Chamber Partners with Ft. Hood: Operation Austin

Ft. Hood press conf picThe Austin Chamber of Commerce and Fort Hood’s leadership today announced Operation Austin, a first-of-its-kind partnership designed to bridge critical talent gaps in Central Texas and position Austin as one of the leaders in the nation in veteran recruitment. Through the coalition, Fort Hood and the Austin Chamber are developing new programs to connect Austin businesses with veteran talent, provide consolidated labor market research on Central Texas jobs and resources, and create an Austin startup accelerator advisor team for veterans interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Click here to view our press release.

Several members of Congress showed their support for this new collaboration:

“The ‘Great Place’ is a community that fully supports our soldiers and veterans better than any post in the world. This program will ensure the men and women leaving the military will be able to stay, live and work right here in Central Texas, where we want them to be! I comment Fort Hood and the City of Austin for making our veterans and their families a priority.”

– Congressman John Carter 

“All too often, the transition from active duty to civilian life is a needlessly difficult one. I am pleased to see the Austin Chamber of Commerce help pair our talented veteran population at Ft. Hood with businesses who need high-skilled workers in the appropriately named ‘Operation Austin.’”

Congressman Lloyd Doggett

“Our military men and women have given much to our country through their service and sacrifice. Operation Austin will provide Central Texas veterans with great employment opportunities and allow them to lead successful careers. I commend this collaborative commitment to provide and promote private sector jobs to our nation’s veterans.”

U.S. Representative Bill Flores

“Veterans are a national treasure and should be treated as such. We can no longer sit idly by while those who have given the most to our country are continuously ignored. I’m proud to support Operation Austin and proud to see two communities that I represent in Congress come together and form this unique partnership.

Operation Austin will develop new programs to connect Austin businesses with veteran talent. While almost 600-800 soldiers separate from Fort Hood each month, many are interested in staying in Central Texas.

The State of Texas is home to nearly 1.5 million veterans, with many of them calling Central Texas home. With nearly 9% of all Veterans in Texas unemployed last year, partnerships such as these can and will make the difference. It is reprehensible to sit back and watch our veterans suffer. I commend this new collaboration and pledge my full support.”

– U.S. Representative Roger Williams

To participate in the Feb. 26 job fair, please visit

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Ninth Annual Economic Outlook: What’s next for Austin?

The 2014 Economic Outlook program explored Austin’s economy and examined what steps Austin is taking to nurture our own next generation innovation economy and leading-edge knowledge community.


The program presented a snapshot into how and why Austin is changing as we took a look ahead into the emerging economic drivers of 2015. The presentations discussed Austin’s core culture and next steps with an expert line-up of speakers that let us in on their vision of the next level economy descending upon Austin.


Featured Speakers included: Brian Kelsey, Principal at Civic Analytics, Thomas G. Osha, Managing Director of Innovation and Economic Development, Wexford Science & Technology, Dr. Clay Johnston, Inaugural Dean of the Dell Medical School, and Senator Kirk Watson.

With comments by Sly Majid, Chief Service Officer, Office of Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and Jack McDonald Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Chairman & CEO of Upland Software.

Read attendees’ reactions to the discussion, below:


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A Culture of Achievement: State of Education Awards

The Chamber is honored to acknowledge community leaders focused on building a culture of achievement here in Central Texas. At our Ninth Annual State of Education, we honored several leaders for their work in education. We applaud the following winners:

Texas Common Application Award Winners

Large Category Winner

  • Stony Point High School (Round Rock ISD). 96% of their seniors submitted the Texas Common Application.

Medium Category Winners — each tied with 100% of their seniors submitting the Texas Common Application

  • Crockett High School (Austin ISD)
  • Hutto High School (Hutto ISD)

Small Category Winner — each tied with 100% of their seniors submitting the Texas Common Application

  • Ann Richards High School (Austin ISD)
  • Garza High School (Austin ISD)

Highest Overall FAFSA Submission Rate

This award is for the Central Texas high schools with the highest percent of their senior class submitting the FAFSA by the end of Q1.

