In 1836, the population of Texas was about 50,000. By the time Texas marks its bicentennial 16 years from now, an estimated 38 million or more people are projected to be living in the state.

That kind of growth can come with pains that a group of leaders from around the state is spotlighting ahead of the next legislative session, which convenes Jan. 12, 2021, and they have hired a San Antonio business leader to help the effort.

Texas 2036 is a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 by public policy leader Tom Luce to look at economic and infrastructure issues and advocate for long-term, data-driven strategies to shape those matters as the state approaches its 200th birthday. It is funded by individuals, corporations, and philanthropic groups.

The organization has outlined 36 strategic goals related to economic growth, education, workforce, health care access, transportation, natural resources, and more. The overall vision of Texas 2036 is to make Texas the best place to live and work.

One way it plans to do that is by using and displaying data from over 350 publicly available datasets to help influence the policymaking process.

“Our differentiator as an organization is that we have assembled and have curated and properly presented … hundreds of publicly available datasets in ways that help make the case for action,” said Texas 2036 President and CEO Margaret Spellings. “And allow policymakers and the public to get smart about these various most important issues.”

The Texas 2036 website provides data visualization tools on topics such as education and the workforce, health and human services, infrastructure, demographics, natural resources, justice and safety, and government performance and the economy. 

The site also provides simple tables and charts based on the state’s data on coronavirus in Texas, including an analysis of case counts that followed the state’s reopening in May. 

“Nine months ago, we might have thought that transportation infrastructure and congestion would have been our most urgent thing to attend to,” Spellings said. “Obviously, timing is everything, in everything. And so we need to lean into where our greatest needs are, and clearly those are emerging as education and workforce, given the amount of displacement of workers, and public health and access to health. I think we’ve all seen [how] the health of your neighbor matters to you.”

Texas 2036 is led by a 36-member board with representation from various cities, including San Antonio, which has three local leaders on the board: Elaine Mendoza, president and CEO of Conceptual Mindworks; Graham Weston, CEO of Weston Urban; and Sheryl Sculley, former city manager and consultant at Strategic Partnerships, Inc. 

On Wednesday, Texas 2036 announced it also had hired San Antonio native A.J. Rodriguez, former vice president of external affairs at the San Antonio-based Zachry Group, to join the organization as executive vice president. 

Starting Sept. 21, Rodriguez will be responsible for building support for a legislative agenda and data-driven research initiatives designed to prepare Texans for various challenges, especially in education, workforce readiness, health and broadband access, and government performance.

“When you think about the kinds of work that [Rodriguez] has done in and out of government, leading an advocacy organization in service to Hispanic businesses or leading the Texas Association of Business as their board chair, serving in the City of San Antonio government as well as with an important private company in San Antonio and in our state, he just has a tailor-made resume for what Texas 2036 needs now,” said Spellings, who served as U.S. secretary of education from 2005 to 2009. 

Rodriguez said he appreciates how the organization is moving forward quickly with long-term approaches to its goals. “Because these are incredibly ambitious goals for the state,” he said. And he sees those goals as being perfectly aligned with his own professional and personal views about how the state can prepare for the future – “which made the decision rather easy for me to move over.”

Rodriguez is especially interested in the organization’s strategies and goals related to education and the workforce, he said. Those topics also are approached through data and a report published on the Texas 2036 website and are the focus of two City of San Antonio initiatives that will appear on the ballot this November.

“The aspirational aspect of those benchmarks is to ensure that we’re using appropriate data to drive the policy decisions and discussions that we’ll have with state leadership going forward,” Rodriguez said. “So I think that data piece is really the fuel. That’s going to help us generate the kind of productive conversations that we need with our state leadership, and our overall community, in order to educate and also drive the conversation toward these pragmatic approaches.”

Rodriguez told the San Antonio Report that while he will spend much of the legislative session in Austin talking with lawmakers, he and his family plan to maintain their home in San Antonio.

On Thursday, Luce and Spellings will present the organization’s goals to members of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce during a virtual event moderated by Eddie Aldrete, senior vice president at IBC Bank.

Spellings will highlight data points that explain some of the issues and challenges the state will face and ask, “Is San Antonio ready?” 

Some of those include: 

  • Last year, Texas had more than 14 million workers. By 2036, the state will need to add nearly 8 million more jobs to keep Texas’ economy growing and to support population growth.
  • Public and private health care spending in Texas has increased 4 percent annually over the past 10 years. However, health outcomes in Texas are among the worst in the nation in areas such as diabetes, cardiovascular deaths, maternal mortality, and infectious diseases.
  • Texas has the nation’s highest overall uninsured rate for adults and children. But more than half of Texas families with health insurance reported postponing or skipping care due to cost, which contributes to Texas having one of the highest rates of preventable death in the country.
  • Since 2007, Texas has fallen from 33rd to 45th among states in fourth grade reading proficiency. Fewer than one-third of fourth graders in the state read on grade level. 
  • A majority of today’s jobs require a postsecondary credential; 71 percent are expected to require one by 2036.

Texas 2036 is a San Antonio CityFest sponsor, a San Antonio Report virtual event scheduled for Oct. 5-9.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.