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News Around the State: Amazon goes big in Texas

Capitol Highlights
by Chris Cobler

Amazon delivered good economic news, announcing plans for a 700,000-square-foot distribution center and warehouse in Waco.

Gov. Greg Abbott and other state officials heralded the plan to bring up to 1,000 workers to Central Texas at a starting wage of $15 an hour. The online retailing giant previously announced other expansions in Texas, including Forney, Pflugerville and Richmond.

Two other companies also announced plans last week to move to the Lone Star State:

• The nation’s largest provider of dredging services is moving its headquarters from Chicago to Houston. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. announced it was making the move to be closer to major regional projects. The company, which had annual revenues of $711 million in 2019, has more than 1,000 employees globally.
The company has been based in Chicago for more than 100 years. “The relocation stems in part from changing industry dynamics as the dredging market has shifted from Northern Illinois and the Great Lakes to work along the Gulf Coast and in the northeast and southeast coastal regions,” according to the company.

• A manufacturing firm is moving from Southern California to Round Rock, bringing 150 jobs. The company, Saleen Performance Parts, is a U.S.-based manufacturer and distributor of aftermarket automotive performance and restyling parts.

‘Jerry Jeff train songs’

Jerry Jeff Walker, the Texas music legend who “jumped so high,” has died at age 78 from cancer and related illnesses.

Walker is best known for writing the iconic song “Mr. Bojangles,” which the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band hit big with in 1971. Born in New York, Walker spent most of his life in Austin and is credited with being a godfather of the city’s live music scene.

“Other than Willie, Jerry Jeff is the most important musician to happen to Austin, Texas, I would have to say,” Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson told the Austin American Statesman. “He really brought that folk singer/songwriter form to its height in Texas. And for that, he’ll be eternal, because there’s all these kids today that write songs in that mode.”

Going hog wild

Texas likes to be No. 1 on many lists, but not this one: The state ranks at the top for the largest population of wild pigs.

More than 2.5 million feral swine roam the state, plaguing farmers and ranchers, according to recent research reported by the Texas Farm Bureau. The invasive species has been found in all of Texas’ 254 counties, except for El Paso. The pig population has exploded to more than 6 million throughout the country, primarily in southern states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“More control tools are needed, and research is underway to determine which methods are effective and environmentally safe,” the Texas Farm Bureau reported. “Texas farmers and ranchers are hopeful new strategies will get to the root of the wild pig problem, and soon.”

Tech prof honored for disability rights work

A Texas Tech University law professor is the top winner of state awards honoring those who have helped Texans with disabilities.

The Governor’s Trophy went to Professor Brian Shannon for significant contributions to disability rights, most notably “for his work at the intersection of mental health and the legal system.” Shannon’s focus has been on destigmatizing and empowering those whose mental health diagnoses have put them in the criminal justice system.

Other winners of the 2020 Lex Frieden Employment Awards for creating a more inclusive workplace for Texans with disabilities:

• The Martha Arbuckle Award to the EPIC fitness center in Grand Prairie for a partnership with Grand Prairie Independent School District.

• The Entrepreneurship Award to Chris Landry and Ken Brown, business partners and founders of Scan Mailboxes in Austin.

• Large Employer Award to Fidelity Investments in Westlake for being as accessible and inclusive as possible, particularly with changes to its hiring process.

• Medium Employer Award to Weikel’s Bakery and Store in La Grange for providing work opportunities for those with disabilities, particularly through a Recipeasy app developed by Philip Weikel.

• Small Employer Award to Mr. Gatti’s Pizza in Tyler for owner Lamar Wedell’s efforts to provide training for students with disabilities.

• Non-Profit Employer Award to Goodwill Industries in Fort Worth for multiple initiatives to hire and train people with disabilities.

Small business makes it big

A San Antonio resident is the winner of the National Small Business Person of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Army veteran Timothy Porter, founder and CEO of Appddiction Studios, was recognized for the growth of his company, which started in 2011. The technology developed by Porter’s company includes an award-winning anti-bully mobile application for use in K-12 schools.

“Timothy’s determination, grit and ingenuity characterize so many small business owners,” SBA administrator Jovita Carranza said. “His efforts, as well as those of tens of millions of entrepreneurs around the country, are driving economic recovery.”

Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at

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