BG Reads | News You Need to Know (July 22, 2019)



Army tech hub in Austin needs to improve small-business ties, federal report finds (Austin American-Statesman)

The U.S. military’s newest research and innovation arm, the Austin-based Army Futures Command, needs to step up its engagement with small businesses, and it might even be hurting them by not doing so, according to a report released this week by the federal government’s watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office acknowledged that the Futures Command is still getting up on its feet, but the agency’s critical report, which did not specifically mention Austin, said its small-business efforts could be better managed and tracked.

The report found that, amid the massive restructuring of the Army to create the command, small defense contractors, which the Army said it would utilize heavily, have been left behind.

In Austin, where the Futures Command is nearly fully operational about a year after moving into the Texas capital and will mark its anniversary with a public celebration next week, the small-business community might not be affected like those in other communities that rely heavily on the defense industry.… (LINK TO STORY)

Austin’s retail market is the hottest in Texas, but that makes space hard to come by (Austin American-Statesman)

National chains and local retailers are eager to expand in Austin, but they’re struggling to find the space they need to do it.

That’s one takeaway from a new report from Weitzman, a commercial real estate firm with offices across Texas.

As of mid-year 2019, the Austin area’s retail occupancy rate was a red-hot 95.4 percent, making it the strongest major-metro retail market in Texas and one of the strongest in the nation.

“The market overall remains remarkably tight, with the city’s central core and active suburban markets reporting near-full occupancy,” Weitzman’s report said.

Austin’s occupancy rate is down slightly from this point a year ago, when it stood at 96.1 percent. That’s due to big chunks of space left by a number of high-profile retail closures since the beginning of 2018, including four area Sears stores. Those stores represent the largest single source of vacancy in the Austin area… (LINK TO STORY)

Parents push back against proposed Austin district boundary changes (Austin American-Statesman)

Parents are pushing back against proposed boundary changes to Austin school district elementary schools in Southwest Austin.

The boundary changes make way for the area’s new elementary school, slated to open in 2020, that will relieve severe overcrowding at Baranoff, Cowan and Kiker elementary schools. The campus will open with about 370 students, about 70% of its capacity. The move is also intended to help boost enrollment at campuses with too few students, like Boone and Kocurek elementaries.

But some parents are resisting the move, saying they chose their specific neighborhoods because they were zoned for the higher-performing Baranoff, which offers certain programs lacking at Kocurek. The change could also be difficult for their children, they said… (LINK TO STORY)

Longtime VP Todd Hemingson to leave Capital Metro (Austin Monitor)

After more than a decade with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency’s executive vice president, Todd Hemingson, will step down Friday, July 26.

His immediate plan, as he told the Monitor in an interview at the agency’s headquarters on Friday, is to take some time to breathe before figuring out what comes next. While that will likely involve similar work, helping cities integrate land use with transportation, Hemingson said he doesn’t yet have a job in mind.

“It’s a bit risky on my part,” he admitted. “Some people have said I’m either crazy or having a midlife crisis.”… (LINK TO STORY)


New Texas Law Aims To Make Sure Students Don't Leave Free College Money Unclaimed (KUT)

When Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 3 into law earlier this summer, in addition to increasing school funding and approving teacher raises, he also approved a requirement for all Texas high school seniors to fill out an application for federal or state financial aid for college.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an application to see whether a student qualifies for loans, scholarships, grants or work study. As the name suggests, it's free to apply – but a lot of students don't.

“Students make assumptions based on what they’ve heard from either counselors or other students,” says Jaime Ayala, the student success coordinator at Foundation Communities' College Hub. He regularly advises students in Austin on how to fill out the form.… (LINK TO STORY)

How can Texas fix its marijuana problem after legalizing hemp? Forensic experts have a plan. (Texas Tribune)

The scientists think they’ve come up with a solution to Texas’ pot problem.

Forensic and crime lab experts are optimistic state and local officials will support a new proposal that would allow for a faster, cheaper way to test suspected marijuana under the state’s new definition of the drug.

But even if law enforcement and crime labs agree to move forward with the proposal, it would still be months before labs could start testing cases for prosecutors. And there are still some looming questions — like who would pay for the additional crime lab resources?… (LINK TO STORY)

As Democrats prepare for Senate primary rumble, incumbent John Cornyn building organization, raising cash (Dallas Morning News)

As Democrats prepare for a bruising 2020 Senate primary, incumbent John Cornyn is cobbling together what's expected to be a well-funded organization designed to help the GOP keep Texas red. National and state Democrats have the goal of flipping that seat, as well as making other congressional gains, particularly in North Texas.

Though Donald Trump's bid for reelection against a yet-to-be determined Democrat will be the primary motivation for 2020 voters, the most-watched race on Texas ballots will be the Senate race featuring Cornyn. The longtime senator had the benefit of watching fellow Texas Sen. Ted Cruz struggle against Democrat Beto O'Rourke last year before eking out a win. Cornyn has called the Cruz-O'Rourke showdown a "wake-up" call to Republicans across the state, even as others in the party say Texas is still comfortably under GOP control… (LINK TO STORY)

Flaring fight is the hands of Texas oil and gas regulators (San Antonio Express-News)

A fight between a pipeline operator and an energy company is putting natural gas flaring, a controversial byproduct of the shale oil revolution, into sharp focus. It’s playing out at the Texas Railroad Commission, regulator of the state’s oil and gas industry, in a case that producers and environmentalists are watching closely.

The commission oversees flaring — the controlled burning of natural gas, sometimes an unwanted commodity flowing out of oil wells — and approves thousands of uncontested permits for the practice a year. But Exco Resources Inc. of Dallas has a dispute on its hands for oil wells on the Briscoe Ranch in Dimmit County where it wants to flare the gas. Oklahoma-based Williams Cos. opposes Exco’s permit, arguing it has a pipeline gathering system in the Eagle Ford Shale that can take the natural gas from Exco’s wells… (LINK TO STORY)


Trump Administration Revising U.S. Citizenship Test (NPR)

The Trump administration is planning changes to the U.S. citizenship test. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says it is revising the test to ensure that "it continues to serve as an accurate measure of a naturalization applicant's civics knowledge."

The test was introduced in 1986 and last revised in 2008. In a USCIS statement, acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said, "Updating, maintaining, and improving a test that is current and relevant is our responsibility as an agency in order to help potential new citizens fully understand the meaning of U.S. citizenship and the values that unite all Americans."… (LINK TO STORY)


We’re taking a summer hiatus, so please enjoy some our favorite past episodes in the interim:

Episode 28: Rodney Gonzales- Director of Austin’s Development Services Department (DSD)

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with Rodney Gonzales, then Director of Austin’s Development Services Department (DSD). The department was created in 2015 to handle residential and commercial permitting issues separately from zoning issues.

Rodney discusses his background and path to DSD, and current department initiatives with Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham. . (LINK TO SHOW)


Progressive Justice Now Drafting MPT Delia Garza for County Attorney

Last Thursday saw the launch of Progressive Justice Now, an organization calling for Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza (District 2) to run for Travis County Attorney.

MPT Garza is the first Latina to serve on the City Council in Austin, and the first Latina to serve as Austin’s Mayor Pro Tem. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University School of Law. She previously served as an Assistant Attorney General advocating for Texas families in the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General… (LINK TO BLOG)

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