This is Austin’s “Golden Era,” Leffingwell says


Shelby Tauber

Mayor Lee Leffingwell delivers the State of the City Address at the Four Seasons Hotel Tuesday afternoon. Leffingwell talked about issues such as population growth, transportation, UT’s medical school and adaptability.

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

With the University’s upcoming medical school and the city’s rapid expansion in several major industries, Mayor Lee Leffingwell spoke of Austin as being in a “golden era” in his State of the City address.

Leffingwell spoke Tuesday at a luncheon hosted by the Real Estate Council of Austin at the Four Seasons Hotel. He touched on issues such as population growth, transportation, UT’s medical school and adaptability. 

Leffingwell said Austin’s population, which grew by 20 percent over the last decade, has made the city the 13th largest in the nation. Still, he said the 5 percent unemployment rate continues to stay 3 percentage points below the national rate.

“I believe, wholeheartedly, the state of our city today is the strongest it has ever been in our 173-year history, and it’s getting stronger every day,” Leffingwell said. “The big question for us is obvious: How do we keep it that way as long as possible, and for as many of us as possible?”

With this rapid population and job growth, the city intends to act soon on issues that plague Austinites, such as transportation. Urban rail transit, particularly in the central business district, is a long-discussed issue that Leffingwell said will soon become a reality.

“I will work on this issue every single day while I am mayor and with the goal of having a public vote on urban rail before I leave office,” Leffingwell said. “I know we’ve been talking about urban rail for what seems like a very long time, but now, it’s time to act.”

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said Leffingwell’s long-term goals for Austin’s transportation infrastructure won’t have any immediate repercussions in this legislative session, but transportation is ultimately one of the most important issues regarding Austin’s growth.

“Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and more and more we’re more interconnected with San Antonio in terms of our growth and economy,” Rodriguez said. “It’s more important than ever that we do something to ease the congestion on I-35.”

Leffingwell said the addition of a medical school to an already prestigious university gives depth to Austin’s growth and will open the door for the city to become a leader in medical research and development. He said the school is projected to bring 15,000 new jobs and $2 billion in annual revenue to the city. 

“Obviously, the easier and simpler thing would have been not to do it — not to risk failure or rejection from people who believed that it was too much to ask,” Leffingwell said. “But ultimately, the vision of what a medical school would mean to Austin’s future made that risk worth it.”

Leffingwell urged Austinites to continue being creative and adaptable while the city’s population expands further, and to not get too comfortable in the current upswing.

“I think we should be extremely careful about believing too much of our own good press,” Leffingwell said. “If we want to protect what we’ve got, if we want to stay who we are, if we want to remain the envy of other cities around the world and enjoy a truly special quality of life over the long term, then we must keep changing.”

Published on February 6, 2013 as "Leffingwell praises Austin in State of the City".