Advocacy in Retrospect

Advocacy in Retrospect

Posted By Greater Austin Chamber | Jan 11, 2018
Public Policy Print Article Advocacy in Retrospect

Our end-of-year review of 2017 public policy accomplishments


At best, 2017 was a passable year. We remained diligent and focused on the needs of the community through education, affordability, transportation, and workforce development. Despite the odds, our advocacy team worked hard at the local, state, and federal levels to get beneficial policies across the finish line to protect the people and city we call home. 

Below are highlights of our most productive efforts for the year.
 

Education

At the Austin Chamber, we believe that all residents—young and old—have the right to access and receive a quality education. This year, we defended this belief by supporting a strong education system in the region that prepares students and workers for college and the workforce.

  • With our help, the Austin and Leander ISD bonds passed with 70 percent and 66 percent of voters respectively supporting the measures. A longtime priority of the Chamber, the Austin ISD bond allowed the school district to adopt its first Master Facility Plan.
     
  • Building on our DTC70 program, the Lumina Foundation recognized Austin as a national Talent Hub and provided a $350,000 grant to help 70,000 stop outs—individuals with some college but no degree or credential—reach their educational goals. The effort is in partnership with Austin Community College and Western Governors University.
     
  • We targeted FAFSA completion support to approximately 14,000 graduating seniors and achieved record high FAFSA submissions for the Class of 2017. DTC 70 partners topped the state in Q1 FAFSA submissions beating state priority aid deadlines, and ended the year with 70 percent Q4 submissions—10 percentage points higher than the Class of 2016.
     
  • DTC70 partners increased college and career readiness rates from 56 percent in 2016 to 58 percent in 2017. DTC70 partners are also 19 percentage points above the State’s college-readiness average of 38 percent for the Class of 2016. Our DTC70 partners—Austin, Hutto, Leander, Pflugerville, and Round Rock Independent School Districts—were able to use real-time college readiness data to target support to approximately 14,000 juniors and seniors.
     
  • Our “Summer Melt” program helped 9,000 high school graduates enroll into college. Each year the program invests $70,000 to ensure school districts intervene and reduce common barriers that prevent students from enrolling into college.  
     
  • Through our DTC70 program, 65 percent of high school seniors in the Class of 2016 enrolled into college—up one percentage point compared to the senior Class of 2015 at 64 percent. The State of Texas college enrollment rate remains at 49 percent.

Central Texas high school students enjoy a backstage pass to the ACL Festival after encouraging their peers to attend college via the Austin Chamber’s fourth annual ACL Financial Aid Social Media Contest.
 

Federal and State

Since our founding, we have worked alongside the community to engage state and federal officials in a dialogue on innovative solutions that shape the future of Central Texas. This year, our daily interactions made a difference in the community and business climate we each value.

  • We partnered with Texas Speaker Joe Straus and Texas businesses to defeat the discriminatory bathroom bill. If passed, Texas would lose nearly $5.6 billion. Due to our efforts, Speaker Straus announced his plan to create a Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to improve Texas’ economy.
     
  • Texas Governor Abbott supported our efforts to grow the Texas economy by replenishing the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) during the 85th Legislature. $100 million was allocated to the Governor’s University Research Initiative, the Moving Image Incentive Program, TEF, and three other incentive programs on an as-needed basis. The Austin Chamber joined the Texas Association of Business' Texas 2050 Group—a 30 member business organization—to support TEF and oppose legislation that would weaken existing incentives that spur economic development.
     
  • We worked with Texas Senator Kirk Watson and Representative Donna Howard to pass legislation that allows Austin Community College to create a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Each year, Central Texas experiences an occupational shortage of registered nurses.
     
  • We supported Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, Texas Speaker Straus, and the Texas Legislature on finding ways to reduce the state reliance on Central Texas property taxes. Governor Abbott named Scott Brister of Georgetown as the Chair of the Commission on Public School Finance. Local education representatives to join him include Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Doug Killian (nominated by Governor Patrick), and Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson (nominated by Speaker Straus). 

Our board of directors along with staff joined more than 100 businesses and leaders to defeat the discriminatory bathroom bill during the 85th Texas Legislature Special Session.
 

Local Government

We believe that an empowered community is a key component of a renowned city when residents and businesses can participate in the planning process or voice their concerns on specific issues. This year, we fought hard on local issues with over 100 community organizations to ensure our city remains vibrant.

  • Although our affordability agenda was indefinitely postponed by Austin City Council, several components of the initial plan advanced throughout the year:
     
    • With substantial support from our team, MERCK selects Austin as the location for its fourth innovation hub. Over 10 years, the company plans to create 600 new jobs with an average annual wage of $84,586 and invest nearly $29 million in the region. The $856,000 incentive deal was the City of Austin’s first economic development agreement in over three years.
       
    • Our board of directors endorsed the Travis County Bond to support two propositions that improve drainage, roads, and parks in the Central Texas region. Voters approved the $185 million bond package in November.

Mason Ayer, CEO of Kerbey Lane Cafe, spoke during our press conference on the need for affordability in the city. The event was covered by Community Impact Newspaper.

 

Transportation

For the past 10 years, we have advocated for the need of all modes of transportation for residents throughout the region. This year, we did not just meet our goals, but exceeded them in terms of mobility.

  • Our Air Service Task Force helps the ABIA add new non-stop flightsa total of 70—through domestic and international flights to Canada, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Frankfurt. ABIA now ranks 29th in the U.S. with the most air travelers —18 spots ahead of San Antonio.
     
  • Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) unanimously adopts new selection criteria supported by the Chamber to ensure better collaboration on transportation projects in the Central Texas region. The criterion is part of CAMPO’s 2040 Transportation Plan.
     
  •  We supported the formation of Texans for Traffic Relief—a nonprofit working on behalf of businesses to advocate for common sense solutions that alleviate congestion—to counteract the Tea Party’s opposition to new toll roads.
     
  • We supported the completion of MoPac North to significantly relieve congestion in Central Texas. Transportation is the second highest cost amongst families in the Austin region. 

Ribbon cutting for Norweign Airlines. Pictured (from left to right): Anders Lindström, Director of Communications, Norwegian; Jim Smith, Executive Director, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport; Tom Noonam, President/CEO of Visit Austin; Doug Driskill, Chair of Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Airport Task Force; and District 6 Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. 

 

Workforce

Austin is considered one of America’s fastest-growing cities for a good reason—job availability. Unemployment in November dropped to 2.6 percent and per capita income increased by 3.2 percent. This year, we have been at the forefront advocating for more jobs on behalf of Central Texans.

  • Workforce Solutions Capital Area adopted their first regional workforce plan—a long time goal of the Austin Chamber—to certify, train, and place 1,800 residents in poverty, over the next five years (2017-2021), into high paying jobs (200% above the current poverty rate).
     
  • The U.S. House of Representatives included our vision and language into the Forever GI Bill to help prepare veterans for the ever-changing job market by expanding access to technology courses such as coding. President Trump signed the bill August 2017. 


Kwee Lan Teo (center) of the Austin Chamber, Mojdeh Gharbi of Certain Affinity and Dan Medlin of ARM speaks to U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith on the importance of education and the workforce. The meeting was in partnership with the Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships (BLU).

Greater Austin Chamber

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce focuses on how the Austin Region works. We serve as the voice of business for 2,800 organizations representing a combined workforce of about 330,000 employees throughout Central Texas. Our mission is to provide leadership that facilitates the creation of a prosperous regional economy and effective advocacy for members.