Business

Lunch With D CEO: Bill Sproull

The Richardson business leader talks workforce development.

When Bill Sproull moseys over to his table at Jasper’s restaurant, he is instantly recognized by the wait staff. “I’ve never had the chance to wait on you, sir,” says our server, who goes by the name Salvatori.

It’s likely not the first time this has happened at a Richardson locale, as Sproull wears multiple leadership hats there. He’s the president and CEO of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce, the Richardson Economic Development Partnership, and Tech Titans, a technology trade association focused on strengthening the North Texas tech community. In these roles, he is charged with business recruitment and retention in Richardson, and public policy, legislation, and technology initiatives for the region.

Sproull orders an Arnold Palmer and the Maytag blue cheese potato chips as an appetizer, which he admits are “too good” but too rich for the healthy diet he’s trying to maintain since hiring a personal trainer. For his main course, he orders a cup of chicken masa soup and a salmon Caesar salad. As he delves into his cheesy chips, he becomes engrossed in discussing his top concerns: the talent pool, education, the upcoming legislative session, and, of course, his main priority, his 16-year-old twins.

“The biggest issue …
is education. It’s feeding into workforce development.”

“I’m not sure how I’ll handle a quiet house,” he says, thinking about their high school graduation. “It’s going to be too bizarre for me.”

It will also give him much more time. Time to cook, something perhaps passed down from his mother, who was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Time to golf, a hobby he enjoys in his spare time. Time to travel, which he’s done a lot as the son of an Air Force officer. And time to further explore what already keeps him up at night: tomorrow’s workforce.

“I think of all the economic growth that we’ve had here and how you sustain that,” he says. “To me, the biggest issue … is education, and it’s really feeding into workforce development.”

Sproull says he’s focused on the state’s 60x30TX initiative, put forth last year by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The 15-year strategic plan aims to ensure that 60 percent of Texans ages 18-34 earn a college degree or a post-secondary job certificate by 2030.

With his deep concern for education, especially as it affects the STEM fields, it’s no surprise Sproull sits on the board of the Texas Research Alliance, an organization aimed at advancing North Texas research universities through philanthropy and corporate investment. Sproull joins Michael Jacobson, Arlington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO; Dale Petroskey, Dallas Regional Chamber president and CEO; and Bill Thornton, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, on the board. The alliance is led by Geoffrey Orsak, former dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Southern Methodist University.

The group was created two years ago by the chambers and the Alliance for Higher Education, which serves as the organization’s legal entity. It’s funded by a Richardson radio tower that serves network communications companies; through earnings gained by the alliance founders after selling off spectrum; and by the Dallas chamber, which agreed to invest $300,000 over three years.

Education also will be one of the main topics that Sproull will follow during the upcoming Texas legislative session, which begins Jan. 10. Many of those issues will likely be dealt with in a special session following the regular session, he says.

With an expected shortage of state funds, anything could be on the chopping block during the session. “We’ll … try to keep what we’ve got,” he says. “Like the [2013 research and development] tax credit—we don’t want that to go away.”

Meanwhile, big business decisions were slowing as the November election approached and Sproull, a political junkie, said he’d been watching closely. So, when I ask at lunch for his insights on the presidential race, there’s only one suitable answer: “I think we’re going to need some martinis,” he says to the waiter. “Actually, just bring me the bottle.”

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