Emerging Voices 2015: Economic Development

Emerging Voices 2015: Economic Development


Guest Post from 2015 Emerge Graduate Amanda Villarreal.
 Amanda is Giving Program Associate at BuildASign.



This video on Austin Economic Development was prepared by a team who examined aspects of this issue in our community. Please take a minute to watch.

Economics, employment, and entrepreneurship were not always part of my vocabulary around community empowerment. I grew up seeing too many of my Latina peers and loved ones fall between the cracks due to teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, among other unfortunate statistics. For this reason, my own work in community empowerment – with a focus on minority women – was never a choice. These young experiences led me to choose a career path in social services and nonprofits, which eventually pivoted to politics and policy. Soon after, these separate community-focused paths I walked led me to see a common thread supporting them: the financial independence and fair employment in the communities that need it most.

With this understanding, I was eager to choose the economic development issue area in the Emerge Class of 2015 (the Best Class Ever) to learn alongside other Austin leaders what economic development means in this growing city, as well as what involvement in it looks like.

My group’s economic development project began with a conversation with Clarke Heidrick, an Austin native, lawyer, and stakeholder with the Austin-based law firm, Graves, Dougherty, Hearon, & Moody. Heidrick spoke of economic empowerment as the vision of what we ultimately wanted for our children and grandchildren in this city. We came around a definition of economic empowerment as “the sustained, concerted actions of policymakers and communities that promote an area’s standard of economic health.” We learned that, on the policy front, this broadly meant creating structures to increase individuals’ skills and education, supporting business growth, and supporting industry diversity. These policies, in turn, affect our city’s measurable economic health factors: our unemployment rate, tax base, workforce readiness, and per capita income. While policy may be a major driver in these economic factors, individual and community efforts around such areas as corporate incentives, education, transportation, healthcare, also influence our city’s vitality and ability to provide job growth and training.

With this more high-level understanding, our group came away with four principal areas in which everyone can get involved in supporting our city’s healthy economic development:

This project helped me understand economic development beyond job creation, and as a true force necessitating involvement from all sides of the community. By providing specific ways anyone can get involved in this city’s growth and innovation, we create a bridge between the Austin before its boom, where it is now, and the even more vibrant city it is poised to be.

NOTE: The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni, faculty members, and guest bloggers are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.

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 Recruiting dates have been announced.