Growth requires planning, which is why the Kerr Economic Development Corporation featured A.J. Rodriguez, executive vice president of Texas2036, at a recent “Industry & Education Roundtable” event that included community leaders from Kerr County and surrounding areas.
Texas2036 is a data-gathering organization that focuses on planning for the state’s bicentennial, and whose mission is to enable Texas to make policy decisions through accessible data, long-term planning and state-wide engage- ment, Rodriguez said, in an effort to make Texas the best place to live and work.
“I just cannot believe the extraordinary amount of growth that you’ve been able to achieve here and sustain, and I understand it is because of the leadership here in this room,” Rodriguez said. “So, congratulations to all of you.”
Rodriguez explained that Texas2036, founded in 2017 by entrepreneur Tom Luce, gathers data on topics that directly affect businesses and individuals and subsequently takes that data to state legislators to help formulate policy that addresses identified needs.
“Our work is to build civil demand for these issues that are highly-needed to be able to accomplish what we need to do from an economic perspective with all this growth that we are having in Texas, in Kerrville and all of the other cities that I’ve visited across the state,” Rodriguez said.
He said in 14 years, Texas turns 200 and Texas2036 was established as a nonprofit, non-partisan organization created to help ensure the state continues to thrive.
“We feel that data is our key differentiator as a public policy think tank entity that was created for the sole purpose of pushing policy in legislative agendas and doing so through sound data,” Rodriguez said. “Because, when data is absent, it tends to get filled with ideologies and also with rhetoric.”
To illustrate the need for planning, Rodriguez provided population data on the State of Texas, saying in 1980 the state population was 14,229,191 and grew to 20,851,820 in the year 2020 and in 2020 boasted a citizen occupancy of 29,145,505. The expected boost by 2036 is 38,296,865.
“Texas has the highest retention rate of any state,” Rodriguez said. “82 percent of people who were born in Texas, remain in Texas and approximately 3,800 more people move into Texas every single week.”
He said the growth brings possibilities, but also challenges.
“These new Texans are not bringing water. They are not bringing electricity. They are not bringing energy. They are not bringing roads with them,” Rodriguez said. “So, we have to be able to be prepared for that kind of growth over the long-term.”
He said the metropolitan areas of the state are growing at a rate of 18 percent, while the rural areas are increasing in size by one percent.
“Kerrville is a little bit of an anomaly, because of the proximity with all of these other growing metropolitan areas, like Austin and San Antonio,” Rodriguez said.
He said of those “new Texans,” most are relocating from California (302,978), however, other states include Illinois (96,790), New York (91,109), Florida (73,917), Puerto Rico (57,980), Louisiana (53,318) and New Jersey (35,839), among others.
Rodriguez then shared that 12 states in the nation, including Texas, make up 58 percent of the total United States population and account for 62 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
In a comparative study with those states, which are California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, Rodriguez said each are competing for business and workforce.
Rodriguez said Texas2036 has established 36 aspirational goals that encompass four areas of priority that they believe directly affects positive growth over the next 14 years. Those areas of focus are education and workforce; health and health care; government performance; and infrastructure.
Using the data they have obtained and continue to gather, Rodriguez said they are able to derive ideas and solutions.
With regard to education, Rodriguez said the data suggests 70 percent of Texas fourth graders are not reading at grade level.
“Only 32 percent of high school graduates achieve some type of post-secondary credential,” Rodriguez said. “In 2036 we are going to need 70 percent of those students achieving some type of secondary credential. The graduation rates are high, at 90th percentile across the state, but going on to that next level of attainment is not happening.”
With regard to health insurance availability, Rodriguez said 18 percent of the state’s population are uninsured.
“We are dead last of all states in this category, which is just preposterous,” Rodriguez said. “With the kind of economic robustness that we’ve been able to sustain, and yet we have this problem that we need to confront head on.”
In the last Texas legislative session, Rodriguez said Texas2036 focused on the issues identified as needs resulting from the affects of COVID-19 restrictions.
One of those issues was the lack of broadband coverage in rural areas, lack of telemedicine and health coverage.
“So that’s really where we focused most of our efforts,” Rodriguez said. “As a result, we worked with senators and representatives to do several things … 45 bills that were passed that were part of our agenda and speak to those 36 aspirational goals.”
Speaking broadly about the results, Rodriguez said Texas2036 saved the state $34 billion over the next years by modernizing the Texas employees pension fund, created approximately $100 million for the permanent school fund, among others.
“And those bills that I’ve mentioned received 92 percent, on average, bi-partisan support,” Rodriguez said. “In fact, the broadband issue alone was voted on 181 to zero, it was completely unanimous in both the house and the senate.”
Rodriguez also took questions from the local leaders in attendance.
KEDC Executive Director Gil Salinas asked about future water availability and its impact on the economy.
Rodriguez said the number one concern he hears of currently is that of lack of workforce, but that the water issues are being addressed through Texas2036 in an effort directly with the Texas Water Development Board.
“There’s abundance (of water) in some areas and less abundance in other areas,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a statewide problem.”
Dana Williams, director of community engagement with the H.E. Butt Foundation, asked about data regarding mental health availability for children and training for nurse practitioners in rural areas, specifically.
Rodriguez said Texas2036 works closely with the Meadows Foundation and data does exist on the mental health issues regarding children.
With regard to the training for nurse practitioners, Rodriguez promised to connect Williams with their healthcare specialist within the Texas2036 organization.
Kellie Early, district director for State Representative Andrew Murr, pointed out that the issues Rodriguez mentioned had different impacts on rural and urban areas.
“We all have to remember that it’s urban versus rural,” Early said. “We’re still in rural Texas and a lot of the things that work in big cities don’t work in rural Texas. We have limited representation in the house and senate, as you know, and it’s gotten less since redistricting, so it is really important that rural Texas has a voice.”
She said City of Kerrville leaders have done a great job in planning for the future with regard to water availability, and the state needs to protect that and not allow cities, like San Antonio, to infringe on the local water supply.
She praised Rodriguez for their work and urged him to always remember that needs for the state are divided among the metropolitan areas and small counties and towns.
Rodriguez assured Early that the “Road Show” that he has embarked upon to gather data includes a host of rural areas, and that data is included and separated when determining issues that Texas2036 will promote in the Texas legislature.