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Austin's Economic Development Program, 1956-57


(The coming of the "High-Tech" age)

When I arrived at the Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1953, I soon suspected that things were not all a bed of roses. In my initial interviews I was to become the Manager of the "Convention Department." After I had accepted the job, but before I arrived in Austin (we were living in Temple), I was told that my duties were to run the Membership Department. One of the current employees wanted to do conventions .

Perhaps he wanted to move from Membership to Conventions because the Membership Department was not producing enough funds to meet the budget. So, that's where I landed. As I recall, the annual budget was about $87,000 per year of which $20,000 was borrowed.

Apparently my efforts were adequate because when my boss woke up dead a couple of years later, the board asked me to take his place. I officially became CEO in May of 1956. The board was interested in broadening Austin's economy beyond its dependency on The University of Texas and State Government.

Soon I learned that an effort to start an economic development program had been made outside the Chamber in about 1949 to 1952. To me, this indicated that the desire of the business community was there even though the effort did not succeed. The University and State community had little to no interest.

Since I hardly knew an "economic" from a "development," I did all that I could to educate myself. My old Statistics Professor from UT was now head of the Bureau of Business Research, so I went to him for help. I asked if the Bureau would make a study to determine what type of basic payrolls would be compatible with Austin, acceptable to the citizens, and that had a possibility of establishing a facility here. Dr Stockton said OK, and that he would assign his Assistant Director and another Associate to the job - for some rather low fee. I raised the money, and the study was made in 1957. The report suggested that "electronic devices" might be a type of "clean industry" that would be compatible with Austin. I knew little about this type of business, but began my education immediately.

The East Texas Chamber of Commerce (now merged with the Texas Assn. of Business) organized an industrial prospecting trip to San Francisco. I signed up. We had received an inquiry from Hewlett-Packard located in the Stanford Industrial Park. I made an appointment with them, but I also wanted to see the Industrial Park next to the University. As I recall, there were three "industries" located there, HP being one of them. This was the beginning of the Silicon Valley. I also attended a National Chamber Institute in Chapel Hill, NC. While there, I went to see the much touted Research Triangle. It was way out in the country, beautiful Roads for miles, but not a business to be seen. In the fall I attended the American C of C Executives meeting in Boston. There I wanted to see their famous Loop 128. A number of "high tech" firms had already located there. MIT, Harvard, etc., were the attraction.

Following these trips, I felt much better prepared to get with it. And I did.

Vic Mathias - February, 2004