AARO began as a group of business leaders who got together informally to discuss mutual concerns. There was a realization that too often politics and short term goals get in the way of good planning and sound judgment in running the city and preparing for its future. There was a concern that the shortsightedness of politicians and special interest groups might compromise Austin's potential.
Another concern was that the business community also had a tendency to look at short-term goals rather than the long term best interest and overall economic viability of the community. There seemed to be no unity, no communication or dialogue among top business leaders so they could at least share the same information, if not identical conclusions.
In 1980, Austin Area Research Organization, Inc. was incorporated. From 1980 to 1992, AARO was composed of chief executive officers or their equivalents. Beginning in 1993, AARO removed the CEO requirement in order to add community leaders and qualified non-CEO business leaders to the membership. Members of the organization met on a regular basis to discuss long-range issues facing the community. In some cases, AARO acted as a catalyst to form a separate organization to perform a specific task. At other times, AARO worked through existing organizations, encouraging them to take needed action.
The organization is not well known, and that is its design. AARO does not seek credit or publicity for itself but prefers to work behind the scenes or in collaboration with other organizations, as an impetus for sound regional management and planning.
In 1998, AARO expanded its focus to include the 5 counties of the Austin-Round Rock MSA: Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson.
AARO accomplishes its mission to advance the long-term economic and social well-being of Central Texas by engaging regional leaders in data-driven deliberative action in 5 priority areas: Energy & Water, Health Care, P-16 Education, Social Equity, and Transportation.