• SLIDESHOW See how a Texas boomtown handles its new wealth

  • In recent years, Karnes City has reaped huge benefits from the drilling boom in South Texas' Eagle Ford Shale. But it's developing slower and more methodically than some neighboring towns.

  • The city's downtown is hardly bustling. That's in part because of its slow pace of development, but also because Karnes City prohibits heavy oilfield traffic from driving through.

  • Listen:

    Karnes City recently hired Ray Kroll to fill the newly created position of city development manager. Much of his job involves planning for the future.

  • Listen:

    The city has rolled out a branding campaign to attract visitors and families to what it says is more than just a boomtown.

  • Listen:

    Karnes City is trying to limit the amount of temporary housing within its city limits, like this small park a few miles outside of town. Officials say they prefer neighborhoods to small units that only house oil workers.

  • Listen:

    Walking down sleepy neighborhood streets in Karnes City, it's hard to believe that this is a town filled with new millionaires. Mineral owners have banked much of their newfound wealth. Many have bought new trucks and fixed up their houses, locals say, but the housing stock itself has changed very little since the boom.

  • Listen:

    Despite the boom, some buildings in Karnes City remain empty. Local officials say that the owners have been slow to sell the space and that residents have either saved their money or invested it elsewhere.

  • Listen:

    Churches, meanwhile, have been major beneficiaries of the boom here. Newly minted millionaires have donated money to fix up the buildings and construct electronic signs.

  • Listen:

    Karnes City officials say they are only welcoming businesses that will stay for a long time and are geared more toward families — not rough-and-tumble oilfield workers. The city has no bars, strip clubs or liquor stores.

  • Kroll said the city would welcome more family restaurants like this one — the Pastime Cafe, which recently opened in the former home of a bar and grill.

  • Trip Ruckman, the president of Karnes City National Bank, benefits from the Eagle Ford Shale boom, both professionally and personally. His bank has seen an explosion of new deposits, but mineral owners have also been quick to pay off their loans, which has created challenges.

  • The city is looking to upgrade its parks. Officials hope such amenities will attract families who want to stick around long after the oil boom is over.

  • Among Karnes City officials' plans to reshape the town: a new city hall to replace this aging — and tiny — building.

  • The Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio designed the concept for a civic center Karnes City hopes to build.

  • This Wal-Mart in nearby Kenedy is a frequent destination for Karnes City residents, who have few other options. Officials hope to bring in other retail stores.

  • The oil industry is never far from the minds of Karnes City officials. The newfound wealth has provided huge opportunities, but it has also majorly strained roads and other infrastructure. "It costs an awful lot of money to keep up with what we're trying to keep up with," Kroll said.

In Karnes City, Preparing for Post-Boom Life

Nestled in Texas’ top oil-producing county, Karnes City bills itself as “The Real Texas.” That branding campaign — an effort to lure tourists to local features unrelated to the energy industry — is part of the city’s broader plan to thrive long after the drillers are gone.

Neighboring towns are allowing almost any hotel, “man camp” or liquor store to set up shop — no matter how long the business might stay. But officials in Karnes City say they’ve learned from past booms and busts, and are embracing a slower pace of development. They’re using a sudden influx of oil money to invest in parks and a convention center, and they’re welcoming businesses that plan to stay for the long haul.

“They’re trying to take an organized approached to development,” said Thomas Tunstall, research director for the Institute for Economic Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The institute has identified Karnes City as one of a handful of Eagle Ford communities that are eyeing a post-boom future.

Karnes County

Karnes County by the Numbers

2000 2010 2013
Population 15,446 14,824 15,081
Karnes City tax revenue $152,000 $204,000 $958,000
Karnes County tax revenue $237,000 $837,000 $9.2M
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts