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AUSTIN HOLDS THE BRASS RING What we do with it – is the question

As a Board Member to Austin Independent Business Alliance, I was recently asked to add my comments to a manifesto intended for city leaders to consider, here are my thoughts:

Austin is in the unique position for not only becoming the entrepreneurial capital of America, but also helping to lead the country (by example) – out of the recession.
Consider this:

We have been blessed with an unusual set of circumstances, which positions us for real economic and business growth. This includes a combination of creative thinkers, a predominately-younger energized and well-educated population. Finally, combine these exciting elements with the real can- do philosophy that goes to the very roots of our national origins and Austin is a winner!
Some things are already being done to foster this proposition. Comparatively speaking, Austin has a better reputation for being more business friendly then places like San Francisco, San Jose, Boston and other major hubs for new products, services and innovative thinking.
In addition to hosting two giant festivals annually, have weather that tourists seem to like, a beautiful environment, and a thriving downtown.
So what is missing?
Austin continues to place too many eggs in the Tech basket. Though we have improved our mind-set in recent years, we still place so much emphasis on high tech and high tech related sectors that we ignore other great things like consumer products, new foods, and services.
In addition, we spend our energy and resources on attracting new corporate giants to set up shop so that they will facilitate new job opportunities. In doing so – foolishly attempt to bribe and attract them with “no tax incentives” because in spite of what thousands of newcomers will tell us, our city officials fail to believe that Austin’s attraction for great talent and low taxes is already enough.
But what if the money used or deferred to attract large mega corporations was instead channeled into fostering further growth for our small businesses? Instead of committees seeking ways to bring in big businesses, what about bringing together small and large business leaders with Investor partners to discuss the creation of real seed funding designed to encourage a wide diversification of qualified start-up considerations? Moreover, when I say real, I dare to suggest an approach that considers a start-up considerations based on its merits, not just the founders equity.
Yes, many start-ups and small businesses do fail in the first several months to three years. We know that. Nevertheless, the ones that do succeed go on to create real jobs and livelihoods for millions of people. The recession brought home an urgent point, that big companies can and will create big layoffs when times are lean. Once again, the egg in one basket syndrome.
However, by channeling resources into creation of new business opportunities a percentage of those laid off, with great ideas become self employed and in the process, create more jobs.
We tend to forget that every great idea and business proposition started from something – and then grew. Starbucks, Dell and Ford all started with an idea, and then grew. By the way, notice the diversity in each entity I just mentioned? Not all tech companies are they?

In creating a real program designed to nurture and seed entrepreneurship, Austin can set an example on another exciting proposition – transforming non-conforming students and Youth at Risk (YAR) into tomorrow’s business leaders.
Granted, not all are business leaders, but I am a firm believer into channeling energy into real opportunity. A brief check in business history 101 demonstrates that many of our greatest business creators and leaders did not necessarily fit in to the school curriculums. Many young people who just do not fit into being a good student are bored. Schools teach more about following orders then taking a great idea and leading. We can begin to change that – and in the process set an example for the rest of the country.
Finally, Austin needs to make sure that while it is embracing real and exciting growth in its downtown, it is not doing so at the peril of creating a two-class society. One look at downtowns emerging demographics tell us that the majority of the new condominiums and hotels are for the upwardly mobile who can afford the ever-expensive parking and new restaurants. In addition, not everyone wants a valet parking their car. Many new and small businesses (particularly in their early stages – until they really take off), are not able to pay the kind of salaries either to founders or to their employees, which provides for a nice evening in downtown.
Today for example, many of the small businesses and their owners in San Francisco have over recent years packed up and moved to places like Sacramento where the middle class can still hold promise to opportunity. Workers needed to serve Bay Area businesses frequently commute seventy-five plus miles each way – each day to their jobs. Why? Because many parts of the Bay Area (San Francisco and the surrounding areas) have become a two class economy.
Is this what we want of Austin?
Yes, we hold the brass ring, and if we are open minded and smart enough to learn from other cities that experienced creative growth, then we can seize the opportunity offered to us. Our business and Civic leaders can do remarkable things and in the end, we will have something to be remarkably proud of.

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