An Internet glitch at the otherwise very successful Texas Legislative Conference last week in New Braunfels only points out the need for the city to continue working to improve its broadband capabilities, said Conference Program Director Michael Meek.
Meek also said the fact that this year’s TLC was a big hit doesn’t mean the organizers are going to rest on their laurels as they look ahead to next year’s 50th annual edition of the event, a coming-together of Texas business and political leaders to discuss the major policy issues of the day.
This year’s conference, held last Thursday and Friday at the New Braunfels Civic Convention Center, featured a keynote address by former Texas and U.S. first lady Laura Bush and her long-overdue acceptance of the 2005 Texan of the Year award, the naming of four-term Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus as Texan of the Year, panel discussions peopled by some of the best and brightest on the political scene, and attendance by hundreds of movers and shakers from across the state.
Meek said this year’s event, which drew a crowd estimated at upwards of 500, was the biggest the expanded civic center has ever seen. “This was the largest crowd we’ve had,” Meek said. “No question about it.” The square footage of space used for the TLC was expanded this year to include an area at the rear of the room formerly used to serve meals. Meals were dished out this year in the neighboring ballroom.
Closing the loop
Meek, president of the TLC-sponsoring Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, said he’ll remember this year’s conference for several reasons, including “closing the loop” on Mrs. Bush’s 2005 Texan of the Year award. Called away to Italy to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II just days before the 2005 TLC, Laura had to miss the presentation of her Texan of the Year honors. Meek stashed her award away in his office, where he kept it for a decade. Finally, he said, the award is where it belongs, with the former first lady at the Bush ranch in Crawford.
Massive new big screens positioned on either side of the stage and 70-inch TV screens elsewhere in the room made it easier for attendees to view the action on the stage and also made this year’s event memorable. Meek said the conference formerly rented smaller stage-side screens from a San Antonio company. But this year, organizers noticed that a new New Braunfels firm, Ai Entertainment, was providing its more impressive screens at local events — and so Ai was enlisted to supply the big screens for the TLC.
Tough critique coming
While those things are among Meek’s first impressions following the conference, he said the conference’s dignitary-packed Advisory Committee — which includes such notables as state Rep. Doug Miller, state Sen. Donna Campbell, Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report, former U.S. Ambassador Bob Krueger, former State Comptroller and Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp, and noted economist Ray Perryman — is “going to take some time to assess it.”
“We do some extensive critiquing,” Meek said. “That’s one of the reasons why this conference has been around for 49 years. We don’t rest on our laurels. We’re tough on ourselves. The committee will meet next month. We’ll look at the pros and cons and see how we can do things better.”
During the conference’s Friday morning panel discussion on the economics of energy exploration, technology issues with the Internet feed prevented panelists from being able to take questions via Twitter as planned.
“We have Texans from across the state here ... and we were dead in the water until 10 a.m.,” Meek said. “That just heightens my awareness, and the awareness of others in the city, on why we’re doing this broadband initiative in town.”
He said the problem was with “the major Internet providers, which we continue to have problems with, whether it be the civic center or Wurstfest. Any business in town will tell you the same thing. That’s one of the reasons why the 4B Board and the chamber are jumping on top of this broadband initiative.”
In November, a coalition involving the City of New Braunfels, the chamber and the New Braunfels Industrial Development Corporation (4B Board) commissioned Magellan Advisors to do a broadband feasibility study. They asked the Denver-based company to take a comprehensive look at what facilities are currently available in New Braunfels to help businesses and residents experience faster Internet speeds, what could be done to improve conditions and more. Local leaders hope Magellan will come back with information that could provide the municipality with leverage to entice providers to dramatically improve services or a possible plan for the city to help make upgrades that would make it easier for providers to offer more.