Opportunity Austin 3.0 is set
Chamber’s new plan aims to spread economic success to more residents.
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday will unveil plans for Opportunity Austin 3.0, the latest iteration of its economic development efforts — and one that aims to spread the region’s economic successes to a broader cross-section of residents.
Based on the success of its previous efforts and the strength of the Central Texas economy, crafters of the new framework adopted several new metrics by which to measure progress, including certain poverty and wage indicators, officials said Tuesday.
Opportunity Austin, the chamber’s economic-development affiliate, will retain its focus on retention, recruiting and other issues critical to job creation in the region, officials said. However, they will also step up efforts to improve
education and transportation and ensure that the region’s economic progress reaches a broader swath of area residents.
“The success that this community has had has allowed us to broaden the menu of what we can look at,” said Gary Farmer, chairman of Opportunity Austin and president of Heritage Title. “We feel very strongly that we can’t just be about one piece or one segment of this community. We need to focus on the whole community.”
The new plan, which will run from 2014 to 2018, retains a focus on Austin’s economy, talent and sense of place, Farmer said. Within those three themes, the organizing committee identified eight key initiatives designed to build on the prior versions of Opportunity Austin, he said.
Those efforts will include transportation issues, a more formalized education and skillstraining pipeline, and initiatives to capitalize on technology commercialization, including from a new University of Texas medical school.
But the organizing committee also decided the region’s growth demanded measures that extend beyond business development, said Mac Holladay, chief executive of Market Street Services, an economic development consulting firm that has worked on all three Opportunity Austin plans. The new framework includes consideration of indicators such as poverty rates, child poverty, annual wages and percapita income.
“So there’s a shift here,” Holladay said. “Not that we’re walking away from the high-value things and the work we did on the targets, but we’re making a statement that this is about the whole community.”
The plan still very much focuses on building out high-value and highly needed jobs for the Central Texas workforce, Holladay noted. Four of the eight key priorities touch on those “highvalue” industries, primarily in high-tech fields, according to a draft of the implementation plan.
Those high-tech jobs have become an increasingly important cog in economic development for Austin and a range of other technology hubs, according to a recent report from the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute. The study found that the creation of one job in the high-tech sector “is associated with the cre- ation of 4.3 additional jobs in the local goods and services economy.”
That conclusion closely tracked the results of research conducted by University of California-Berkeley economics professor Enrico Moretti. Moretti found that high-tech jobs created about 4.9 additional jobs throughout a local economy.
Because of that sort of impact — as well as Central Texas’ increasingly diverse foundation of high-tech companies — the Opportunity Austin 3.0 plan also continues an aggressive focus on hightech business recruitment, local entrepreneurship and commercialization.
On Tuesday, Farmer pointed to several past and recent high-tech company expansions in the area, including Apple and Samsung. Before the first version of Opportunity Austin launched in January 2004, Austin’s job growth ranked 25th among the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas. Since then, Austin has posted the fastest job growth rate, 24.6 percent.
Much of that growth appears poised to continue. Central Texas employers will create almost 60,000 jobs in the next two years, according to a forecast delivered Tuesday by Angelos Angelou, principal of Austin-based Angelou Economics. The area’s population will hit close to 2 million people by the end of 2014, Angelou predicted.
“We have to make sure we keep Austin attractive for relocations as people move out of California,” Scott Harmon, CEO of Noesis Energy and one of Austin’s most successful serial entrepreneurs, said at Angelou’s forecast breakfast. “We want to makes sure we keep our comparative advantage and continue to attract the best and the brightest.”
That underlying tension to remain ahead of the pack emerged as a main theme in almost all the documents prepared for Opportunity Austin 3.0. Farmer and Holladay repeatedly stressed that other cities are zeroing in on Austin’s success and that the region must “guard against complacency.”
Austin will continue to attract new residents, they said. But to handle that growth, while also making sure the region’s quality of life keeps pace with its rapid growth, area employers will have to create jobs for both incoming residents and the thousands of young workers who graduate from local high schools and colleges each year, Farmer said.
“Quality of life starts with a job,” he said. “We’re trying to build a community here … a job at a time.” market improved substantially. It also extended its plan to keep its benchmark short-term rate near zero through at least mid2015. It raised the possibility of taking other steps.
The Fed’s meeting coincides with negotiations between Congress and President Barack Obama over a budget deal to avert the fiscal cliff. The talks are focused on Obama’s push to raise tax rates for the top 2 percent of income earners. Most Republicans are resisting such a move.
Brian Bethune, an economics professor at Gordon College, says he thinks Fed officials this week might discuss what further action they could take if Congress and the administration fail to reach a deal before January and the tax increases and spending cuts take effect.
“We are in unusual times, and that may require an unusual amount of Fed policy actions,” Bethune said.