Gov. Abbott Touts State’s Business Climate in Waco Speech

by Mike Copeland
Waco Tribune-Herald
Photo by Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

Photo by Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas must not become complacent with its success in attracting businesses and outlined several priorities for keeping the state’s good fortunes going during a “State of the State” speech Thursday in Waco.

“First, we must ensure that existing companies considering expansion and those looking to come here have access to a well-trained, qualified workforce,” he said. “I attended the grand opening of an Amazon fulfillment center near San Antonio, and I asked officials with the Seattle company why they were expanding so much into Texas. I expected them to say something about taxes being lower or Texas having better a business climate. But, no, they did not hesitate to comment on our high-quality workforce.”

The session touched on Texas’ sterling reputation as a hotbed for business, changes in the state’s demographics and population, and challenges in education and transportation, including completing the widening of Interstate 35 through Waco.

Abbott, a Republican who was elected governor in 2014, spoke to a crowd of nearly 400 people at the Baylor Club of McLane Stadium.

Tate Christensen, chairman of the Waco chamber, introduced Abbott and reminded the audience that he and the state in March received the 2015 Governor’s Cup from Site Selection magazine for having 702 economic development projects completed last year, the most in the nation and up from 689 in 2014, when Texas also came in first.

Photo by Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

Photo by Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

Abbott said the concentration of professional talent in Dallas has caused it to become the preeminent banking and finance center in the United States, surpassing New York and Boston, “because it is filled with people qualified for finance-sector jobs.”

“Waco for a long time has been considered a center for finance and insurance,” he said.

Maintaining the flow of business to Texas means making companies feel welcome, and Abbott said little acts of kindness often make a difference.

“Jamie Dimon, chairman of JPMorgan Chase, visited Houston a few months ago to celebrate its 150th anniversary in that city,” Abbott said. “I couldn’t make it down there, but I did call to congratulate JPMorgan. Dimon said he appreciated the gesture, that he couldn’t even get the mayor of New York to take his calls.”

To mark the occasion, Chase awarded a $1 million grant to Neighborhood Centers Inc. to help train 1,000 Houston residents in crafts that provide higher wages. The $1 million grant is part of a $5 million commitment to workforce training in the nation’s fourth-largest city and a $250 million effort nationwide.

“Texas tells business, ‘We want you to succeed. We need you to succeed. When you succeed, we succeed, because there is a symbiotic relationship.’ ”

Finding well-paying jobs

Photo by Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

Photo by Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

To meet the employment needs of business and industry, the Texas Workforce Commission, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency hope to create an entity that would work with high schools, two- and four-year colleges and the private sector to determine the skills most needed by business and industry and train students in those areas, Abbott said. High school students would receive college credits “and find themselves on the fast track to well-paying jobs,” Abbott said.

Abbott, who uses a wheelchair, said during his campaign for governor that he can move faster than traffic on some Texas roadways.

“I noticed there is construction on Interstate 35 almost every mile from near Salado to Waco,” he said of his drive from Austin to McLane Stadium.

With that in mind, Abbott said the 2017 Unified Transportation Program allocates $70 billion in 10 years to building new roadways and highways, primarily to relieve the 100 most severe problems with congestion in the state. He said taxpayers should not fear that all the money will go to Texas’ largest cities.

Interstate 35, which stretches through Texas and beyond, is critical to the state’s transportation system, he said, “and a choke point in the middle would disrupt the entire process.” He said Central Texas can expect to receive funding to complete the widening of I-35 through Waco.

Photo by Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

Photo by Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

On another transportation front, Abbott said the Port of Houston Authority and Texas A&M’s Freight Shuttle International are collaborating on a system that would allow freight to be hauled near the port by driverless electric vehicles that would run on tracks instead of 18-wheelers.

This would reduce congestion and pollution, Abbott said.

“Texas A&M owns the patents, so there is a lot of money to be made if this idea spreads,” he said.

Abbott said Texas ranks No. 2 in the nation in the number of businesses owned by women, and that 60 percent of the growth in women-owned businesses comes from new ventures being launched by blacks, Hispanics and Asians. He said that is significant because Texas has become a state where minorities have become the majority.