Naked City

The Chamber's Road Map

Seeking to revive both the local economy and its own powers to move and shake, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce released on Tuesday its much-anticipated "road map for recovery," the fruit of an ongoing effort dubbed Opportunity Austin. The economic development strategy sets as its five-year goal creating 72,000 new jobs in greater Austin and adding $2.9 billion to the region's local payroll -- about twice as many jobs, and about as much income, as has been lost in the current downturn.

The chamber initiated the Opportunity Austin effort in February, around the same time the Mayor's Task Force on the Economy -- co-chaired by then-Council Member Will Wynn -- laid out its suggestions for what City Hall could do about the continuing "crisis." With $120,000 in funding from the Real Estate Council of Austin, the chamber hired Atlanta-based Market Street Services to do an in-depth study of the local status quo and make recommendations for action. Implementing the road map, a task expected to cost about $11 million, is the job of the Greater Austin Economic Development Foundation, a fundraising and advocacy operation created by the chamber and helmed by Heritage Title Co. President Gary Farmer.

What Market Street CEO Mac Holladay told the chamber types over breakfast Tuesday wasn't totally surprising, particularly given the crowd. His road map recommends both capitalizing on existing Austin strengths (chips and software, digital media, wireless, and tourism) and diversifying beyond the high tech sector into areas like medical products, automotive (to leverage Toyota's arrival in San Antonio), and warehousing and logistics. It calls for more partnerships with UT, public-private ventures, export assistance for local firms, and so forth. And -- in addition to generic calls to move the public-policy ball (in a direction amenable to the chamber and RECA) on transportation, development regulation, and workforce education -- the Opportunity Austin road map calls for marketing Austin more effectively, getting the word out that Austin is "back in the game" of luring major employers, and "repositioning" the chamber itself "to remake [its] image in the regional community."

Interestingly, the road map largely leaves out the current darlings of the City Hall economic-revival effort -- small service businesses, creative industries like film and music, and the renewable energy industry. (They get mentioned, but in the Opportunity Austin vision they're no more important than, say, auto-parts warehousing.) Whether that sets the stage for collaboration or conflict between the chamber and City Hall remains to be seen.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Opportunity Austin, roadmap, Greater Austin Economic Development Foundation, Gary Farmer, Market Street Services, Mac Holladay, Mayor's Task Force on the Economy

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