Why Are We Going?

We’re heading to Austin, Texas, the capital of the Lone Star State, for the EDC's 2012 Leadership Mission. There are many similarities between Metro Orlando and Austin: both are known for imagination and creativity and are finding success through unique partnerships and innovative collaborations.

Our 2012 Best Places: Best Practices Leadership Mission gives us the opportunity to answer questions such as: How can Orlando become a Talent Magnet? and Where are the Intellectuals going? At the top of the list of “America's Cities for Talent and Innovation”, we are beyond excited to be visiting Austin with the goal of learning from their vast economic development and successes.

One of our main goals for this year’s Leadership Mission is to find out how we can attract talented people to our region. Austin is one of the world's most talented cities, earning a top spot on the list of "10 Best Cities for the Next Decade" and "America’s Most Recession-Proof Cities". They pride themselves on their deliberate branding of Home of the Happiest Geeks in America, They Think Weird is Cool, and Live Music Capital of the World.

The main factors driving Austin's successes:

  • Strong Community Assets and Superior Quality of Life
  • Knowledge Ecosystems: capable workforce, innovation & entrepreneurship, clusters in knowledge industries, presence of a world-class research university and other institutes of higher learning
  • Advanced Technology: related manufacturing and research, Texas Emerging Technology Fund
  • Entertainment: film, digital entertainment, and live music
  • Information & Computer Technology: publishing and software
  • Biotech & Life Sciences, Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals
  • Legal Services, Engineering, and Management Consulting
  • Aerospace & Defense
  • Austin Technology Incubator

During our site visit to Austin in March, we were able to schedule more than 18 business meetings with city staff, university faculty, chamber president and economic development executives. We also met with a state lobbyist, an economist, UT’s IC2 Institute Director of technology entrepreneurship and wealth creation, the publisher of the Austin American Statesman, Austin CVB staff, and Austin City Limits executives. In addition, we sat down with a former reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, now living in Austin, who contributed to the Angelous Study conducted in 2000 – comparing Orlando and Austin – and the unique strengths matched to community for technology. This study opened a plethora of learning experiences and knowledge that will be used as the basis for the current comparison of Orlando and Austin.

The highlight of our experience, however, was being invited to the Austin – Human Capital Quarterly Investors Meeting. We were blown away listening to the Chairman who opened with enthusiastic, cheerleader remarks thanking the investors for their support and committee involvement.  The Mayor spoke about the astronomical successes of the past year and the projects in the pipeline, followed by reports on Business Retention & Expansion, Talent Development and Attraction, Transportation, and closing with an in-depth report on Opportunity Austin’s 8 Years of Success, called Austin 2.0, which we look forward to learning more about on our Mission trip in August.

Austinites work together through business, academia and government. The godfather of Austin’s high tech evolution, George Kozmetsky, had a vision that moved Austin from a city of few opportunities to one where opportunities are realized. He enthusiastically said, “If you don’t have people with a fire in their belly and a passion to win, then it ain’t going to happen.” Pike Powers and Jerry Converse, veteran community builders/leaders, said that Kozmetsky was an inspiration and changed their lives. Powers and Converse are credited with coordinating the infrastructure of the big deals that set Austin on the road to success. They have been active leaders in the community for more than 40 years.

Once a cattle and oil town, Austin is now home to hundreds of high tech companies and holds the distinction of topping the nation for job growth and creation every year since 2004. Austin is an island in the center of Texas with its own identity and personality. Austinites are all very proud of their city and work hard at staying at the top of the list for recruiting and retaining a young, talented workforce. This is definitely a similarity from which Orlando can relate and learn. Austin embraces and accentuates their weirdness, their live music, their geekiness through their technology and quality of life.

A major strategy that we also hope to learn from is Austin’s Grand Strategy. This includes the value and "How To" of having private and public leaders deeply committed to a specific strategy over a long period of time. New leadership is encouraged but the senior leaders are valued, appreciated and, most importantly, stay involved. We look forward to learning how Austin built their team and how we can expand ours. For them, it took city and county leaders, academia, and elected officials to make this Grand Strategy successful. The state pumped money into the university, bolstering the Master’s program for entrepreneurship; legislators rewrote rules for state pension funds, allowing retirement money for teachers and state workers to be invested by entrepreneurs in new companies; the city created a technology incubator where entrepreneurs could mentor startups; leaders of successful companies infused the region with venture capital to attract other technology-based companies. This envied model is still strong today.

Austin is truly embedded in protecting the environment, thus making them an attractive place for companies to relocate to the region. We look forward to learning "How to Build a High Tech Mecca", that keeps Austin on target putting equal focus on recruiting companies to locate operations there, helping existing companies grow, and focusing on encouraging high tech start-ups.

Needless to say, we certainly chose the right place for the 2012 Leadership Mission and the City of Austin is waiting to tell us its story of economic development and expansion, while we create life-long relationships in the process.

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