Last week I gave my annual report to our community about the condition of the Chamber and our priorities for the coming year. The Chamber president gives this report to our stakeholders each December as a way to live up to our values of communication and transparency, and to keep our community informed of the priorities for the coming year.
We are glad so many were able to join us for this important annual discussion. Many were not able to be on the zoom meeting, so I’ve summarized some of the challenges and coming opportunities in this article. If you are interested in the presentation itself, you can view the presentation video here.
Coronavirus Impact and Response
As has so often been observed, 2020 is a year like no other – and we hope it will be like no other in the future. The coronavirus, and the corresponding shutdown this spring/summer, presented the greatest challenges to the business community over the past year. The continuing limitations on group gatherings and normal business operations are the root of our challenges for the coming year.
Driving into a nearly empty downtown this spring, and seeing so many businesses throughout the city temporarily closed was painful. While the shutdown was remarkable in the scope and damage of its impact, so too was the response of the community. Businesses innovated to provide products and services differently. Many actually invested in expansions. Round Rock unified around the most impacted businesses through initiatives like Round Rock Cares. Community institutions and leaders working collaboratively helped the business community navigate the rapidly changing regulations the county and state level. Notably, the City of Round Rock was careful not to unnecessarily take action that limited the operations of businesses and individuals – keeping outdoor recreation areas open safely. At this time the City’s mask ordinance is the only mitigation enacted, and one which the Chamber supported.
As the year draws to a close, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We look forward to the deployment of vaccines which will abate the spread of COVID-19 and allow us to return to normal operations.
Continued Economic Growth
As mentioned above, many of the most impacted businesses found ways to innovate and actually expand operations during this year. Along with that Round Rock crossed a major milestone – celebrating the opening of the single largest economic development investment in the city’s history: the Kalahari Resorts and Conventions. Round Rock is now the home of the largest indoor water park in the United States as well as a top tier hotel, convention, and event venue.
In addition to this, the community continues to see growth in diverse and exciting ways. The Chamber assisted seven businesses throughout 2020 to create more than 1,100 new jobs. Companies as diverse as Amazon to Hubbel Lighting made the decision to invest and grow in Round Rock. There will be more to look forward to in 2021. Major investments including The District, roadway improvements, the Mays Street corridor downtown, and new business developments are in process now. In a year so filled with challenges, the economy in central Texas remains robust and strong overall. We are well positioned for more growth once the vaccine is administered nationally.
Chamber Investors and Momentum Investors
The strength of the Chamber this year has been through the investors that continue to support our programs. We know that making an investment in the Chamber this year has been perhaps more difficult depending on your circumstances, and the circumstances of your business and market. I’m happy to report that investors in the Chamber and the Momentum program (the Chamber’s private-sector campaign to fund economic development activities) remain strong. Yes, we have seen some members choose a different level of investment and others have had to temporarily stop – however most continue to choose to invest in the economic growth of our community through our program. As the year draws to a close, more than 77% of our investors choose to continue their support of the Chamber. On behalf of our board and our staff, we thank all who continue to invest in our program.
While we remain grateful for the steadfast support of so many in Round Rock, we would strongly prefer to see you in person – once it is safe and appropriate to do so. As much as possible we have tried to follow the recommendations of the CDC and state health authorities. We will return to in-person gatherings as soon as we can do so. The Chamber typically holds its annual banquet in January to begin the year celebrating the achievements of, and leaders within, the business community. That event will be entirely virtual this year.
2020 provided an excellent illustration of the importance of good public policy advocacy as a part of a robust economic development program. One of the primary reasons communities invest in economic development programs, and engage in new business recruitment activities, is to expand the tax base as the community grows. Doing so insulates homeowners and individuals from shouldering the tax burden for civic amenities (police, transportation, parks, etc.) because businesses pay taxes also.
Much of 2020 was consumed by advocacy with the State Comptroller’s office as a result of sales tax assessment rule changes. The issue is much too large to summarize here – but it has potential to have a lasting impact on the future tax assessment of the community. This is of concern to both large and small employers, as well as all taxpayers in Round Rock. It is likely to be of focus in 2021 as well, as the legislature is increasingly likely to review it as well.
The Chamber will be very active during the coming legislative session. The impact of the pandemic-induced economic slowdown will make the state budget process difficult for legislators this year, and as a result, the business community has prioritized funding-related issues. These priority issues include continued investment in state funding for education, with particular focus on K-12. We have been highly successful in working in partnership with the other Williamson County Chambers of Commerce, as well as the Austin Chamber, the Texas Association of Business, and other business organizations.
Your Chamber Staff Team
It is so important that all who read this know and understand that the staff team of the Chamber are some of the most dedicated community advocates for Round Rock that I’ve ever had the great pleasure to work with. They have been tireless in finding new solutions to problems we never could have anticipated. Through it all, we continued to put the well being of the community and businesses foremost in our efforts. Many of the team had their entire job descriptions change in the course of a day or a week – several times. They have communicated about the regulations and resources you need to know about, provided direct assistance to countless businesses, and still helped new employers come to Round Rock. Thank you Chamber team!
Looking Forward with Optimism
In closing, I would like to thank you. Our family moved here in February this year – unknowingly just before the full impact of the pandemic would be felt directly in central Texas. It has been a strange year to join a new community to say the least. In spite of that, central Texas has become our home. Thank you for your hospitality, your sense of community, and interest in working together to make good things happen. I’m proud and thankful to be a small part of the very big things that happen in Round Rock.
I look forward to 2021 with hope and optimism and invite you to join us in this important work. Thank you!