- Midland’s thriving oil and energy industry has lured thousands of millennials to the desert city.
- Half of the home-owning population is between the ages of 27 and 41.
- Their presence has led to more cafes, parks, and concert venues.
In July, I was sent to Midland, Texas, with a mission: To determine why half of the city’s homeowners are millennials.
At first, I was a bit apprehensive about visiting the West Texas city — my friends and family were, too.
Midland, a desert city renowned for its thriving oil and energy industry and once-booming high-school football scene, has a reputation for being remote, conservative, and somewhat exclusive. I was worried a Dallasite like myself would stick out like a sore thumb.
However, in this case, the old saying about assumptions rings true: Never judge a book by its cover.
Contrary to my prior beliefs, I found Midland to be an ethnically diverse city full of entrepreneurs that are as friendly as they are hardworking. Not only did I discover why so many young people are buying homes in the city, but I also found a new appreciation for this small West Texas enclave and the people who call it home.
Not knowing what to expect in Midland, here’s what I found when I landed there.
When I first arrived in Midland, the city’s water tower was one of the first things I saw. The motto, “Feel the Energy,” confirmed what I already knew about the area: that Midland’s oil and gas industry was deeply intertwined with its identity.
Midland, which is located in the Permian Basin in West Texas, is an area rich with oil and gas. As such, the city is one of the largest producers of oil in the US.
Throughout my visit, I learned how big of a presence the oil industry has in the daily lives of Midland’s residents and how proud they are of the city’s petroleum success.
Coming from Dallas, an urban area that is heavily populated and dense, I was shocked to see so many oil wells stationed outside of residential neighborhoods in Midland.
It seemed like almost every community I drove by featured at least one of these structures.
I later learned that they are a staple in the city as they are integral to their production of petroleum. According to oil proprietary database website OGL, there have been 13,795 oil wells drilled in Midland between January 1993 and June 2022.
The city hall was one of the first places I visited. It was about 10 miles from the airport, which is just a 17-minute drive from downtown.
In Midland, almost everything is within close proximity. My hotel, which was on the other side of town, was just a 15-minute drive from city hall.
In the early hours of my trip, I sat down with Midland’s mayor, Lori Blong, to have a conversation about the city’s history and future.
To me, Mayor Blong embodies the spirit of Midland and the conservative South.
The former teacher and Habitat for Humanity president grew up in the city and, like many of its residents, has several family members who worked in the oil industry. She and her husband are the co-owners of Octane Energy, a natural oil and gas company, and she’s a devoted member of Stonegate Fellowship Church where she teaches about the bible.
News of my visit spread quickly throughout the close-knit community and I was offered several meetings.
One of the requests came from the Chamber of Commerce, and more specifically its CEO and president Bobby Burns, the former mayor of the city, and Evan Thomas, the chief operating officer.
Burns moved to Midland more than 45 years ago, while Thomas settled in the area in 2010. Both were drawn to Midland by its strong job market.
Burns is set to retire from his role in 2024 and Thomas is being trained to replace him. Throughout our conversation, the duo shared their hopes and dreams for Midland’s future, which they both believe will depend on the city’s ability to attract more workers and adapt to new technology.
Centennial Park is Midland’s pride and joy. Everywhere I went I kept hearing about this attraction, which was built in 2020 thanks to a community-wide effort.
The park was inspired by Discovery Green in Houston and Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, an entertainment hotspot I personally frequent back home.
I was told that on most days Centennial Park is filled with many children and their parents. However, given that temperatures reached above 100 degrees during my visit, I wasn’t surprised that the park was nearly barren as residents opted for cooler activities.
Michael Rohr, 26, works in business development. He and his wife moved to Midland from Houston in 2020. They chose the area for its career opportunities.
He said that moving to Midland has been integral to his professional success and that he has fallen in love with the community.
Rohr personally drove me around town, identifying all of the best restaurants, hang-out spots, and businesses. Occasionally, he would roll his window down to say “hello” to a pedestrian and even pointed out where all of his friends and associates lived.
One of the businesses we visited is the Petroleum Club of Midland, a members-only club where Rohr said all the city’s big business deals go down.
I felt like I took a trip to the past when entering the Petroleum Club. The building’s architecture and interior design gave me a classic 1970s vibe.
The club, which only permits admission with the proper business attire, has several restaurants, bars and ballrooms.
It’s almost impossible to ignore the entrepreneurial spirit of Midland. There are so many young people working in high-earning positions in the oil industry. The average worker in Midland earned an annual salary of $81,330 as of the third quarter of 2022, according to data provided by the Midland Development Corporation.
