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Austinite of the year tells chamber life sciences will drive Austin’s economy

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 by Austin Monitor

Austin’s economic future is in the life sciences, Charles Barnett told the annual meeting of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.


Barnett, CEO of the Seton Family of Hospitals, accepted the Austinite of the Year award at the annual meeting. In his remarks, Barnett said the goal of establishing a medical school in Texas would be the dominant economic driver for new industry in Austin for at least the next 15 to 20 years.


“It has not been an easy row to hoe,” Barnett said. “But I’m certainly proud to have been a part of it.”


The Central Texas region has most of the pieces of the medical school, if not the actual medical school itself. As the result of an agreement between the University of Texas system and the Seton and St David’s hospital systems that went into effect last November, 180 medical residents and 150 faculty members are now anchored in Austin, Barnett said. The only gap is the medical school branch itself, which would provide first- and second-year courses for medical students.


“The University Medical Center at Brackenridge, the affiliation with the UT System and UT Southwestern … that will be the platform for the life sciences in this community that will enable us to expand what we have here and turn Austin into one of the premier life science communities in the United States,” Barnett said.


The affiliation with the University of Texas system began with the realization that Austin was understaffed when it came to physicians, Barnett said. The city’s ratio of 155 physicians per 100,000 residents is about 30 percent below the national average. And those staffing ratios are the kinds of numbers prospective companies want to know when they are trying to relocate their businesses to Austin.


Barnett, who came to Austin in 1993, has overseen the expansion of the Seton hospital system from two hospitals, plus two clinics, to a system of 10 hospitals, including the new Dell Children’s Medical Center at Mueller. He has also served two terms as president of the local Chamber of Commerce.


Moving forward with expanding the region’s medical base, Seton has already taken the space once occupied by the Children’s Hospital next door to Brackenridge and converted it into clinical space, allowing the University of Texas to double the size of its nursing class in the space of two years, Barnett said.  And Barnett thanked the business community for its efforts to keep Brackenridge Hospital open and thereby maintain a Level 1 trauma center in the region.


In other comments, outgoing chamber President Paul Bury of Bury + Partners said 2009 was a challenging year for the chamber but that Austin continues to be first among cities of its size when it comes to job growth. In the last five years, more than 124,000 jobs had been added to Austin, with a payroll of $5.7 billion.


Barry Mayer, president of Tokyo Electron US Holdings, will serve as chamber president for 2010. In his remarks, Mayer stressed the need to move forward with expanding the chamber’s membership base, recognizing how different facets of the chamber’s programs benefit local business.

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