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Little Known Industries Shape Texas

A couple suspects their nanny of abusing their child. Private investigator L.E. “Jack” Driscoll says he’ll check it out with hidden cameras. Or maybe a company is having a problem with industrial espionage or a law firm needs debugging. Mr. Driscoll is on the case.

Private investigators, armored cars and other stealth services employ 40,000 Texans four times the number employed in advertising agencies around the state. Businesses such as Mr. Driscoll’s contribute more jobs to the Texas economy than makers of cowboy boots.

These investigations companies come to mind as the thunderous economy of last year is quieting down. Some large industries that undergirded the state in past months are now contributing to it in moderation.

The Asian economic turmoil is reducing orders of high-tech electronics, manufactured goods, computers and related products, as well as petrochemicals. Depressed oil prices have cut profits for the majority of oil-related businesses in the state.

That’s where Mr. Driscoll comes in. His livelihood reminds us that the Texas economy has diversified beyond Big Oil and high-technology. His business is one of thousands on which the economy depends for most of the state’s nearly 9 million jobs and $600 billion in output.

Granted, these ordinary and sometimes offbeat businesses won’t single-handedly save the economy from a bust. They are dwarfed, for example, by the 1.5 million workers in retail and 600,000 in business services.

But private investigators, East Texas loggers, leather crafters, exotic animal farmers and workers in hundreds of other vocations that most residents rarely consider also provide output and employment in a state fixated on microchips and petroleum.

Mr. Driscoll’s connection to big business is that he may be asked to unearth spies in Richardson’s Telecom Corridor or investigate workers seeking oil field employment. For these businesses, information is currency.

Electronic sweeps of offices for bugging devices are a routine part of his M.O. as a P.I., said Mr., Driscoll, branch manager and chief investigator for the Dallas office of Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. “Industrial sabotage, industrial espionage is a very big thing.”

In addition, “there’s information-gathering, background checks for purposes of employment, finding people who have left in less than good circumstances or left a corporation and took documents,” Mr. Driscoll said.

“Then you get down to your down-to-earth surveillance where a spouse wants another spouse tailed,” he added. “One’s alleging the other is doing or not doing something they’re supposed to be doing.”

Domestic engagements occupy many of Mr. Driscoll’s working hours. He often installs ‘nanny cams,’ or hidden cameras that are surveillance video devices that surreptitiously watch nannies supervising their charges.

Farther away from Dallas, staple operations of the Texas economy lie amid the grassy savannahs and mesquite flats near the Edwards Plateau in southwest Texas. They are ranches, but not the type where longhorns roam.

These ranches are home to exotic Sri Lankan antelope and North African deer, part of a burgeoning $100 million exotic animals industry that supplies venison and other unusual low-cholesterol meats craved by body-conscious Americans.

Of course, cooks can also whip up Texas-style chicken-friend antelope.

“You can grill antelope or bake it or fry it,” said Dan Whiteley, foreman of the Heart of the Lone Star Ranch in Eden. “Our primary purpose is for meat production. We sell to a wholesaler, and he, in turn, distributes it to the restaurants.

“It’s a fairly young industry, but it is on the rise. It’s just an alternative to beef. We’ve been in operation for about six years, and before that it was sheep and goats. It’s just something new and challenging.”

The 2,300-acre ranch raises such livestock as the African eland, the largest of the antelope species, and the scimitar-horned oryx, an endangered species in its native region of northern Africa that is doing just fine in southwest Texas.

Exotic animals can be found in 194 of the state’s 254 counties on 637 ranches with nearly 200,000 gazelles, goats, llamas, sheep, buffalo, zebras, deer and antelope, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

State researchers point to other unusual businesses — logging operations in East Texas, envelope makers, potato chip plants, mattress factories, plastic bag makers and a budding industry in South Texas in which people make Easter eggs filled with confetti. None of these businesses alone would save the Texas economy from ruin, but taken together, that’s a lot of venison and potato chips to swallow.

“It’s a little bit different,” Mr. Whiteley said of his business. “There’s quite a few people that think that’s all there is in Texas, ranches and cowboys.”

And oil and high-tech, too. But there’s so much more.

Jane Seaberry, The Dallas Morning News, May 18, 1998

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