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Leffingwell positive about Austin economy, wants LegalZoom and rail

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 by Austin Monitor

Mayor Lee Leffingwell offered a bullish speech on the state of Austin’s economy at the Real Estate Council of Austin yesterday, pledging to actively push an incentive package to draw online legal document company LegalZoom to town and pushing a November bond election expected to include a downtown urban rail proposal.

 

The Real Estate Council of Austin was a friendly crowd for Leffingwell, even when he admitted he did not support the original incentive package for the Domain. The mayor, however, was eager to talk about the three areas where he wants to grow the Austin economy – renewable energy, the creative economy, and medical devices – and called the city’s recent incentive package to bring Hanger Orthopedic Group a direct hit when it comes to recruiting Austin’s desired business.

 

“I’ll do deals like the one we did with Hanger every day of the week: performance-based, judicious, focused on a targeted industry, good-paying jobs with good benefits, and cash-positive for taxpayers over the life of the deal,” Leffingwell said.

 

Leffingwell promised he was not done with luring business to Austin. He wants to use an incentive package, and the assistance of the Texas Enterprise Fund, to bring LegalZoom to Austin. That deal would bring up to 600 jobs from California to Austin in two phases. Leffingwell said he liked what he saw of the company – it’s a good fit with Austin’s high-tech economy – and he intends to close the deal and bring an incentive package to Council.

 

Council will hear a briefing on the package next week and hold a special called meeting on Thursday, Feb. 18, for a public hearing on the economic development proposal. Council will also take action at the meeting.

The mayor would also like to roll out a promised transportation bond package this November. Leffingwell said the city had created a transportation department and started the development of a local strategic mobility plan, which will include a gap analysis, so the city can determine where the biggest traffic problems are and prioritize the city’s approach to fixing them.

 

We’ve also seen some actual progress lately – including a financial plan to build the missing overpasses at I-35 and 290, and MoPac and 290,” Leffingwell said.  “I don’t know about you, but those flyovers to nowhere have been bothering me for years – so I’m happy to report today that work on those two projects will begin by the end of summer. That’s good.”

The proposed bond package would include an investment in roads, bike/pedestrian infrastructure, and the first phase of an urban rail plan. Council and the CAMPO Transit Working Group will determine whether the proposal will go on the ballot, but Leffingwell said he was cautiously optimistic it would.

This proposal will cost Austin taxpayers money. And there will be skeptics who oppose building an urban rail system in uncertain economic times. Some are simply going to oppose rail no matter what the proposal, Leffingwell said.

“But in my opinion, this is exactly the time for us to invest in protecting Austin’s future quality of life,” Leffingwell said. “I also believe that urban rail, specifically, may be the single best thing we can do to keep the economic engine of downtown Austin running strong for the next generation.”

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