What’s next for Texas?

Photo by Brandon Formby/The Texas Tribune

Texas stands at the peak of prosperity today. The surging economy pushed the unemployment rate to a historic low, 3.7 percent, in October, and is on pace to produce 353,000 new jobs this year. That healthy economy, plus a relatively low cost of living and warm climate, attracted upwards of 1,000 new residents per day last year. Texas has added more than three million people so far this decade and is predicted to grow by another 13 million by its bicentennial in 2036.

This prosperity and growth were not the result of dumb luck. They were cultivated deliberately over decades. Local and state policy makers and business leaders worked together to plan and make strategic public investments that allowed our economy and our communities to thrive.

But there are signs that Texas is entering an era of diminishing returns. Gains in K-12 student achievement have slowed and an increasing share of children come from low-income households. By 2020, almost two-thirds of jobs will require a post-secondary certificate or degree, but only 21 percent of today’s Texas public school students acquire those qualifications. Housing costs are soaring and gridlock is growing, shrinking the quality of life advantages that helped the state win business relocations in the past. Texas needs a renewed commitment to thoughtful planning and strategic public investment to ensure it remains the nation’s best place to live and do business.

Texas 2036 grew out of desire to focus attention now on the state’s long-term future. An independent, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Texas 2036 harnesses the power of data and long-term strategic planning to empower policy leaders and ordinary Texans to make educated decisions about our state’s future.

Texas 2036 started in late 2016 and since then, we have met with policy makers, business executives, philanthropic leaders and community champions across the state. We have studied reports from agencies such as the Sunset Advisory Commission, the Legislative Budget Board and the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness. We have commissioned studies by respected experts and consulting firms. We have hired a small team with extensive experience working with the Texas Legislature or local public agencies. And we have enlisted financial partners from across the state whose generous support enables our long-term, data-driven, disciplined approach to addressing challenges.

Texas 2036 focuses on six key policy areas: education and workforce, health and human services, infrastructure, natural resources, justice and safety, and government performance. We are deeply committed to using data to make decisions about these topics. To this end, we have collected more than 300 sets of data to tell the story of where we are as a state, and where we are headed if current trends continue. We’re also working to connect previously isolated datasets to allow Texans to easily make comparisons and track outcomes. We encourage you to visit texas2036.org/data to make use of these free, publicly available data tools.

Our organization launched publicly last month with a presentation to the Texas Tribune’s Future of Rural Texas Symposium in College Station. Over the next year, we will be synthesizing vast amounts of data, reports, research and expert insights into a draft state strategic plan that we will release in early 2020 for public review and feedback. After revisions, the plan will form the basis for a series of biennial Texas 2036 legislative agendas that will drive toward sustainable, meaningful, long-term change.

Texas 2036 is interested in the welfare of all future Texans, rural and urban, newcomer and eighth-generation, residents of the Llano Estacado and the Golden Triangle. We invite every Texan to visit our website, texas2036.org, to inform themselves on the issues facing our great state and to join with us in building a future that promotes economic growth and enhances the quality of life for generations to come.

Disclosure: Tom Luce has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Tom Luce