Welcome to Summer 2022!! The heat of our current weather appears to reflect the intense, new pressures Texas and our nation face with elevated inflation, continued supply chain disruption, disagreement over immigration policy, divisive politics, and a land war raging in Europe. If we thought that the health, energy and economic shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic would just “disappear” with no residual effect in 2022 – we were mistaken. Shocks appear to beget new shocks.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic awakened Texas community leaders to reconsider what economic development means – for their citizens, cities, and the state. We engaged 80 UT students during the summer of 2020 to help the IC2 Institute study the impact of the pandemic on a wide range of Texas communities. Ultimately, 67 asset maps were delivered to community leaders, hundreds of interviews were conducted, and ~7,000 surveys were collected from communities outside of Texas urban centers. The exciting results illuminate the challenges facing those who live in Texas communities as they improve local infrastructure, retain and attract young workers, and enhance the quality of life in their communities.
Beyond these findings, the deep conversations with community leaders really stuck with us. In these dialogues, we found leaders considering several important questions:
- “What does economic development mean?”
- “Where will new opportunities appear?”
- “How can we re-energize local economies?” and
- “Who will experience growth in our communities?”
As economic development leaders, new jobs, new business starts, local spending, and even regional gross domestic product are most commonly used to measure the “health” of our communities. However, as we reflect on the challenges our world faces as it emerges from a pandemic, it is clear that community wellbeing must reflect more than just economic activity – we must consider human opportunity, health, social inclusion, resiliency, and environmental sustainability.
This Summer, the IC2 Institute embarks on its new mission to realize the vision of George Kozmetsky – to develop communities characterized by shared prosperity. But our work with Texas community leaders provided profound insight into better “key performance indicators” that may guide governments, companies, citizens, and organizations to manage their activities, policymaking, and economic development to produce shared wellbeing for all its citizens.
The IC2 Regional XLR8 community accelerator engaged 150 leaders across 58 Texas and Louisiana communities in 2020 and 2021. It was a unique experience where: new friendships were made, collaborations built, challenges creatively engaged, and new economic development strategies designed. The outcomes from these new initiatives have profoundly impacted Texas community futures.
Please take a few moments to explore this unique program:
- A quick read of the program is found here: https://ic2.utexas.edu/news/community-leaders-join-regional-xlr8/ .
- Initial program outcomes can be found here: https://ic2.utexas.edu/regionalxlr8cometogether/
- The Regional XLR8 reunion detailed great success stories here: https://ic2.utexas.edu/regional-xlr8-program-continues-to-generate-excitement-among-community-leaders/
- Our regional leaders told their own stories here – in nine separate blogs!! https://ic2.utexas.edu/community-leaders-speak-series/