A recent headline in the Tyler Paper said much more, we believe, than it might seem at first glance: “Homes sales break records, up 26 percent.” The significance in the news that the Tyler area real estate market is booming is that for East Texas, the Great Recession has ended. All indicators say we’re in a recovery period.
That’s good news. The even better news is that the Tyler area endured tough times with grace and compassion, and emerged even stronger than we were before.
We all remember how dark the times seemed in 2008, when one in 10 workers looking for a job couldn’t find one, and businesses big and small were shutting their doors.
But even then, East Texans didn’t forget the real meaning of “compassion” — the Greek word means “to suffer alongside.”
One effort that we all undertook in the late fall of 2008 was the “Shine Your Light” campaign to benefit the frontline agencies helping distressed East Texans, including in that first year People Attempting To Help, the Tyler Corps of The Salvation Army, East Texas Rescue Mission of Tyler and East Texas Food Bank. In the six years the community campaign has been held, more than $1 million has been raised.
As then-Mayor Barbara Bass said in January, “Shine Your Light is always an amazing reflection of all that is good about Tyler and East Texas.”
And Kyle Penney, of the East Texas Communities Foundation, adds that by his barometer — donor-advised funds — the region’s philanthropists stayed connected during the dark times and stepped up their efforts when local charities faced the highest needs. Overall, he said, “giving held steady throughout the recession.”
East Texans never let the gloom affect their vision for the future of the region. In 2009, economist Ray Perryman told Tyler leaders that “We still have a few months of bad headlines, but we will get through it.” He pointed to sectors such as health care and public education as examples of Tyler’s strengths.
And even during the Great Recession, we built on those strengths. At a time when many communities were drastically cutting back and rejecting new debt to fund expansions, East Texans approved new bonds for Tyler schools and for Tyler Junior College.
Those decisions were wise and forward-thinking. Through the Tyler school district’s Career Technology Education Center and TJC’s new nursing education facility, we’ll be producing the very workers our community will need in coming years and providing careers and futures for our very own children.
Many of our elected officials should share in the praise for how the region has come through the recession. We have a number of competent leaders who made sound fiscal decisions — such as keeping taxes low — when there were pressures to do otherwise. The city of Tyler, Smith County and the Tyler school district stand out as well-run entities that blessed us all by adopting standards above and beyond those many communities settle for.
One important lesson we should all take from the recovery — better yet, the reinvigoration — of the region is that answers didn’t come from Washington. Compassion, comfort and relief for real suffering came from neighbors.
Sure, elections are important. But we’ve learned we can do even more good by doing good at home.
There’s no doubt these are better days. But we’re also better, for having weathered the hard times with grace and a real sense of community.