March 15, 2007
In two days, we will celebrate an important anniversary. It wasn’t so long ago that a young electrical technician and his even younger nurse wife welcomed the birth of their first-born son. Today, people celebrate the18th of March in a striking variety of ways – some spend it nursing a St. Patrick’s Day hangover, while others simply go about their daily routines and activities. You guessed it. In two days we will celebrate the anniversary of my birth. And let me tell you, I couldn’t be more excited about turning 34. The old folks tell me it’s a great year.Sure, there’s some other stuff going on this week, too. Spring has sprung like a temperate jack-in-the-box. It ‘s Spring Break for the kids. The rodeo’s in town. Oh, yeah – that little, very Austin music and film and internet get-together is going on, too.I probably don’t need to tell you how much fun South by Southwest is. In fact, you might need to tell me – at my new age, it’s not as easy as it used to be to fully appreciate a week-long celebration of movies, music, and maybe a beer here and there. I can, however, tell you how important SXSW is to our local economy. Which, I’m sure, is exactly what your ringing ears and bleary eyes want to focus on right now. But bear with me, because events like SXSW make Austin Austin. They are thoroughly unique and boisterous happenings that make people – particularly young and creative people who love things like music and movies – want to live here. And 21st-Century companies that thrive on innovation and technology want to be exactly where those creative-types live.So, yes, SXSW is precisely the sort of thing that draws businesses to our region and fuels our economy. And it’s exactly what will help make Austin a very competitive region for generations.To learn more about this phenomenon, I highly recommend a book called The Rise of the Creative Class by George Mason University professor, Friend-of-Kirk, and socio-economics rock star Richard Florida
In the spirit of SXSW, I’m going to use this Watson Wire to tell you about several bills I’ve filed to help get Texas thinking and working on economic development in different ways, sort of like I did on Monday with my environmental bills. I’ve said many times that we need to think about economic development completely differently. Incentives and tax breaks, as important as they may be at times, are really nothing more than tactics; they’re not a strategy. We need to keep Texans healthy, make sure they’re educated and capable of doing the jobs we need, give them places they want to live in and can afford, and protect their urban, suburban, rural, and natural environments. So, as you’ll see, my economic development strategy might be a little wider-ranging than the non-strategies you’re probably used to. But before all that, on this week of all weeks – a week that includes great music beyond just the humming of Happy Birthday – I want to showcase an economic development bill that’s every bit as fun as it is good for Texas.
Senate Bill 1933 would create the Texas State Music History Museum. You can read a summary of it here.As the bill statement says, Texas has made a rich and complex contribution to music in this country and many others. A monument to, and celebration of, this immense legacy is both well-deserved and much-needed. But the museum also would be a boon to the state’s economy. Sure, it will attract tourists. It could even become a little business – the bill would allow the museum to host performances and license and sell music. But, more than anything, the museum will celebrate and broaden one of the many things that make Texas a unique and attractive place to live. These are the sorts of cultural assets that will give Texas an advantage in this century – the way our staggering natural resources fueled our economy in the last century.Anything we can do to emphasize these assets, and heighten the appreciation of them, won’t just be interesting, and it won’t just be fun. In the long run, it will be at least as valuable and beneficial to our economy as the malls or manufacturing plants we typically clamor for.Here are some other bills that will nourish the Texas economy in new ways:Senate Bill 922: Increase Small Business Health CoverageThis bill would increase access to health care for small business employees and their family members. It also would reduce the likelihood that these Texans would need state-funded health benefits. And it would help small businesses compete for employees while encouraging innovative solutions for providing health care. Read more.Senate Bill 1919: Improve Texas Medical SchoolsThere is little debate that Texas needs more places to train doctors and nurses. But our undeniable healthcare demands can evaporate in the heat of economic development politics. What the state requires is an unvarnished look at what Texans truly need and where they need it. Read more.Senate Bill 952: Allow Sidewalk CafesSidewalk restaurants and cafes are at once an effect and a cause of economic development. The vibrant culture brings people into downtowns – so many that they cause more sidewalk restaurants and cafes to open. Creative, talented people seek out cities with a mix of such amenities. Read more.Senate Bill 1105: Support Data Centers A data center is exactly the sort of employer that regions should strive to attract – it represents a major corporate investment, provides high-paying jobs, and employs a highly educated workforce. Senate Bill 1105 would tweak Texas economic development law so data centers could receive economic development incentives that the state offers to other businesses. Read more.Senate Bill 1323: Encourage Workforce TrainingTexas’ gradual shift toward a technology-based, creativity-fueled, 21st-Century economy can seem a little intimidating at times. To prepare Texans for what’s coming, the state needs strong workforce training programs. SB 1323 would help community training centers by reimbursing their sales taxes for construction, expansion, or renovation of a building. Read more.Senate Bill 866: Grow Texas Organic AgricultureOrganic food is a big part of the economy and is getting bigger. This bill would create an Organic Industry Advisory Board to monitor, promote, and expand the organic industry in Texas. Read more.Senate Bill 865: Support Biotechnology FacilitiesBiotech is one of our greatest assets and brightest hopes. This bill reinstates the sales and use tax exemption for new pharmaceutical biotechnology cleanrooms, and it eliminates the requirement that these facilities be valued at $150 million or more to receive these incentives. Read more.That’s all for now. I’m headed to Dallas to spend the weekend watching well-conditioned, fast, athletic kids play high school lacrosse – the perfect way to celebrate getting old.