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Austin Not Lost on San Diego

The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., with a group of 30 business and community leaders headed by President and CEO Julie Meier Wright, traveled to Austin, Texas, for a very successful Leadership and Best Practices trip. I was privileged to be included in the group.

Austin lost more than 35,000 jobs after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the technology slowdown and dot-com bust. To listen to the community leaders, Austin lost focus and relied too heavily on the technology sector.

While Austin is still in a transition from recession to recovery, the city and region has made a lot of progress and is on track to secure a bright future for local businesses, their employees and the entire community.

We toured the city, including the University of Texas campus, with 51,000 students. We heard from current and former city officials, the Austin Regional Chamber of Commerce, airport officials and other community leaders. Incidentally, Austin has been named the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and for good reason. A large number of musicians can be heard performing up and down 6th Street.

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The closed Bergstrom Air Force base was converted to the new Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which was opened in 1999.

The Greater Austin Economic Development Corp., through a special fund-raising initiative named Operation Austin 2004, raised more than $13 million from businesses located in the city and region of Austin.

There were many success stories and the one thing that stood out was the working relationship between local, regional and state government with the business community including the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corp. and the Austin Airport Authority.

There have been many obstacles including the environmentalist and the sector of the community that adopted a “no” growth philosophy. Again, business and government, worked together to deal with these groups in a sensitive and effective manner.

Now, to reflect on San Diego. I co-chaired a city-to-city trip to San Diego when I was on the board of the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce in October 2001. On that trip, we heard from San Diego city officials, and also from Jessie Knight, Julie Meier Wright, Reint Reinders, Peter Hall and Fred Baranowski, who were the leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, the EDC, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Centre City Development Corp. and the Downtown Partnership.

Other community leaders spoke, including Thella Bowens, who was the Port of San Diego’s senior director of aviation at that time. Thella subsequently was appointed president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Airport Authority in March 2003. The publisher of the Business Journal at that time, Ted Owen, gave a very insightful keynote presentation at a luncheon we attended.

We were extremely impressed with San Diego. The new Downtown ballpark and all the Downtown residential housing made a very positive impact on all of us. The working relationship and support among the business associations, the airport authority and city officials appeared to be intact.

The bottom line is, we have so much to be thankful for in San Diego. We have a very friendly commercial business and residential environment. The military has been very supportive of the business community and is a major force in our economic well being. Tourism plays a huge role in our local economy, and let’s face it, this is absolutely the best place to live and work in the country.

We have many challenges and need to put aside personal and other agendas and work together to address these challenges.

The business community, along with local, county and state government, need to support keeping our military bases open and collectively work together to overcome any San Diego bases that may be listed on the Base Realignment and Closure report set to be issued Friday, May 13.

Mayor Dick Murphy proposed a long-term financial plan in last week’s Business Journal. This is a step in the right direction as we address the unreleased 2003-04 financial audits and the city’s financial and pension crisis.

A new highway is being built close to Austin, which many citizens opposed for years because they thought if a new highway was built, more people would come to Austin. They came anyway.

When I moved to Phoenix in 1987, there were no freeways because community leaders thought people would follow the freeways. They came to Phoenix anyway.

A sector of our community is opposed to strong economic development under the belief that it will bring more people. People are going to keep moving here regardless, and we need to do everything possible to support economic development and attract more businesses and jobs to support the existing and additional population.

My first day as publisher of the Business Journal was April 9, 2004. It’s been a great year for me and my family. We have our challenges in San Diego, but we have so much for which to be thankful.


Armon Mills is the publisher of the

San Diego Business Journal.

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