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Mayoral candidates offer approaches to economy at NACA forum

Thursday, March 26, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

With the nation in deep economic decline, candidates for mayor and city council discussed ways to grow Austin’s economy at the North Austin Civic Association forum this week.


Mayoral candidate Lee Leffingwell told the crowd that the city should primarily be focused on creating jobs from the “ground up,” and not waste resources trying to lure out-of-town companies to set up shop in Austin.


Brewster McCracken pointed out the fate of once-prosperous cities like Detroit and Oklahoma City, and stressed the need to “control our own destiny,” through the “Austin model.” McCracken said the city should replicate its efforts from the 1980s that turned the moribund city into a technology leader. Saying that tech jobs leaving Austin are not coming back, he said citizens will need “an active, engaged leader” who works with partners to bring jobs to Austin. Citing bio-tech, healthcare and clean energy as the industries of the future, McCracken said “we can do this again.”


Taking a shot at Leffingwell, McCracken said, “I don’t want us to hunker down, I don’t want us to duck our heads. I think that creating job opportunities is more important than union pay raises.”


The mayoral candidates were asked how they would reconcile the city budget with increased demand for city services. McCracken compared the city budget to a family budget, full of locked-in costs. He did say he didn’t think “a massive bond election” held in six or 12 months would be a good idea, and suggested that 2012 would be a more appropriate time.


Leffingwell took umbrage with that, since he had said he would consider a 2010 bond, under the right circumstances. “Brewster does seem to have a comment about me every time he takes the microphone.”


When all the candidates were asked about plans to diversify the economy in Austin, Leffingwell said, “we need to focus on Austin and Austinites” and local businesses. He brought up San Antonio’s preference for local contractors and said that if an Austin-based business was within 10 percent of a top bid, they should have the opportunity to come back again with a counter-offer. He also said simplifying the development review process would help local businesses to grow and relocate.


Brewster said “we could put a big neon sign outside of Austin that said we’re going to pursue these three areas in the 21st century economy: clean energy, bio-technology and the creative economy.”

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