TEDC Mid-Year Conference Experience

Ed BurghardEverything Is Bigger In Texas

I thought I would share my experience presenting data on the American Dream at the 2014 Texas Economic Development Council Mid-Year Conference.

First, if anybody is wondering why Texas is a consistent winner of the Site Selection Magazine’s Governor’s Cup Award, I believe it is directly related to the people in the economic development profession there.  I was genuinely impressed with the friendliness, professionalism and pride of the people I met at the Conference.  This is a high performing team.  Couple that with a state that is enjoying strong economic growth, and Texas is likely to be in contention for the Governor’s Cup every year for the foreseeable future.

Second, I was impressed with how willing the Conference attendees were to listen to a message that suggested despite all the great news about the state that Texas has room for significant improvement.  You see, based on Xavier University’s  American Dream Composite Index (powered by duhnhumby) research, in 2013 Texas does not qualify as an American Dream State.

The ADCI research reports on the degree to which residents feel they are achieving their American Dream.  Xavier University has been able to quantify the American Dream through the use of a statistically validated questionnaire.  The data for Texas reflect how Texans feel.  Therefore, it is an assessment made by those people who know the state the best.  To be classified as an American Dream State, the state score must be at least 5% better than national average.  Unfortunately, using this standard Texas falls short.  In fact, when ranked versus other states, Texas falls short of the Top 10 (although above national average).

For perspective, based on the 2013 ADCI data only these qualify as American Dream States:

  • New Mexico
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Connecticut
  • Montana
  • South Carolina

I decided to deliver this news by raising the question – “Is the Texas Miracle all hat and no cattle?”.  The discussion then focused on data comparing Texas performance on the 35 ADCI dimensions versus both national and a cohort of large competitive states.  We discussed both strengths and opportunities for improvement.

As you would expect, the presentation raised some skepticism.  But, overall the reaction was very thoughtful.  The fact that Texans did not feel as good about their ability to achieve their American Dream as residents of other states was new news.  I closed with the challenge that TEDC members become passionate stewards of the American Dream.  And I assured them that by doing so it would result in Texas achieving an even higher level of economic performance.

After the presentation, an attendee told me she was impressed I was brave enough to tell a room of Texans that their state was not #1.  Candidly, it wasn’t bravery.  It was simply ignorance.  I believe so much in the American Dream it never occurred to me that my message might not be welcome.

Going forward, I will be interested to see if the economic development profession in Texas elects to act upon the data I shared.  Texas certainly has all it needs to become an American Dream State, a state where residents can more easily achieve their American Dream than if they lived elsewhere in our nation.   But, to become an American Dream State, Texas will definitely need to look beyond the measure of annual job growth and begin to focus on making decisions that break down the barriers residents face to achieving their American Dream.

As a friendly warning to those of us economic development professionals who don’t live in Texas, if the TEDC members embrace the challenge of becoming an American Dream State, the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas” will take on a new meaning.  The State will be unbeatable and we will all be competing for second place.

If you are an economic development professional practicing in a state that is not an American Dream State, then I would challenge you to focus on what it will take to address the barriers your residents are facing to achieving their American Dream.  You can start by downloading a free copy of the 2013 American Dream State Ranking Report.

If you are an economic development professional in Texas and are not a member of TEDC, I’d strongly recommend you consider joining this winning team.  It could likely be among the best professional decisions you make.

Thank you TEDC members for letting me share the data and for listening to the message.  You are a class act!


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