When the residents of sleepy, rural McMullen County, Texas, found out that they officially lived in the richest county in America, "we were shocked," recalls Kimberly Kay Kreider-Dusek, the only lawyer in the area. She serves as the county attorney, prosecuting misdemeanors and advising county commissioners on legal matters.
McMullen County, population: 804, one of the least populous counties in the state, lies southeast of San Antonio. According to Internal Revenue Service numbers crunched by Syracuse University researchers, its population's average adjusted gross income — at $303,717 — now ranks as the highest in the nation.
It's not as if the cattle ranchers and others in McMullen didn't already recognize that landowners "were making nice amounts of money" from oil and gas royalties, and that welders at drilling sites were pulling in six-figure salaries, says Kreider-Dusek. Still, they hadn't realized that they had officially surpassed more famously affluent areas like Teton, Wyo., and Fairfield, Conn.
And, for the most part, what residents have chosen to spend their newfound riches on isn't just surprising, it's exemplary.