The name of the economic development game in Galveston County is innovation, local leaders said on Tuesday.
Preparing for wholesale changes to how the world, national and local economies operate over the next few years was the topic of discussion at the Galveston Economic Development Partnership’s seventh annual economic development summit, held Tuesday at Texas A&M University at Galveston.
The summit featured local political, business and education leaders talking about what direction they see the city and county heading, and what they can do to prepare the island and the region for the coming changes.
In many ways, the summit’s discussions focused on handling the unknown.
“I see a county in transition, I see a region in transition,” said Dane Carlson, Galveston County’s recently hired director of economic development. “The opportunity here is to embrace that change and to recognize that we are unique here in Galveston, but also part of the economic power of Houston.”
As new technologies emerge, there are opportunities for the county to take advantage of, Carlson said. Private space flight development around NASA could lead to more aeronautics businesses to the county, for example.
Chuck Wemple, the chief operating officer of the Houston-Galveston Area Council, said growth in the county and region is already presenting problems like increased traffic on local highways. Those things might have to be dealt with in innovative ways, he said.
“Our growth has been so robust,” he said. “Even though there’s a plan to spend billions of dollars between now and 2045, it’s going to be about as bad as it is now. It’s not going to get any better.”
The county and its leaders should start to think differently about how to move freight and people around the region, he said. He suggested drones and similar technologies would soon become more prevalent.
Addressing those unknown elements in the economy is something that’s addressed even at the grade school level, said Kelli Moulton, superintendent of the Galveston Independent School District.
“It’s our job at GISD to prepare our children for futures that we don’t even know about,” Moulton said. “We’re ready for it.”
She pointed to programs in the local school district that expose students to jobs and opportunities earlier than they may have in the past. The district has drone and robotics programs and incubator labs for young entrepreneurs, she said. The district recently purchased a state-of-the-art synthetic cadaver for students in the district’s bio-medical training programs.
The apparent good news in all this is that Texas’ economy is set to grow and thrive in coming years, said Robert Kaplan, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and the keynote speaker at the summit.
Texas’ population is growing and there are good prospects that energy jobs will start growing again in the next few years, Kaplan said.
“Texas is extremely well positioned to outperform the rest of the country,” Kaplan said. “This state is growing at a very high rate, faster than most states in the United States, and I actually think it will outperform for some extended period of time.”