2013 TEDC Legislative Conference: Day 2

In my opinion Day 2 (February 28) of the TEDC Legislative Conference was very positive–lots of useful sessions, good dialogue, and information about the current legislative session. Highlights were the morning keynote from Roy Spence of GSD&M Advertising and the afternoon session with Evan Smith from the Texas Tribune. I’ll also give a summary of the rural development session with David Terrell. My summaries are mostly just straight reporting of what the speakers said, but I do occasionally tell you what I think of them. As ever, the opinions are mine alone, and not my employer’s or TEDC or any government agency.

Incidentally, TEDC generally posts the materials from the sessions, if they’re available, a week or so after the conference in the Resources section of their website.

Roy Spence: Purpose Inspired Growth & Leadership

In my opinion this was the highlight of the entire conference, on a personal and a professional level. Roy Spence is the Co-Founder and Chairman of GSD&M, an Austin-based advertising agency that handles some of the better known national accounts, including Southwest Airlines, Walgreens, John Deere, LL Bean, and many others. He is also the author of The Amazing Faith of Texas and It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven By Purpose. Mr. Spence practices what he preaches, which is essentially that you can make a living doing what you love if you know what your purpose is. His session at TEDC was focused on American entrepreneurship and the need to inspire young people in this country to follow their purpose and their passion. He gave several examples of people he has worked with–including Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Sam Walton of Walmart–who knew what their purpose was and used that as their guiding principle. Mr. Spence is very positive and uplifting, and professionals in any industry would likely benefit from hearing what he has to say. He is a fantastic speaker, and he knows how to use language and words in an effective, compelling way–I heard people repeating quotes from his speech throughout the day. Some of the more memorable ones:

Regarding the current financial crisis in America:

People in America don’t want to hear about the fiscal cliff–we’re mountain climbers, not cliff jumpers.

Regarding the Don’t Mess With Texas campaign that his agency produced:

We laddered up from the litter business to the pride business. Maybe you all should consider laddering up from “economic development” to “community vitality” or something like that.

A quote he attributes to his mother, and which guides him in his life:

Don’t spend your trying to be good at something you’re average at. Spend your life trying to be great at something you’re good at.

And finally, regarding purpose statements:

Purpose will trade chaos for a course to steer.

Overall I thought this was a great session, and it set a really nice tone for the day.

David Terrell: Economic Development: Expectations & Paradigm Shifts

David Terrell is the Senior Advisor to Lt. Governor Sue Ellsperman, and his focus in today’s session was Indiana’s admirable rural development program. The program is run out of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), with the cooperation of several other governmental and non-governmental agencies. Several years back the Governor’s Office in the State of Indiana made rural development a top priority, and they formed OCRA with this mission:

To promote community prosperity to strengthen Indiana’s economy by providing capacity-building solutions to assure ready, marketable, and competitive communities for economic growth.

Mr. Terrell only had an hour, but he did a good job of highlighting the successes from the programs that OCRA has sponsored in its eight-year history. Something in common with all of the programs is regional and multi-agency cooperation and collaboration. The agency also emphasizes meaningful community dialog, the use of community liaisons and trained facilitators, the pursuit of aggressive partnership building, and continuous improvement in the communities being served.

The program Mr. Terrell highlighted was the Stellar Communities Program, a good example of this cooperation. Stellar Communities is a multi-agency partnership designed to fund comprehensive community development projects in Indiana’s smaller communities. The program is possible because of the collaboration of multiple agencies: The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and Indiana Department of Transportation, and the State Revolving Fund. The program successfully leverages state and federal funding from multiple agencies to undertake large-scale projects at a relatively low cost. He spotlighted several communities where the Stellar Communities program has made a difference, including the cities of North Vernon, Delphi, and Princeton.

While rural Texas has some challenges that are unique from those of Indiana, I believe that the Indiana program is certainly a good model, and well worth investigating.

