Mabrie Jackson has a lengthy background serving the public sector as councilwoman, has been a runoff election candidate for the Texas House Representatives District 66 seat and most recently served as the interim president and CEO of Plano Chamber of Commerce.
Additionally, she has years of corporate experience having worked for Microsoft Corp. and EDS. Jackson's latest position as the president and CEO of the North Texas Commission requires her to use both her corporate and public sector knowledge. She has been with the NTC, a regional organization aimed at keeping North Texas globally competitive, since 2010 when she came aboard as the organization's first female leader.
Does your organization educate communities about the importance of public transportation?
Part of our air-quality issue is mobility. Seventy percent of our problem is we have too many cars on the road. And we all know Texans and transplant Texans—we love to be in control of when we go and when we get in our car. We don't like to be on somebody else's schedule, and that's something we are going to have to change.
We need more public transportation. Not many of our local elected officials from the state level are totally thrilled with that. They think it's too expensive and all the things they can say are true, but by not having access to public transportation there are a couple of things that we miss. One is not all jobs in this area are high-paying jobs—some are lower-wage jobs. People who are going to be in a lower-wage job don't live here because they can't afford to live in this part of town.
So how do you get them from the communities they may live in and give them access to these jobs because once they get in these jobs then they have an opportunity to move up and better themselves economically? So from an economic standpoint and from a diversity standpoint [public transportation] is very important. And frankly, getting people off the roads is what we need.
When you are out marketing this area domestically and internationally, what are some key selling points?
Most people, when you get outside of the country, don't know where North Texas is, but the minute you mention Dallas they all know who J.R. Ewing [character from the TV series 'Dallas'] is. We call it the Dallas Problem. They all think we ride horses to work, have oil fields in our backyard, and all wear boots and jeans. But we talk about the diversity of industry here.
We are banking; we are transportation; we are aerospace and defense; we are oil and gas; we are everything. So if one particular market goes soft—like oil prices dropping—that doesn't bother us as much here because we have so much else to catch it. The other thing here is that the cost of living is so attractive for most people, and your dollar goes so much [further] here.
Another thing is our diversity in our region. We are really moving away from being the all-white community. And that is challenging for some people because they feel like they are becoming less of a majority and more of a minority, but to me I think it is more exciting to go and embrace learning different cultures. The thing we talk about the most is the accessibility to the world via DFW airport. DFW airport contributes about $32 billion a year to our economy. All of the new international flights are so critical, and that's what really helps us when we go get a Toyota or a Liberty Mutual or an AT&T or any of those companies that are moving here.
Who are our biggest competitors both nationally and internationally?
I think when you look at regions there is still a little bit of competition with China from a labor cost around manufacturing, but I see that changing. From an investment and innovation and entrepreneurship [aspect] Silicon Valley, of course, has that No. 1 spot and New York is No. 2, but Texas is really No. 3.
Truly there are more technology companies and more activity going on in North Texas than anywhere. We had about 320 major ideas come out of North Texas last year at about a million-dollar investment per idea. We are starting to come together and let the world know what's going on here because we have kind of been the best-kept secret.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to face our area in the next five, 10 and 30 years?
Water is the No. 1 issue we have. It's going to make or break our growth patterns. I think education is our second thing—just making sure our kids know there is more than one way to go get an education. You don't have to go into debt to get a college education. We have fantastic community college systems here. They can go and do two years there and then go to [a four-year university]. If you live at home while you do that you can get a degree [for] under $25,000. Taking away the stigma of going to a trade school or getting a community college certification versus a four-year degree—I think we need to address that.