As state leaders begin to restart the Texas economy, policy experts from the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin have issued a nine-point blueprint for rebuilding a more equitable and inclusive future Texas.
The report, “A Playbook for Resiliency: Creating Opportunity for All Texans,” co-authored by Kirk Watson, founding dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs, and Steven Pedigo, professor of practice and director of the LBJ School’s Urban Lab, calls for state and local leaders to evaluate past policies and unequal growth.
“We have to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that, going forward, our state is more resilient than it’s ever been,” said Watson, a former state senator who serves on Gov. Greg Abbott’s Strike Force to Open Texas. “How we approach the challenge of recovery from the pandemic will define Texas going forward and whether it is stronger and better prepared for the future.”
The report notes that the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to reshape the state’s approach to critical services ranging from health care and education to economic development for both urban and rural communities. It will also require Texas to discard the zero-sum approach that pits jurisdictions, regions and economic sectors against each other as it makes investments in economic, workforce and community development.
The full report is posted on the Hobby School website.
“Even in a downturn, Texas cannot afford to turn away from investment at this crucial time,” said Pedigo, an economic development strategist who has advised communities across the world. “As important and urgent as it is to reopen Texas, our ultimate challenge is to make our state stronger and more prosperous in the future. That starts with investing in polices and plans that put Texans first.”
The playbook outlines detailed steps to:
- Expand cooperation among local governments and between state and local efforts, including authorizing local governments to make decisions suited to their communities’ needs
- Ensure the business climate supports small and local businesses, while also requiring that incentives to attract new companies achieve the goal of job creation
- Increase investment in healthcare, including public health and rural health care, to leverage the industry for economic development
- Lead the future of energy by supporting alternative energy research and adopting statewide energy efficiency goals
- Protect essential workers by ensuring access to health care, affordable child care and family-supporting wages
- Promote rural communities as centers for entrepreneurship through state investment
- Invest in workforce development, including better alignment between regional workplace needs and available training
- Leverage Texas universities as accelerators for talent and thought leadership
- Boost physical and digital infrastructure, including ensuring all Texans have broadband access
The playbook is intended to drive longer term action, allowing the state to maintain its traditional economic strengths while acknowledging that the old way of doing things didn’t work for everyone. It also acknowledges that the recommended policy changes will require thinking beyond the state’s traditional growth and economic power to consider who – and what geographic areas – have been left behind.
“If we want a more sustainable Texas, we have to move past the old either/or playbook,” Watson said. “We have to make decisions that serve the state’s long-term prosperity and quality of life.”