A region of collaborative innovation: Let’s keep working together

Austin Skyline from Congress Bridge for Time Well Spent podcast

It’s no secret that the Central Texas region – Austin and surrounding counties – has plenty to offer. Migration numbers over the past several years support that. But recent newcomers – even those arriving over the last decade – may have little to no idea how we got to where we are today. While we’re not one to dwell on the past, there is merit to understanding the journey.

We know we can learn from successes as well as missteps – but these revisits also lead to an understanding of things that might frustrate us, particularly when speaking from a transportation perspective:

Why do we have the congestion we have today?

Why were certain roads built?

Why were toll roads offered as a solution?

Why do we need to continue to innovate in transportation?

Where we came from, and how far we have come

The Mobility Authority is developing a series of podcasts featuring thought leaders from industry and community that focuses on different topics. Our first podcast, which will be available starting today, takes on the topic of economic development; more specifically, innovation and jobs.

Facilitated by Neal Spelce, this podcast features Retired Admiral Bob Inman, and business leaders Catherine Morse and Kerry Hall.

Admiral Inman was a leading force in the founding of MCC, was a professor at the University of Texas and served as the interim dean twice for its school of public affairs. Catherine is general counsel and Senior Director for Public Affairs at Samsung; Kerry is President, Austin Region, Texas Capital Bank, a commercial bank that is heavily involved in the business community and growth. She is also Senior Vice President of the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Chair of Opportunity Austin.

What was instrumental in shaping Austin and Central Texas?

The podcast sheds light on the single most important factor that shaped our region’s economic development push: MCC, the country’s first consortium for high-tech research. As you will hear, prior to MCC’s early origins in 1983, Austin was a “state-government paycheck town.” Our workforce was driven by UT, state government and Bergstrom Air Force Base (newcomers may not realize that we had an AFB on what is now the locale of our award-winning international airport).

What was the primary economic downfall of being a government town?

Property taxes.

Since none of those government entities paid property taxes, the tax burden rested with homeowners in a town of just a few hundred thousand people.

Thus began the chamber’s effort to attract industry that would deliver alluring salaries and in doing so, expand the tax base.

By following our narrators’ discussion, you can see how these events served as a catalyst for Austin becoming the tech hub it is today – as well as gain insight into how world events effect change in our region. For example, what was attractive to technology executives was how collaborative research could help the semiconductor industry compete against the Japanese – a competitive powerhouse back then.

But it wasn’t just technology that weighed in. Higher education got involved. UT put together chairs for their computer science and electrical engineering schools to attract graduate students from around the country, sweetening the talent pool pot to entice industry moves.

It was a community working together to solve community problems.

Getting to the fab on the prairie

Catherine Morse discusses the myriad of factors that created an inviting ecosystem for Samsung  – from the high enrollment of South Korean students at UT, to Motorola’s early presence here. The company purchased what was then a field out in the middle of “nowhere.” And of course, we needed roads to get them there.

Was it worth building the infrastructure and increasing our traffic? Well, that early $1 billion investment from South Korea has translated into $17 billion invested in the region today.

And they’re not done. The company employs 3500 direct employees, and 300 to 350 engineers at its chip design facility located off Loop 360. There are several thousand indirect employees who show up to work for the company each day.

The average per employee wage at Samsung is over $70,000 annually. Based on an economic impact analysis done last summer, Samsung pumps $3.6 billion in economic activity into the region each year, and drives about 11,000 jobs.

We need collaborative transportation solutions

Ground transportation in those early days was, for the most part, dreamy. Air transportation was inconvenient (you’ll hear how Ross Perot helped to unravel that challenge) but in 1983, just about every destination in and around Austin could be reached in 15 minutes.

Naturally, growth changes this. Our normally staid and laid-back populace works hard to muster that characteristic Austin-y unflappability when stuck in standstill traffic. But what this growth and congestion has underscored is that we are a region. We can no longer look for solutions to Austin’s traffic, or Cedar Park’s or Pflugerville’s traffic – we are five counties and we need regional solutions.

That is at the heart of the Mobility Authority’s work.

As the podcast presenters point out, other cities have learned how to solve their mobility issues. With buy-in from all of the region’s players, including the public, we can, too.  Whether it’s more investment in mass transportation, or companies adding creativity to worker schedules to get more drivers off the roads at peak times, we need a shared commitment to an important quality-of-life element: transportation.

Propelling forward

You’ll hear Kerry Hall talk about the continued importance of incentives as an investment in our region’s future. By revisiting these trailblazing moments in Austin’s history, we gain a better understanding of how those investments have paid off, and how we need to proactively plan for not just growth, but constant change and innovation.

Change can be hard, especially for those prone to a wistful longing for earlier days. But change is not just inevitable – it’s beneficial. Our tax base has broadened along with our opportunities.

So along with all of you, we’ll keep the region moving forward.

Check back on our website or sign up for Expressway News to get a heads up for upcoming podcasts.

2 years ago by in News & Events | You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.