Hundreds of area business leaders, elected officials and community members listened, attended sessions and networked inside the Doug Pitcock ’49 Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center on Thursday as part of the second annual Brazos Valley Business Summit.
Two Texas A&M economists shared data with attendees about the local economy, including an historically low unemployment rate of 2.7% as of the end of July, and said that the local economy has, in several ways, experienced growth since 2000 at a rate faster than most major metro areas in Texas.
Another session featured three panelists reflecting on how to navigate generational differences and similarities in workplace environments. The discussion, titled Introducing "Generation Z: Meet the Newest Members of Your Workforce," drew a large crowd as panelists presented data indicating that if present trends hold, Brazos County will soon have the highest percentage of Generation Z — people born between about 1995 and about 2015 — of any county in Texas.
The event, sponsored by the Brazos Valley Economic Development Corporation (BVEDC), opened with a session on the area’s economic development strategy, featuring leaders in myriad fields including tourism, education and business development, and included a keynote address from Houston-based business coach Chris Westfalll, who has worked globally as well as with A&M student entrepreneurs.
BVEDC President and CEO Matt Prochaska said that the BVEDC works to attract businesses to the area, and it also works within the community to help “make our region a more prosperous, successful and vibrant place to live, work and do business.”
“The key for today is really about equipping our local businesses,” Prochaska said about the summit’s aims. “I’ve got [attendees] here who have had businesses here for multiple generations — they’re here because they want to grow. They’re not done. Today is about equipping business leaders with knowledge, with more ways to improve their businesses and with resources and chances to network with the community.”
Kindra Fry, Experience Bryan-College Station’s president and CEO, shared with participants data about B-CS area tourism. She said that in 2018, the community earned $584 million in “direct travel spending from people who live outside spending that money the community.”
“Tourism is big business in Bryan-College Station,” Fry said. “People are bringing money into our community so that we can build more, and add to investments such as parks and other facilities and attractions that residents benefit from. ... We have to be able to work together to share why this community is so vibrant and why it’s thriving.”
In the session about generational workplace dynamics, panelist Jia Wang, a professor of human resource development at A&M, said that her work — which focuses on workplace dynamics and crisis management — encouraged attendees who serve in managerial roles to get to know their employees or interns as individuals and be responsive to their styles and needs, rather than focus on broad generational assumptions.
“Find out what motivates them — not generationally, but individually,” Wang said following the panel. “Even from within the same generation, we have differences. We were raised by different parents and have embraced different values. Take the time to find out who they are as people and to make personal connections.”
Wang’s fellow panelist Amy Sharp, a Generation Z member who recently served as Texas A&M’s student body president before graduating, said that local businesses must reach out to adults under 25 to let them know that there are jobs available locally.
“For our community, it’s important to bridge the gap between students thinking that there are not jobs here and the reality that there are jobs here,” said Sharp, who is now a project specialist at the A&M System’s RELLIS campus.
Sharp said that she got connected to the BVEDC while she was an A&M student, which helped her have an understanding of the local business landscape, but that many A&M and Blinn students believe that a successful career launch means leaving Bryan-College Station for one of Texas’ larger cities.
“The common consensus among students is ‘Well, you don’t stay here, because there are no jobs here. There are only jobs here for professors,’ ” Sharp said.
Sharp said she hopes that academic advisors and others in the community communicate with college students and provide them with information about local businesses.
Private Enterprise Research Center (PERC) at Texas A&M’s executive director Dennis Jansen and its associate executive director, Andy Rettenmaier, shared information about the local economy. For about a year, PERC has released on a monthly basis its College Station-Bryan Business-Cycle Index. Jansen said that the index works to take into account the local economic climate, which — considering the large presence of Texas A&M — looks different in some ways from national and state trends.
PERC’s most recent index, released Monday, indicated that the B-CS economy, grew 1% between June and July. The index runs with a lag time of nearly two months.
One slide presented included an adjusted poverty rate. The economists said that Brazos County had a poverty rate of 26% in 2017; Rettenmaier called the figure misleading due to the fact that while 7% of the state’s population are college students, they make up 27% of the people in Brazos County. Their adjusted rate of 15% indicated that when accounting for the reality that some, but not all, college students have little income but are not experiencing other harsh realities of poverty, the county is in line with state and national poverty figures.
“When you’re in a community with a big university, it’s going to really affect the way we think about our statistics and the way we consider other statistics,” Rettenmaier said.