AARO History and Legacy
AARO Has a Rich History

The Austin Area Research Organization was founded in 1980 by a group of chief executive officers who found themselves needing a forum for discussion of issues faced by rapidly growing Central Texas—issues that would impact the region’s ability to thrive if they weren’t tackled head on. The list of the founders reads like a Who’s Who of the Austin of that time: Frank McBee (Tracor co-founder), George Christian (former White House Press Secretary), Don Carlton (Radian International LLC co-founder), Jane Sibley (Austin Symphony President), Lowell Lebermann (CenTex Beverage owner), Roy Butler (former Mayor and Capitol Beverage owner), Jim Fain (Statesman Publisher) and others, totaling 25 members.

By 1993, the region was changing, and AARO knew it needed to change along with it; the organization began admitting community leaders and qualified non-CEO business leaders to the membership. It also began expanding its footprint to include, as of 2013, six burgeoning Central Texas counties: Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Burnet and Caldwell.

But the fundamental reason for AARO’s existence hasn’t changed—the group is still powered by round-table discussions among its 100+ thought leaders and by solid, thoughtful research into the thorniest of issues.

AARO Through the Years


Organization Founded

Founded by a group of presidents and chief executive officers who were concerned that the politics and short-term thinking of elected leaders were getting in the way of long-term thinking and preparing Austin for the future.

Southern and Northern Extensions of MoPac

Acted as the driving force behind the formation of a political organization that won voter support for the southern and northern extensions of MoPac.



Austin Community College Referendum

Galvanized business support for the successful referendum on an initial 5-cent property tax to fund Austin Community College and later supported elections for property tax increases in 1986 and 1999.

Attribute Profile of an Effective Central Texas School Trustee

In response to school board dysfunction, developed the initial Attribute Profile of an Effective Central Texas School Trustee (later updated in 2007) to support election of qualified trustees. The profiles has been widely used by candidates, voters and debate organizers to elect qualified candidates.



Expanded Membership Eligibility

Expanded membership eligibility to include not just chief executive officers but other community leaders who agree that a healthy economy is fundamental to the quality of life of the community. The action has expanded AARO’s reach and increased the diversity of perspective and experience at the table.

Right of Way Acquisition for SH-130

Partnered in winning county commissioner support for right of way acquisition for SH-130. The commissioners were initially reluctant to put the measure on the ballot, but with AARO’s advocacy, put the bond measure before the voters who responded with overwhelming support.



Support for Increased Funding for Regional Connectivity and Mobility

Consistently supported increased funding to provide strategic connections and expansion of the Central Texas roadway system and other multi-modal enhancements to improve regional connectivity and mobility.

Broadened Focus to Include the Region

Broadened its focus from Austin/Travis County to include members from the five-county Austin-Round Rock MSA (Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties) by adding 20 seats earmarked for regional leaders.



City of Austin/LCRA 50-Year Water Deal

Urged City of Austin and Lower Colorado River Authority leaders to negotiate a 50-year water supply deal which culminated in the $100 million water agreement guaranteeing Colorado River water to Austin through 2050.

Higher Education Attainment Gap Research

Researched the higher education attainment gap and found that failure to enroll an additional 60,000 students in higher education by the year 2015, would ultimately culminate in the year 2040 in a $4,000 (6%) decrease in household income, costing our community $2.4 billion of income annually. The report served as a catalyst for AARO’s subsequent efforts to strengthen higher education in Central Texas.



Creation of the Travis County Healthcare District

Backed a petition drive to hold the successful referendum creating the Travis County Healthcare District (now Central Health) which has enhanced and expanded access to essential health care services and continues to work to transform the local safety-net system.

Creation of the E3 Alliance

Conceived and in partnership founded the E3 Alliance, which is working to build the strongest educational pipeline in the country to drive regional prosperity.



Frank McBee Jr. Fellowship Program

Welcomed the first class of Frank McBee Jr. Fellows in Civic Entrepreneurship and graduates are moving into leadership positions on board and for governmental jurisdictions throughout the region.

Austin Community College Expansion

Supported Austin Community College’s annexation of Round Rock ISD.



Research Identifying Need for Additional STEM Capacity in Higher Education

Conducted research that identified an acute need for more student capacity/seats leading to 2-year and 4-year degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Building and Retaining an Affordable Austin

Co-authored "Building and Retaining an Affordable Austin," which led to City of Austin housing bonds and policy changes to increase the city’s affordable housing supply.



Advocate for Moderation in Austin’s Climate Protection Plan

Successfully advocated for moderation in implementation of the City of Austin’s Climate Protection Plan.

Development and Sponsorship of the Central Texas Regional Water Conservation Symposium

Co-developed/co-sponsored the annual Central Texas Regional Water Conservation Symposium to help educate utility staff, government and business leaders and help ensure implementation of conservation strategies to ensure a long-term sustainable water supply for the region.



Support for Austin’s Water Treatment Plant #4

Supported construction of the City of Austin’s Water Treatment Plant #4 as back-up support for two aging treatment plants.

Understanding the Need for a 4-Year Academic Medical School

Learned about the need for a 4-year academic medical school for the region; members, acting as individuals, supported the successful referendum to increase funding for Central Health, which led to the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin.



Expanded Membership Eligibility and Focus to Burnet County

Expanded its membership eligibility and area of focus once again to include members from Burnet County.

Research Identifying Job Openings Suitable for ACC’s Career Accelerator Program

Sponsored research identifying 2,720 annual openings for jobs that pay at least $18/hour and require a one-year certificate or two-year college degree, i.e. positions suitable for graduates of ACC’s Career Accelerator program.



Support for Investment in Full-Day Pre-K

Supported continuation of Austin ISD’s investments in high quality early education and full-day Pre-K.

Celebrated the Organization’s 35th Anniversary

Celebrated the organization’s 35th anniversary with an event that focused on expected changes in Central Texas over the next 35 years and strategies to create a brighter future.



Collaborated to Increase Enrollment in Pre-K

Collaborated with service providers and others to increase the number of eligible children enrolling in free public school Pre-K. The E3 Alliance is continuing to carry this work forward.

Developed an Attribute Profile for an Effective Central Health Board Leader

Developed an Attribute Profile of an Effective Member of the Central Health Board of Managers to ensure the appointment of qualified leaders to the board.


The AARO Logo
Just what is an armillary?

The armillary has been used since the Middle Ages as both a practical tool for locating the planets and as a symbol of discovery, study, teaching and learning.

By finding their bearings using the movable rings of an armillary, people were able to explore the universe and to better understand planetary movement and eclipses. This graceful tool helped its users see the world in three dimensions.

The armillary captures the essence of AARO perfectly. Our region contains many spheres of influence, communities and jurisdictions. The armillary symbolizes our attempts to keep our vision on the far horizon, not the immediate future. It also embodies AARO’s efforts to find our way, working together, to solutions to our region’s thorniest problems.