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Land Use, Transportation, Technology, and More: the RECA Exchange 2019 Recap

October 1, 2019

Real Estate Experts and Government Leaders Share Insights into the Present and Future of Austin


What does it mean to live in a metropolitan area in the 21st century? What does it mean to have housing security in the 21st century in America?


That quote came courtesy of Marilyn Strickland, the current president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, but it could easily have been the guiding precept of the 2019 RECA Exchange, our annual conference celebrating and analyzing all things real estate. Top Austin real estate authorities teamed up with national urban development professionals to deliver an inspiring series of keynotes and breakout sessions. Attendees enjoyed energetic discussions about design, technology, and urban planning – all of it pointing to ways our fair city can continue its streak of healthy and productive growth well into the future.

The morning’s festivities kicked off with a rousing visit from Chris Del Conte, the Vice President and Athletic Director at the University of Texas at Austin. He spoke glowingly of the ever-deepening relationship between UT and the City of Austin, especially in terms of how the UT Athletics impacts so much of city life. To that end, he discussed several of the major real estate developments in play with his program’s master plan. Eyes especially started shining throughout the room when Del Conte shared details about the $300 million-dollar arena being drafted to replace the Frank Erwin Center.

Exchange attendees were then asked to choose from three panels to attend for two breakouts. The panel topics included:

  • What Can Austin Learn from Other Cities?
  • Real Estate's Technology Boom
  • Key Updates from Across the Region

Yes, this meant people had to select which two they wanted to attend. This made for a difficult choice, as all three events brought the goods. All the panel members provided thought-provoking perspectives about what really does make Austin great – and how our industry can help.

In her current role and as the former mayor of Tacoma, WA, Strickland is well-placed to make the strong proclamation that led off this article, and she did so as part of our “What Can Austin Learn From Other Cities?” panel. Joined on stage by Matt Wiltshire from Nashville and Jonathan Weinhagen from Minneapolis, the three experts engaged in a lively debate about how their cities have weathered the ups and downs of rapid urban growth and what lessons Austin could take.

As the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, Weinhagen paid special attention to key issues like housing, land use, zoning, and homelessness. In his capacity as the Chief Strategy and Intergovernmental Affairs Officer, Nashville Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, Wilshire directly addressed housing costs, travel, and public transit – all of which resonated with the Austin residents in the room.

Over at the “Real Estate’s Technology Boom” talk, four thought leaders in the space shared their insights into the latest and greatest developments in high-tech devices. Across the board, all the panelists expressed positive thoughts about how technology is already proving to be an outright boon for forward-thinking real estate professionals. For example, John Orfield, Principal at BOKA Powell, raved about the power of augmented reality during the design process, as it increases collaboration between architects, designers and clients so they make quicker and better-informed decisions.

As the Vice President of Project Management at Colliers International and President of Skyview Imagery, Danny Harrington spoke with confidence about the role drones can play in aiding construction crews and their clients with conducting inspections and reviews seamlessly and without the hassle of on-site meetings. In his capacity as Senior Director of Virtual Construction at Ryan Companies, Tristan Garner declared that enhanced camera technology helps his teams keep track of both day-to-day and big-picture activities with increased clarity, while also helping with crafting sales pitches. The President of Premium Parking, Ben Montgomery waxed eloquently on how contemporary app tech delivers a smoother, more efficient payment process for both drivers and parking lot companies.

In what might have been the more tactical and practical talk of the morning, the “Key Updates from Across the Region” chat featured business leaders from three of the hottest Austin suburbs. San Marcos was represented by Adriana Cruz, President of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, Diana Torres, Director of Economic Development in Kyle, lent her insight about this booming southern enclave, while Ben White, Director of Economic Development in Cedar Park, provided an outlook from the northern reaches of the area.

All three reiterated that the Austin metroplex region is the fastest growing region in the entire country, and that all signs point toward the pattern continuing into the foreseeable future. In turn, each discussed how their citiy has developed in direct conjunction with Austin’s rapid growth, especially in terms of how to address growing demands around infrastructure, economic development, and commuting.

To close out the event, Spencer Levy, Chairman of Americas Research and Senior Economic Advisor at CBRE, held court at our Economic Forecast Luncheon. In his role with the largest commercial real estate development firm in the world, he is well-placed to speak directly about current economic trends at the global, national and local levels.

This in-demand speaker and prognosticator charmed, wowed, and challenged the crowd with his fascinating – and often funny – look at our industry and the direction he believes we’re all heading. With an obvious focus on commercial real estate, he declared that the ‘good times’ should probably continue for the market at a high level, but some key economic markers indicate a potential slow-down in the next several years.  

The 2019 RECA Exchange was a rousing success for us here at the Real Estate Council of Austin as well as the Austin real estate industry as a whole. We want to extend special thanks to our sponsors and our panel moderators – Pamela Madere (Partner, Jackson Walker), Emily Cisek (Director of Sales, Integrate Agency), and Steven Pedigo (Director, LBJ Urban Lab, University of Texas at Austin).

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