Lance Welch, Jet Linx Houston Base Partner and President, has volunteered with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ (HLSR) since 2002. Welch began as an outrider in the Houston Rodeo Parade, where his duties were to assist dignitaries along the parade route while riding on horseback.
The Houston Rodeo Parade serves as a huge kickoff event for the HLSR. The HLSR itself includes seminars, livestock auctions, and rodeo events that take place over the span of 20 days, usually beginning in late February and ending in the middle of March. The HLSR is also a charitable organization with the goal of promoting agriculture and Western heritage by hosting an annual event that educates, entertains, and supports Texas youth while providing year-round educational opportunities within the community.
“The backbone of the entire HLSR is the promotion of Western heritage and the education of the younger generation on the importance of agriculture to society,” Welch explained. Since 1932, more than $475 million has been committed to the youth of Texas from funds raised by the HLSR. Currently, there are 2,300 students attending 80 different colleges and universities in Texas, all assisted by HLSR scholarships.
While the livestock show and rodeo are the main events, the parade is an impressive undertaking too. It has been a Houston tradition since 1938, drawing massive crowds to downtown that usually include various VIPs and celebrities. The streets turn into a celebration of Western heritage, with hoof beats, marching bands, and lavishly adorned parade floats.
People often forget that the HLSR and the parade are all organized and carried out by volunteers. In fact, it takes more than 33,000 volunteers on 100 different committees to run the event successfully every year.
The parade committee alone has more than 500 volunteers. Welch joined the parade committee in 2004 and currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the parade’s form up group. The form up group schedules the lineup of the parade, organizing more than 102 entries, including dignitary horses, outriders, and more than 1,000 horses included in the parade route. Welch is also involved in the Grand Entry committee, which leads a daily parade into the grounds.
Because of his love for agriculture, Welch actively works to raise funds for the Ranching and Wildlife Committee, which seeks to increase awareness for ranching and wildlife through seminars and educational events at livestock shows. Welch recently helped raise more than $300,000 at an auction in March 2019, all going towards educational opportunities hosted by the Ranching and Wildlife Committee.
For Welch and many others on the board, this is a year-long commitment, but also a labor of love. “My family has been ranching in Texas since the 1850s. To volunteer for the HLSR and promote this lifestyle, it’s important to me,” Welch said. “Do you have leather shoes? Or a belt or a briefcase? Think about what that takes to make those things. Computers and electronics don’t produce red meat. And it’s not just cattle, it’s sheep and chickens and pigs. Our drive at the HLSR is to educate children in the Houston area that don’t live in the country. The HLSR is a learning opportunity for them.”
Welch advises people to get involved with local rodeos and livestock shows. “If you’re not reading about this in Houston, there are local livestock shows in a town near you that you can get involved with. Whether it’s time, money, or donations, I encourage people to get involved. Major corporations are all huge donors to the HLSR because they know our work affects their businesses directly.”
The massive crowds drawn to the event also result in a Texas-sized impact on the local economy. Dr. Barton Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, Emeritus, University of Houston, revealed these impacts in an Economic Impact Study. “Often local success in attracting relocating firms to Houston with an employment base of 100 new jobs is considered a major achievement, but such successes pale in comparison to the 7,200 permanent full-time equivalent jobs created by the Rodeo,” he said.
Total attendance at the 20-day livestock show and rodeo regularly surpasses 2.4 million people, and Smith’s study indicated that local governments in the region net $27 million annually from the rodeo and livestock show. Whether you’re a rancher, a farmer, or a suburbanite, everyone wins when the rodeo and livestock show come to town.
This year’s parade took place on February 23, and the Grand Marshal was the Houston Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson, who waved to onlookers on horseback. Watson set a number of records as a rookie in 2017 and made his first playoff appearance in 2018. More importantly, he helped furnish 176 homes for Habitat for Humanity in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Watson also drew praise for donating his first game’s paycheck to three NRG Stadium workers affected by the storm.
Other notable appearances at the event includedSenator John Cornyn, U.S. Representatives Al Green, Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, all who rode the route, waving to the crowd despite the light drizzle falling outside.
After all, a little rain isn’t going to hurt a bunch of cowboys on their way to the rodeo.