economic development maestro Dave Porter can’t escape Williamson County’s boom

Since he returned to the Austin area six months ago, Dave Porter said solo-running the revamped Williamson County Economic Development Partnership has been a lot like running a startup.

So for him, he’s attempted to escape the bustle of work on the golf course. The game is challenging. It’s outdoors and is typically in a beautiful setting. Plus, there are great courses near his new home in the county just north of Austin, like Avery Ranch and Teravista.

“I just find the beauty of being outdoors at a very nice golf course fun,” said Porter, who has been golfing since the third grade and maintains a handicap of 3. “I really enjoy it a lot.”

But even then it’s been impossible to escape work. He’s been randomly paired with executives from companies like Applied Materials Inc. or Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. At this point, he’s just accepted it.

“It’s been really interesting to golf here and find out where people work and say, ‘I know them, I’ve worked with them,'” Porter said. “It’s really a great opportunity I think to connect and network and also just have a lot of fun.”

Porter — who left the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce for a role in Florida more than a half-decade ago — returned to lead Williamson County’s economic development group. He’s tasked with helping recruit businesses in one of the most sought-after industrial hubs in the world.

But he started his return first with more important stops: Chuy’s for Tex-Mex and then any barbecue place he could find.

“They don’t quite do it like that in Florida,” Porter said. “I overdosed on Tex-Mex.”

Only then was it time to work. He said it’s hard to believe how much time has passed. He’s mostly a one-man band, only being aided by a part-time administrator. He’s spent that time building relationships, prepping for next year’s budget cycle and making marketing improvements like a revamped website.

But while the work has been heavy, it’s been energizing. Williamson County reminds him a lot of how Travis County was a decade ago, in the fact that it’s economy is ready to explode.

Samsung’s factory and the nearby Tesla Inc. facility have made the area desirable for suppliers. Efforts to bring manufacturing stateside have similarly helped. He said back in the day, 80% of companies interested in Travis County were office-related. That’s completely flip-flopped to industrial.

The next goal for him is to close some deals. Porter was recently among a cohort that visited South Korea to meet with companies who want to be close to Samsung and expand to Williamson County. He’s optimistic it was worth it.

“Hopefully we’ll see some immediate results — immediate meaning over the next several months,” Porter said.

What is the best part of your job? The best part of my job today is that I have a great product to promote. Williamson County is a terrific business. It’s very well connected with the technology sector in Austin. You have Dell’s world headquarters in Williamson County. You have Apple and a huge expansion in Williamson County and now Samsung. You look at the assets of Williamson County, a lot of the tech workforce in the northern part of Travis County live in Williamson County. I think it makes it an attractive opportunity for companies looking to grow and expand in the innovations side of things into Williamson County. It’s a natural fit, I believe.

What would you say is your biggest failure and how did you learn from that? I didn’t finish my MBA. I don’t know if that’s a failure, but I look back at that wishing I would have. What I’ve learned is once you start something, see it through. I completed about 75% of my MBA and I got so fed up with school that I just didn’t finish it. I’ve always looked back and thought, ‘Man, I wish I would have done that.’

What do you think is the biggest misconception about your profession? There’s so many different aspects to the economic development profession. The people at the city level that deal with all the financing — they do a lot of things that I wouldn’t be very good at. The marketing piece is what I like to do, which is connecting the dots with all your partner communities, the governmental entities. The misconception is it’s just one size fits all. It’s not. It’s a very diverse industry in terms of the breadth of knowledge that it takes at all different levels.

How did you earn your first dollar? I earned my first dollar mowing yards. Me and my brother growing up had about five or six yards that we would mow. He would mow and I would edge. So I got to do all the fun work.

If you could pick any celebrity to be your next-door neighbor, who would it be? I’ve always thought Nelson Mandela was cool – really cool. I spent some time in South Africa. I’ve always admired him and his efforts to do what he did.

If you could have a magic wand and change one thing about Williamson County, what would you pick? I would change the number of available industrial sites that are ready to go, ready to build, that are fully served with infrastructure.

What do you listen to on the way to work? I don’t listen to the radio. I need the downtime, the silence. I turn the radio on periodically but typically it gives me some time to think in between meetings and things.

Dave Porter

Title: Executive director, Williamson County Economic Development Partnership

Age: 65

Hometown: Wichita, Kansas

Education: Wichita State University, bachelor’s degree in business administration

Family: Wife, Nancy; cat, Zipper


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