Post-pandemic economic recovery depends on state investing in urban areas

Capitol

As policymakers look to accelerate the Texas economy and manage growth challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, investment in Texas cities is a must, including support for talent, innovation and partnerships, according to a new statewide policy agenda from researchers at Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin and the George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative in Dallas.

With nine out of 10 Texans living in urban areas, the new report calls for policies to address the most pressing economic development, housing and infrastructure issues facing the state’s urban metro areas. Three principles should guide the state’s urban and metro policy: investment in the state’s diverse human capital; support of local innovation; and an increase in public-private partnerships across the state.

“While Texas metros are the state’s economic engines, the rapid pace of urban and suburban growth across the state has created challenges,” said William Fulton, director of theKinder Institute. “As an urban state, Texas must build a more resilient infrastructure that is suited to the globalized 21st-century knowledge economy.”

The blueprint also outlines 21 specific priorities for economic development, land use, housing and transportation and infrastructure, including closing the digital divide in metro and rural areas; strengthening anchor institutions to catalyze community development; investing in border and international trade infrastructure; promoting the development of market-rate housing; increasing state incentives and funding streams for housing; maintaining renter protection; and increasing funding opportunities for infrastructure, maintenance and expansion.

“Texas needs to build a metropolitan agenda consistent with its free-market traditions,” said Steven Pedigo, a professor of practice at UT Austin and director of the university’s Urban Lab. “But it must also foster stronger collaborations among its state, county and municipal governments and the private and nonprofit sectors to drive competitiveness and prosperity in ways that are fairer and more inclusive and that build a stronger quality of life and place for every Texan.”

For the report, researchers drew on the insights of more than 50 of the state’s leading practitioners, policymakers and business leaders from across the political spectrum in Texas, including former Cabinet secretaries, mayors, members of the legislature, chamber of commerce leaders, private-sector executives and nonprofit leaders.

“Texas’ metro areas must confront both their challenges and their opportunities to speed the state’s economic recovery," said Cullum Clark, director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative. “The pandemic has accelerated changes, including increased remote work, new corporate relocations, movement to suburban areas, and a greater demand for tech-enabled skills. As an urban state, we must be prepared.”

The researchers will discuss the report, "Texas Metropolitan Blueprint: A Policy Agenda to Secure the Competitiveness and Prosperity of Texas," and its recommendations in a virtual event, “The Metropolitan State of Texas,” at 12 p.m. March 24.

The report is available online at https://kinder.rice.edu/research/texas-metropolitan-blueprint-policy-agenda-secure-competitiveness-and-prosperity-texas.