Throughout my visit, I saw several business mixers that were often filled with the millennials of Midland I had heard so much about. That’s not shocking considering the city’s median age is about 32, according to Mayor Blong.
When I was planning my trip, I had arranged meetings with several local business owners. Almost half of the time, they suggested we meet at Far West Coffee, a hip cafe that two young Midlanders opened in 2020.
Far West seems to be popular with locals of all ages and backgrounds. I visited the shop twice during my trip, and each time it was a packed house.
While at Far West, I grabbed a matcha latte and interviewed Avery and Bayler Boydston, who are the poster children for success in Midland.
The couple, who are in their mid-20s, moved to the city in 2019 after graduating from Texas Tech University. Like many young adults in Midland, they were attracted to the area’s strong job prospects.
In their short time in Midland, they have saved thousands of dollars and have purchased two homes before reaching the age of thirty.
When living in the South you can count on one thing: When summer rolls around, the snow-cone stands start appearing.
I was more than pleased to see several of these trailers across the city.
Like many cities in the South, high-school and college football is a big deal in Midland.
The city borders Odessa, which was the inspiration for the book and TV series “Friday Night Lights.”
Driving through the city, almost every home I saw had some signage honoring local high schools or football teams.
One of the stops on my trip was to visit with Christine Foreman, a public liaison with Region 18, an education service center that assists Texas school districts in improving student performance.
Foreman, a wife and mother of three children, has lived in Midland her entire life. She serves on several educational boards, and is a longtime volunteer with the Parents and Teachers Association.
She told me that Midland’s public schools are in trouble.
Not only are the city’s schools deteriorating, but classrooms are full to capacity and students lack basic resources. Foreman said it has led to more parents sending their children to private schools or opting for homeschooling.
In 2021, Foreman pulled her own daughter out of Midland High School.
“A couple of her school’s classrooms had zero connectivity to the internet, despite her work needing to be done on a device,” she said. “She would waste an hour in a classroom not being able to do schoolwork, so we just let her stay virtual for the rest of the year.”
In Midland, the largest population demographic are children that are between the ages of zero and four years old, according to Mayor Blong, meaning the schools will be even more crucial in the future.
Midland’s residential neighborhoods are a mix of new and old. However, in some parts of the city, you’re more likely to see deteriorating or damaged homes.
A lot of new home construction has come to Midland since its 2012 oil boom. But even still, the city is suffering from a housing shortage. Many of the realtors I spoke with during my visit said the crunch has led to more buyer competition and higher home prices.
Data from Midland Development Corporation shows that Midland’s population was 176,914 from 2016 to 2020. According to a report from the National Association of Realtors, as of 2021, more than half of the city’s homeowners were between the age of 22 to 40 years old.
This home looks like it would fit in in Miami, but is located in an upper-class neighborhood in Midland. It was one of the most extravagant homes I saw during my trip.
I kept hearing about The Tailgate through locals and knew I had to stop by — I am glad I did.
The family-friendly venue, which opened in 2022, is one of the largest destinations for live music in Midland. Throughout the week, Tailgate features live and local music for all ages, as well as several food trucks.
I enjoyed grabbing a drink from the bar and observing The Tailgate’s employees prepare for a concert.
Ariel Herrera, 27, is the co-owner and founder of The Tailgate. She also works as a petroleum landman, someone who performs title work, as well as monitors contracts, transactions, and acquisitions.
The former Austin resident came to Midland in 2018 to work in the oil and gas industry.
When Herrara and her business partner heard about a plot of land that needed an operating business, the pair jumped at the opportunity.
In the last year, they’ve grown their business from just a stage to a full-blown venue with a liquor license. This year, they won $100,000 from Midland’s Chamber of Commerce to support their business.
Most of The Tailgate’s employees and clientele are young people between the ages of 27 and 41, Herrera said.
During my visit, I learned a lot about Midland’s people and even challenged some of my own ideas of what it means to live in West Texas.
Though I think the area needs more affordable homes — especially for workers who do not have lucrative jobs in the oil industry — and that its school system needs greater investment, I truly understand why so many young people are coming to the area to jumpstart their lives.
While Midland may lack places for entertainment and leisure, locals are slowly but surely creating more businesses and venues.
I don’t plan on leaving Dallas anytime soon, but I wouldn’t mind stopping by to say hello to some of the city’s residents in the future.