Longtime Austin lawyer and business leader Pike Powers makes sure that almost every public gathering he attends has a tie to his desire for Austin to keep pushing and expanding its high-tech community.
That’s why a group of Powers’ friends and business allies, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, gathered on a rainy Monday at Samsung’s Austin manufacturing complex off East Parmer Lane.
They were there to celebrate the 75-year-old Powers being named 2017 Texan of the Year by the Texas Legislative Conference.
The group previously has honored such notables as Leon Jaworski, Powers’ former law partner, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, late U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan and former First Lady Laura Bush.
The award will be presented March 23 at a banquet in New Braunfels that precedes the next Legislative Conference. The conference is a nonpartisan organization for Texas business and political leaders who have met annually for more than half a century to discuss state public policy issues.
“Pike Powers helped turn Austin from a university town into a high-tech powerhouse,” said state Rep. Doug Miller, who is the 2017 legislative conference chairman.
Samsung was a logical site for Monday’s announcement, Powers said, because of the continued contribution that Samsung and other high-tech companies make to the Austin economy.
Samsung has invested $16 billion in plant construction and equipment in Austin since 1996, when it announced it had picked Austin for the site of its first chip plant outside of South Korea. The company employs about 3,000 people locally and it continues to expand. Samsung announced in November that it is spending another $1 billion that will go toward boosting its plant capacity,
Powers said he wanted the event to say “thank you to Samsung for everything you have meant for us. Samsung has done everything it said it would do and then some.”
The South Korean company, he said, illustrates the “tremendous opportunity” for Austin to keep building its tech community. “We are already an innovative place,” he said, “but we can do more.”
Powers, who appeared at Monday’s event in a wheelchair and said he is suffering from a neurological illness, was a key member of the Austin contingent that traveled to Seoul, South Korea, in 2005 to court the company’s potential expansion in Austin. He was then the ramrod to get details solved to pave the way for the company’s huge expansion commitment.
The Austin contingent had several political and business leaders, but Powers quickly assumed the lead by his force of personality and his drive to land the project, said Gary Farmer, former Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce chairman and past chairman of the Opportunity Austin economic development initiative.
“He showed the ease and charm and leadership that helped to win the day,” Farmer said.
Adler said Austin continues to receive a stream of visitors from elsewhere in the the U.S. and other countries who want to learn how the city grew into a high-tech hot spot.
“We have a reputation around the world,” Adler told Powers, “and that is something that you helped us get.”
Powers has been a key economic strategy leader for Austin since 1983, when he helped drive the community effort to land the MCC computer research consortium. He was closely involved in recruiting efforts for 3M, Sematech, Applied Materials and Samsung.
He was a leader in creating Texas technology initiatives established in 2002 to redefine and reinvigorate the collaboration among leaders in government, academia and private industry. In response to that strategy, the state of Texas created a $295 million Texas Enterprise Fund in 2003 and the Emerging Technology Fund in 2005.
He was named a “Texas Legend” by the American Electronics Association and a Distinguished Lawyer by the Austin Bar Association in 2009.
Powers, a native of Beaumont, is a graduate of Lamar University and the University of Texas Law School. He served more than seven years in the Texas Legislature representing his native Jefferson County. In 1983, he served as chief of staff to Texas Gov. Mark White.