Evan Smith: Where We Are and Where We Are Going

Evan A. Smith is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of the Texas Tribune, a non-partisan news outlet that uses a public funding model similar to public radio and television. I have heard Mr. Smith speak before and enjoyed it, and I read (and contribute to) the Texas Tribune on a regular basis because I think it’s a good place to get the straight scoop on what’s happening in the state of Texas.

In this afternoon’s session Mr. Smith gave us a frank and straightforward analysis of the 83rd Session of the Texas Legislature currently underway here in Austin. The Comptroller recently announced that we have additional funds that we didn’t expect, so the legislature’s challenge is to decide how to allocate those additional funds and whether or not to dip into the so-called Rainy Day Fund to help pay for key programs. According to Mr. Smith, the main foci of this session are water, transportation, healthcare and education, with very little emphasis on or appetite for social issues. He also talked about the demographic shift in Texas that is NOT being discussed in the legislature, and gave us his predictions for the next election cycle. Following are some of the highlights:

Water. Water is a major issue in Texas because many communities are running out of it. There have been several solutions put forth, all of which would cost upwards of $50 billion, and none of which are currently funded at any level. Many cities have a surplus of water, but the challenge is getting that water to the communities that do not have it. According to Mr. Smith, this problem will ultimately be solved at the local level by entrepreneurs  but it will be a challenge and the legislature will have to address it on some level.

Transportation. The Texas Department of Transportation has indicated that we will be at crisis level with our road situation within two years if current funding levels continue and do not increase. There are many problems, and too many of them that overlap to tackle solely at the local level. Again, there are several proposals, including a fuel tax increase and the use of Rainy Day Funds on a revolving basis, but none seem particularly popular. The transportation is exacerbated by the population increase that Texas is currently experiencing.

Healthcare. This is a problem everywhere, but particularly in Texas. Mr. Smith says that healthcare costs are the fastest growing percentage of the state budget, and now as many as six million people in the state of Texas are uninsured. He gave a fascinating analysis of the Medicaid expansion debate, positing that the state of Texas is losing its leverage when it comes to standing ground on not expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act because so many other Republican strongholds are changing their mind about it. Mr. Smith didn’t lean one way or the other on whether or not Governor Perry should cave on the Medicaid issue, but he did point out that if Texas did expand it we could insure three million people by the end of 2014. He also said that if not the expansion of MedicAid, something needs to be done, and he admonished that “NO” is not a solution, and that compromise is not a dirty word.

Public Education. The major issues at stake in this year’s education funding debate are whether to reimburse the schools for the cuts from the last legislative session (an issue now in the courts); school choices and whether or not to use public funds for private schools (and the accountability issues associated with that); and what to do about the testing situation (which no one likes). Mr. Smith pointed out that no one wants to claim the votes that led to the current educational situation, and no one is fond of the way things are, but there aren’t any clearly good solutions to the problems at hand.

Not Discussed: The Demographic Shift. Mr. Smith presented a brief (brief by necessity–he was running out of time) discussion of the demographic changes in Texas that are already here, but that the legislature does not seem to be focusing on enough. He showed several slides illustrating the demographic shift from a primarily Anglo population to a primarily Hispanic population by the year 2040. This affects every aspect of society, and Mr. Smith said that he feels it should be addressed more thoroughly than it is.

The Next Election Cycle. Mr. Smith ended his presentation with his admittedly pundic predictions for the next election cycle. NOTE: These are NOT facts or rumors of facts, they are merely Mr. Smith’s educated opinions about what will happen in the future. I just want to make that clear. To wit: Rick Perry will not run for Governor, but will instead prepare for his Presidential bid in 2016. Greg Abbot will run, and will take office in 2016. It’s not certain exactly what George P. Bush will run for, but it will be a big story regardless. Mayor Castro of San Antonio will win three more terms and will be finished in 2017 (because San Antonio is term limited), after which he will run for Governor against Greg Abbot in the 2018 election.

I always enjoy Mr. Smith’s presentations. His frank and straightforward statements made some people visibly uncomfortable, but he did stick to the facts and present the information in a typically Texas Tribune fashion.

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