  • Westwood High School (Round Rock ISD)
  • McCallum High School (Austin ISD)
  • Ann Richards High School (Austin ISD)

Highest Financial Aid Saturdays Attendance

This award is for the Central Texas high school with the highest attendance at a Financial Aid Saturdays event.

  • Manor High School (Manor ISD). 294 students and parents attended their Financial Aid Saturdays event!

Highest Student Futures Project Submission Rate

This award goes to the Central Texas high school with the highest participation rate on their Class of 2014 Senior Survey (an invaluable tool to help us improve the effectiveness of our interventions).

Large Category Winner

  • Anderson High School (Austin ISD)

Medium Category Winner

  • Vandegrift High School (Leander ISD)

Small Category Winners

  • Ann Richards High School (Austin ISD)
  • LASA High School (Austin ISD)

Greatest Improvement in Direct-to-College Enrollment Rate (High School)

  • Hutto High School (Hutto ISD). Hutto had an increase in direct-to-college enrollment from 49% in 2012 to 58% in 2013 — a 9 percentage point gain!

Coming in at a close second was Eastside Memorial High School (Austin ISD) with an increase in direct-to-college enrollment from 33% to 40%, a seven percentage point gain.

Greatest Improvement in Direct-to-College Enrollment Rate (School District)

  • Hutto ISD. This district also had a 9 percentage point gain, year-over-year, to post a 58% direct-to-college enrollment rate.

Highest Overall Direct-to-College Enrollment Rate (High School Campus)

  • The Liberal Arts & Sciences Academy (Austin ISD). 88% of its students directly enrolled in higher education this year!

APIE College Readiness Award

The Chamber recognizes the Austin Partners In Education advocate who has made the greatest impact on individual student college/career readiness rates.

  • Ben Hirsch. Ben has been a College Readiness Advocate with Austin Partners in Education since December 2012. He began his work with APIE at Akins High School, where he has helped 29 students become college ready.

Superintendent of the Year

  • Hutto ISD Superintendent Dr. Doug Killian. A repeat winner, Killian has served as an assistant superintendent, a principal and as a teacher. Hutto ISD has the smallest amount of money per student in Central Texas. Dr. Killian took seriously a planning process to explain how additional resources would significantly improve college/career readiness and college enrollment rates. Hutto’s college and career readiness rates have increased from 51% in 2007 to 58% in 2012. Hutto ISD has also improved its direct-to-college enrollment from 49% in 2012 to 58% in 2013.

Click here to read the social media re-cap of the Ninth Annual State of Education.

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Ninth Annual State of Education: Enrollment and STEM Priorities

Monday, 450 business, education and civic leaders celebrated successes and focused on key areas for improvement in Central Texas’ education efforts at the Chamber’s ninth annual State of Education.

full house

Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Chair-elect, Bazaarvoice’s Gene Austin, kicked off the event held at the Hilton Austin and Ray Almgren, Vice President of Marketing at National Instruments, was this year’s keynote speaker. Almgren focused on National Instruments’ work with STEM education among children and the importance of technical literacy among Central Texas’ students.

almgrenWith the growth of the “Internet of things” comes more opportunities to provide hands-on education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Almgren called for more investment in inspiring students to pursue careers in science and engineering. National Instruments partners with FIRST to address this need and Almgren announced the company is also working to bring a FIRST robotics competition to Texas for the 2015/2016 school year.


Continuing the theme of preparedness, David Reiter, 2014 Education Chair for the Chamber and Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Luminex, discussed the two major community challenges facing Central Texas’ education efforts today: High school and college student computer science course completion and Direct-to-college enrollment rates.



Central Texas Todaygap

In the Chamber’s annual interviews of nearly 400 of the region’s CEOs and top executives, a top issue for their companies is if they will have access to the talent they need to remain globally competitive. If Austin loses its tech company edge, our quality of life will decrease…just like it did in the semiconductor bust of 2002.

Today, Central Texas employers have 7,400 jobs openings in computer science. However, only 3% of Central Texas high school graduates — or fewer than 500 students region wide — completed even on computer science course last year.

Last year, region-wide, Central Texas universities and community colleges only graduated 600 people in computer science out of 130,000 students.

