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Senator Watson on #WhyAustin is great for business but has challenges

Our #WhyAustin series takes an honest, uncensored look into the Austin business environment and culture, today talking to Senator Kirk Watson, a well known leader that has had a widespread impact on the fabric of Austin.

texas senator kirk watson

#WhyAustin from different perspectives

As part of the ongoing #WhyAustin series, we’re exploring the business culture and environment in Austin. Everyone knows that over 100 people move to the city every day. Every. Day. So, instead of talking about how Austin graces nearly every desirable Top 10 list ever published, we’re asking some of the most relevant names in business to opine.

Instead of crunching numbers, we’re taking an honest pulse of what makes Austin great, but what some of the challenges are. To do that, we’ve interviewed company founders, politicians, startup investors, programmers, artists, musicians, and so many more.

Meet Senator Kirk Watson

Today, we’re digging in deep with Texas Senator Kirk Watson, who before becoming a well known name in the Senate was one of Austin’s most popular mayors, known for fending off developers from out of town that were eager to carve up the gorgeous hill country. He raised tremendous amounts of money for transportation and has been in the thick of it since he was an Ann Richards appointee in 1991.

Read more about Senator Watson here, connect with him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

Senator, what feedback do you receive when you pitch Austin as a business location?

Austin excites people. It has a vibration to it. People see it as a great, fun place to live, which makes it a great place for business because the city attracts and retains talented prospective employees.

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What current policies help or hinder Austin’s appeal?

The new Dell Medical School at UT has already become a draw for businesses, particularly those pursuing healthcare innovations. We can thank the taxpayers of Travis County for making that happen.

Despite the political rhetoric, state tax policy can be a deterrent for certain kinds of businesses. Texas relies heavily on local property taxes to pay for public education and that creates a significant burden for capital-intensive businesses.

What are the immediate challenges to recruiting businesses to locate to (or expand in) Austin?

Traffic congestion is a significant concern for any company looking to come to Austin.

Affordability for the workforce is also key concern given the city’s red-hot real estate market and the fundamental concept of supply and demand.

What long-term issues must be addressed to keep Austin attractive to businesses?

Relieving traffic congestion, particularly on I-35, is essential to attracting businesses to Austin as well as to Texas, since I-35 is the state’s transportation spine. It will take an ongoing commitment from both the state and local government to address that issue. All transportation tools need to be used.

How much of Austin’s appeal is due to state policies versus local policies?

The creative, open people of Austin have made this community what it is today and businesses come here because of the people. Local government is closest to the people and, as a result, better mirrors the personality that attracts and retains folks. It also has worked well with the state government to offer incentives to businesses that will have a ripple effect for other businesses.

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What does Austin most need to improve upon to attract more startup investment?

Austin already has a significant and growing community of entrepreneurs and they’re attracting more and more investment every day. Activities such as the creation of the new medical school and the anticipated innovation zone will put that investment into overdrive.

What are your thoughts on Austin’s talent gap?

Oh, that’s been said for years, even as Austin evolved into a focal point in a worldwide creative, knowledge economy. We need to be aware of this but I don’t worry much about it.

There’s a continued focus on education, training and recruitment. People understand that businesses share a responsibility with our institutions of education to provide workers the training they need for the cutting-edge jobs available.

Read other #WhyAustin interviews:


Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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