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MIDLAND, Tex. — In a global collapse of oil prices five years ago, scores of American oil companies went bankrupt. But one field withstood the onslaught, and even thrived: the Permian Basin, straddling Texas and New Mexico.
A combination of technical innovation, aggressive investing and copious layers of oil-rich shale have transformed the Permian, once considered a worn-out patch, into the world’s second-most-productive oil field.
And this transformation has apparently inoculated Texas against its traditional economic enemy, the boom-and-bust cycle pegged to oil prices.
Even now, with prices still far below their peak, the Permian is bursting with production and exploration, and the biggest concern is how to create more capacity to get all that oil to market.
The shale-drilling frenzy in the Permian has enabled the United States not only to reduce crude-oil imports, but even to become a major exporter for the first time in half a century. Its bounty has also empowered the United States diplomatically, allowing it to impose sanctions on Iran and Venezuela without worrying much about increasing gasoline prices.
A small group of well-educated professionals enjoys rising wages, while most workers toil in low-wage jobs with few chances to advance.
PHOENIX — It’s hard to miss the dogged technological ambition pervading this sprawling desert metropolis.
There’s Intel’s $7 billion, seven-nanometer chip plant going up in Chandler. In Scottsdale, Axon, the maker of the Taser, is hungrily snatching talent from Silicon Valley as it embraces automation to keep up with growing demand. Start-ups in fields as varied as autonomous drones and blockchain are flocking to the area, drawn in large part by light regulation and tax incentives. Arizona State University is furiously churning out engineers.
And yet for all its success in drawing and nurturing firms on the technological frontier, Phoenix cannot escape the uncomfortable pattern taking shape across the American economy: Despite all its shiny new high-tech businesses, the vast majority of new jobs are in workaday service industries, like health care, hospitality, retail and building services, where pay is mediocre.