So, how do we address tech talent in our region and continue to grow great jobs …and keep our companies competitive?  We need to start with a well-rounded academic course of study. This year, 15 area school districts and charter schools adopted policy to ensure all entering ninth grade students are enrolled on the Distinguished high school graduation plan. This means 80% of these graduates will be exposed to algebra II, biology, chemistry, physics…all the critical building blocks in our high tech workplace. The Chamber encourages other school districts not currently participating to join the rest of the region in this effort.

We also need to grow the percent of students interested in computer sciences. To assist with this goal, the Chamber:

  • Releases a monthly “Where the Jobs Are” report .
  • Trains dozens of local high school counselors so they understand where Austin’s top jobs are currently.
  • Works with Fort Hood to make Austin the top destination for its 8-10,000 exiting heroes — most of whom have STEM or health care backgrounds.
  • Works with ACC to develop needed training and certificate programs to prepare our available workforce — In January, the Chamber created a JAVA computer programming 8-month course with ACC that attracted 400 students.
  • Develops pilot programs, such as the Chamber’s effort to connect 100 tech employees with 4,000 10th grade students to discuss where the jobs are in Austin right before the students schedule their 11th grade courses.


Direct-to-College Enrollment Rates: A Pressing Need

Nearly a decade ago, the Chamber and community partners launched a regional performance management plan to increase higher education enrollment by 30% in 48 months — and we succeeded.

The collective work of this partnership has been recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Committee for Economic Development and this summer, we won the 2014 Regional Innovation Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.

This year, we’ve accomplished:



  • Counseling 2.0. Under the leadership of the Chamber College Readiness Educator Support Team (CREST), led by Austin ISD Chief Schools Officer Edmund Oropez and Director of Guidance and Counseling for Hays CISD Charlotte Winkelmann, the Chamber unveiled Counseling 2.0, a combination of high-quality counseling blended with data-driven support. Students can elect to receive reminders for college application deadlines, targeted help for college readiness, and financial aid application assistance. Counselors receive each student’s college interest data and a profile of whether the student understands the importance of early financial aid submission to help make counselors’ efforts more effective.
  • ApplyTexas.  Armed with this real-time data, counselors have increased ApplyTexas submission rates through one-on-one work with students and families. 84% of the Class of 2014 completed the Texas Common Application, a great achievement.
  • FAFSA. The Chamber understands we can’t affect college enrollment without addressing financial aid. This year alone, the Chamber invested $150,000 to positively affect submission rates across the region. 43% of the Class of 2014 submitted the FAFSA by the end of Q1 (a 100% increase over 2006) and 57% of the class submitted the application by the end of August — the best performance of any region in the state of Texas. As a result, sixty-six million more dollars in financial aid was awarded to Central Texas 2014 graduates than the Class of 2006.
  • College Readiness. This year, nearly 60% of Central Texas seniors graduated college and career ready, up from 53% in 2008. However, 7,000 of today’s high school seniors are not college ready, and only a handful of them are enrolled in any college preparation course. For the first time in two decades, Texas has no systematic way to assess whether each of today’s or tomorrow’s rising seniors are college ready. Chamber CEO Mike Rollins wrote to each superintendent in August asking them to counsel each non-college ready senior on the value of taking a free college prep course and to ensure that each junior be assessed using the ACT, SAT or the state’s TSI measure to determine their college readiness by January. The Chamber Board also called on the Texas Legislature to eliminate the remaining five end-of-course graduation tests and instead replace them with the expectation that a student “pass” either the ACT, SAT or the state’s TSI to graduate.

Here’s the tough news. Even with improved application, FAFSA and college/career readiness rates, direct-to-college enrollment rates went down slightly for the second straight year. So, how can we do better?

First, superintendents and trustees need to make improving direct-to-college enrollment rates a “Top Three Agenda Item.” Set a target in your district’s Progress Report. Include it in your own evaluation…in your high school principals evaluations. Ensure you have strategies to meet this goal.

