Friday, October 07, 2011

Optimistic About Austin - Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast

The Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast Series kicked-off the new season with a sold-out event on the main stage of the Long Center.  Over 200 Austin area professionals attended this informative and interactive panel discussion,  "ATXpansion: Central Texas Grows Toward the Future".

KXAN's Robert Hadlock was the moderator.

Panelists were:

Jesus Garza, Executive VP and COO, Seton Family of Hospitals
Senator Kirk Watson
William Powers, President, The University of Texas at Austin

Everyone agrees that Austin is a great place to live, but our fine city is not without challenges.  Affordable healthcare, improved education, traffic and transit solutions, environmental quality, crime reduction and improved race relations are all top priorities for all who live in Central Texas.

Take on traffic

The top issue (according to a live audience poll) is the traffic congestion that continues to plague the city.  The panel agreed.  For decades this has been a major problem facing our fast growing community.  As the city grows to the east, we still do not have the infrastructure in place to keep up with the growth.  We spend too much time in our local government bickering over things that do not fix the issues.  Our community needs to stop spending so much time focusing on what political party people belong to in local elections and other conversations (National party affiliation divides the electorate, but the issues of the national parties are of little importance to local need to solve problems).  Party membership should not be the leading factor in local issues!

As the state continues to slash budgets for roads local governments must pick up the slack.  Texas is doing better than many places in the country, but much of this is because of the investment in infrastructure that was made by our parents and grandparents.  We must continue to build for the future.  If the state will not do it, they at least need to "get out of they way" and let the local officials create solutions.  We must be forward thinking and entrepreneurial in making decisions for making Austin better in the long run.

Planning as a region is key.  We need to remove the competition between different jurisdictions and work together.  Money is an issue, and we need to get used to the reality that there will be less investment from the state.  While people do not like the option of Toll Roads, we cannot keep hoping for answers without finding solutions to raise the money needed to build the roads.

A new medical school

The panel also discussed the pending addition of a world-class medical school to be built in Austin.  The benefits of this project are increased quality healthcare, expanded options for care, an economic boost and more (and better) higher-education in the area.

Much like MCC brought with it an economic expansion in high tech thirty years ago, the medical school will have an unparalleled impact on the future of Austin.  All agreed that at few times in a community is there a moment in history where a single decision can make such a difference on the future.  The pieces are already in place to launch the program, and we MUST get this done, as it will have a positive impact for everyone.

The whole community must become aware of what the medical school means to Austin beyond the addition of more healthcare options throughout our region;  it will also ignite economic development, create high-quality jobs, spur the start up and relocation of bio-tech companies, etc....  This is more than a large, beige building with the world "Medical School" on the wall.  Senator Watson added that this project will have lasting impact and is a source of pride for the community.  He encouraged people to call his office to learn more and to add their name to a growing list of people who can find ways to be involved.

The future looks bright

All the panelist were optimistic about Austin.  When Scarborough's Department Store closed in downtown during the 1980s people debated if the downtown would ever recover.  Today Austin has a vibrant downtown that is the envy of most cities.  The need to complete MoPac was heavily debated in our community, and today nobody could imagine the city without this important road.  Austin has always found a way to rebound and tackle the tough issues.

People must become educated about the issues.  They need to know more than the casual observations and be able to talk to both sides.  We need to leave the political banter behind-- Stop talking and get things done!  This is not the time for politicians to be talking in "sound-bites".  The issues are too important.

The Engage Breakfast Series always brings thoughtful conversations, and this meeting was a great example of why Leadership Austin continues to be one of the most important organizations in Austin.

If you would like to learn more about the issues discussed, KXAN will be hosting a Town Hall Meeting on October 26th from 7PM to 8PM.  Go to for more information.

The next Engage Breakfast will be on November 1st.  More information on the Leadership Austin website.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

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