Op­por­tu­nity Austin 3.0 is set

Cham­ber’s new plan aims to spread eco­nomic success to more res­i­dents.

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By Dan Zehr dzehr@states­man.com

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.

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