Second, the Texas Legislature needs to take a serious look at college affordability. The percentage of our high school graduates on some kind of price-supported lunch increased from 20% to 30% in just the last five years.

Our city cannot succeed without talent — specifically, tech talent. The jobs are here, we just need to focus our efforts on preparing our current and future workforce.

Read more about this year’s State of Education in the Austin American- Statesman and Community Impact.

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Taking Steps Towards Improving Our Workforce

Election UpdateKeepAustinVoting-Survey-Header-625

Austin Community College

We are excited to announce that bond Propositions 1 and 2 passed with about 57% of the vote. These propositions will enable ACC to meet current workforce needs in IT and health care by adding infrastructure for ACC job training at Highland, a new campus at Leander, expansions in Hays & Round Rock, and land banking in SE Austin.

The ACC Board of Trustees saw Nan McRaven running unopposed for a third term. We would like to congratulate Mark Williams for his win for the ACC Board of Trustees, as well as Jade Chang Sheppard and Gigi Bryant for making the run-off elections.

The tax rate election Proposition 3 narrowly lost, by approximately 49%-51%. Austin Community College is a critical, competitively priced option which can quickly help a lot of people prepare for a better job. Today, they are out of training space. That is why they needed a facilities and operations tax rate increase.

Region School Districts

For the Austin ISD school board, we will see Julie Cowan as the northwest Austin representative, who won the seat by 13,000 votes. Robert Schneider was re-elected in Southwest Austin by 800 votes. We will also see a number of run-offs for school board representatives. Paul Saldana and Kate Mason-Murphy will be running for the south Austin seat while David “D” Thompson and Ted Gordon will be running for the northeast Austin seat. Also making the run-off elections are Kendall Pace, with 14,000 vote margin, and Hillary Procknow, who was a part of Occupy Austin.

For Del Valle ISD, the school bonds passed overwhelmingly in a low-turnout election.

In Round Rock ISD, there is still a 5-2 board on items of style and substance. RRISD does not do run-offs, so all results are final. One incumbent, who had been appointed to a vacancy, lost.

Run-off elections will take place in 6 weeks. Remember to stay informed and make your voice be heard as we elect the future leaders in education. Read more about our thoughts on the election results, here.

District update

The Education Progress Report 2014-15 is on schedule for our late April/Early May launch event date. On October 22, 2014 the Chamber convened the Full Taskforce of 11 area superintendents and business leaders to finalize the selected indicators. Not only was there a successful agreement on a selected list of indicators, but the Full Taskforce also reduced the number of report indicators to allow for a more impactful delivery of critical metrics. The Chamber is knee deep in discussions with the graphic design team to create a fantastic layout and design for this year’s report. In the next month, the Chamber will collect newly released data from the school districts, design an expanded report dissemination strategy, and prepare for school district sub-team meetings in January to review the new report layout, content, and help districts set goals to improve student outcomes.

Ft. Hood Visitft hood

Each month, there are more than 800 veterans exiting Fort Hood in need of jobs. In hopes of addressing this issue, the Chamber met with the Command Group at Fort Hood on November 13, 2014, to promote veteran recruiting in the Austin area. About 20 companies were represented, both large and small, recruiting from a pool of candidates with a number of skills to contribute. Veterans are not only known to be excellent team players, but coming out with a strong military background, they also possess the ability to learn quickly and therefore are easily trainable, reliable and responsible.

This first meeting was only the first step in accomplishing the Chamber’s goal of matching viable candidates to potential jobs. With follow-up steps expected in the next few months, the Chamber is working to facilitate the hiring process by informing companies of the talented workforce available and helping veterans translate their skills to fit those jobs and transition into their life as civilians.

Congressman Joaquin Castro Visits

Castro tweetLast month, the Chamber hosted Congressman Joaquin Castro. The congressman led a roundtable discussion with several Chamber members to discuss the future business climate here in Texas, mentioning the development of the San Antonio – Austin corridor, expanding our metropolitan area with the goal of attaining something similar to our northern neighbor, Dallas. Castro also went on to discuss our federal priorities for the upcoming year. Check out our calendar of events for more information on upcoming opportunities to engage with leaders in our community.

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