Editor’s note: The following is Kemp Smith attorney Gene Wolf’s remarks to El Paso businesspeople and community leaders at the 2019 Junior Achievement El Paso Business Hall of Fame induction ceremony Oct. 25 at Grace Gardens. Businessman Josh Hunt and Kemp Smith law firm were this year’s inductees. It has been edited for length.
My question: As business leaders, how are we running the race for El Paso’s economic future?
Think about this. In 1950, the median family income in El Paso was 15% higher than the rest of Texas. In 2010, it was 30% below the rest of Texas. So we went from 15% above to 30% below.
Here’s another disturbing fact. From 1970 through 2010, median family income (in real dollars) in El Paso has been flat, while it has grown in Texas and the nation.
Let me bring it a little closer to home. When I started as a first-year, baby lawyer and I came to El Paso, I would have had the opportunity to go to the largest firms in Dallas and Houston where I would have been paid the exact same thing I was paid here. Today, going to those same firms, a just-out-of-school lawyer will make more than two times what a lawyer in El Paso will make.
Think about it. What does that empirical data tell us about how we have done in the past? I don’t think we are doing the best job of running this race. In fact, we have fallen behind in the economic race because we failed to keep businesses in El Paso and failed to recruit businesses to El Paso.
Now, without question, Paul Foster, Woody Hunt and many others have gone above and beyond the call of duty by devoting their time, talent and treasure and strategically deploying those assets in our community. But what about the rest of us? We’ve sat by idly as a college professor (Max Grossman) financed by someone from Houston has delayed a multipurpose facility that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2012 – more than seven years ago.
And think about this. This professor has cost our city millions of dollars in legal fees. That’s one problem. We approved $180 million for this multipurpose facility. And seven years ago, $180 million bought a whole lot more than it does now. So think about the cost of the delay that has been placed on us as a result of somebody who really doesn’t have much activity or much invested in this community.
I have another question for you: Were you sitting idly by while a lawyer out of Dallas (Stuart Blaugrund) was filing baseless complaint after baseless complaint after baseless complaint against our mayor? What did you do? The complaints were dismissed, yet I didn’t hear a public uprising by business people.
One last thing. I don’t know if you all were aware of it, but when we had the immigration crisis, the federal government came in and they decided they were going to plop a processing center in El Paso wherever the wanted. It was basically a detention center. And did the business community get in an uproar to fight that? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask yourself that.
So it’s time for us to step up, and it’s time for us to run the economic race well. That means we’ve got to put our time, our treasure and our talents into this community.
This is a race, and unfortunately we’re not immortal. At some point, we are going to have to pass the baton to the next group. Are we going to leave this place better than it was?
So, what do we do?
One thing is we have to inform ourselves. We have to be aware of what is going on. Part of that requires that we demand from the press investigative reporting. We have to demand that they quit taking what a college professor says, or maybe a lawyer from Dallas says, as gospel. They need to do some digging and find out what the facts are.
What else do we need?
We need to elect good public officials, and we need to hold them accountable. That needs to occur at every level, from the school board to the city level.
I want you to think about this: What is our task as business leaders? Our task is to leave this place better off. Our task is to try to allow these young people to take what they’ve learned from Junior Achievement and put it into practice. And to put it into practice in El Paso where they can create and run globally competitive businesses here.
Kemp Smith is committed to giving its time, talent and treasure to move this place forward, to make it better than it is today.
Here’s my question: What will you do?
Gene Wolf is a partner at Kemp Smith law firm, which is representing the city in litigation involving the multipurpose arena. The second-oldest law firm in Texas, it was recently inducted into Junior Achievement’s El Paso Business Hall of Fame.