0 Articles
0 News
0 Properties
0 Page
0 Blog


Understanding Rockdale as a Company Town

  Understanding Rockdale as a Company Town

Company towns are an interesting topic to me.  Having grown up in a company town and studying them for a class project, it is fascinating to observe these attributes and concepts in Rockdale.  I suggest that one can gain a deeper understanding of Rockdale by viewing it as a company town.

There are certain defining features of any company town; a company town is a community where a large industry has an outsized influence upon the community.  The company serves as the major employer, and, additionally, the company’s activities support many local businesses.  The result is that the town grows and flourishes as a direct effect of the company’s presence.  There is a certain level of community prosperity as long as the company is in operation. 

Normally, we would call this economic development, but there are some unfortunate adverse side effects.  The company tends to have a large amount of formal and/or informal control over the community.  The company tends to prevent other major employers from coming to town, and the community tends to rely on the company’s patronage for amenities.  Additionally, any dissent levied against the company is frowned upon.

Eventually, the community comes to rely on the company for a dangerously broad spectrum of things.  Civic infrastructure, or the community’s ability to govern itself, is stunted; it is the company, rather than the private sector market, that builds up the community.  In some cases, an us-versus-them mentality begins to develop – whether that is management versus labor, or the company versus everyone else.

Let us now apply a few facts as they pertain to Rockdale.

Obviously, Rockdale grew in the 1950’s as a direct result of ALCOA being the major employer.  Many of the homes and neighborhoods in town were built directly by ALCOA; whether that be nicer homes for management and professionals or cheaper ‘workforce housing’.  Rockdale was a prosperous community, especially from the late 1970’s through the early 1990’s.  Further, ALCOA greatly subsidized the old hospital mostly because they needed an emergency medical facility nearby.  For whatever reason, Rockdale was never able to land another industry or major employer.  ALCOA never paid anything in direct taxes to the City of Rockdale – they were outside the city limits, but ALCOA would make corporate donations within the community.  The conclusion is that Rockdale came to greatly depend on ALCOA and evolved from a farming community prior to WWII into a company town.

It is important to internalize that ALCOA is gone and that chapter of Rockdale’s history is closed.  We must now focus on the future and not glamorize the past.  What do we do now?  Essentially, we must do everything in reverse.

The first thing to do is that we must (re)build Rockdale’s civic infrastructure.  We need to train our own residents in how to be community leaders capable of making hard governance decisions.  This is one of the main reasons why we created the Leadership Rockdale program with the Rockdale Chamber of Commerce.  Secondly, we must work to break down barriers to build social capital within the community.  Next, we need to recognize that Rockdale must evolve to survive; any thinking which may have worked before is not the same thinking that will allow the community to progress. Further, we must recognize that we are going to have to carry out projects (e.g., community beautification, parks, etc.) which will make Rockdale a community of choice for new residents.  While grants will help, the responsibility for paying for this stuff will be on the community.    Finally, we must work to attract diverse industries to Rockdale.

None of this will be easy, quick, or comfortable.  However, the leadership of the City and the MDD are behind this as we work to ensure that Rockdale has a prosperous future.  We are going to do great things in Rockdale, Texas!