas ($158,211), Houston ($157,210) and San Antonio ($130,099) were all lower than the U.S. median, despite their burgeoning populations.
Today, 74% of Texans are white, 37% are Hispanic, 11% are black, 6% are "some other race alone," 3% are Asian and 2% are multiracial, making Texas one of four minority-majority states along with California, Hawaii and New Mexico. Approximately 26% of the population speaks Spanish at home, and 16% are foreign-born. As of early 2016, the median household income statewide was $51,900 – just a smidge below the U.S. median – with roughly 17% of residents living below the poverty line.