Spur more job cre­ation by drop­ping wage floor

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - Farmer is chair of Op­por­tu­nity Austin, the Greater Austin Cham­ber of Com­merce’s five-year eco­nomic devel­op­ment ini­tia­tive.

You

can’t man­date pros­per­ity. You can, how­ever, pro­vide op­por­tu­nity. Op­por­tu­nity for fam­i­lies to sup­port them­selves, for our chil­dren to be ed­u­cated, for busi­nesses of all sizes to pros­per. All this and more is ac­com­plished when we pro­vide op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to be em­ployed and to move for­ward with a ca­reer. For our com­mu­nity to be suc­cess­ful, we must be­gin with the un­der­ly­ing premise that qual­ity of life be­gins with a job. And not only jobs for some, but work for ev­ery­one.

The Greater Austin Cham­ber is about build­ing the com­mu­nity, cre­at­ing a gath­er­ing re­gional econ­omy. Our con­sis­tent mes­sage is jobs for fam­i­lies, re­turn for tax­pay­ers and accountability for cor­po­ra­tions that re­ceive pub­lic in­vest­ment.

The pro­posed changes to the City’s Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment In­cen­tive Pol­icy will be a moot point for com­pa­nies seek­ing to hire highly ed­u­cated soft­ware engi­neers with six-fig­ure salaries. But con­sider this: the Austin City Coun­cil is head­ing in a di­rec­tion where a com­pany will not be el­i­gi­ble for in­cen­tives if even one job falls be­low $11 an hour. Re­cently, HID Global and U.S. Farathane chose Austin and col­lec­tively will bring more than 500 jobs to our re­gion. Many of those jobs in­clude po­si­tions that re­quire only a high school de­gree, a GED, or less. Those com­pa­nies are pro­vid­ing a path­way to pros­per­ity for those in our com­mu­nity with­out ad­vanced de­grees. The firms will pro­vide ben­e­fits and tuition re­im­burse­ments and will al­low em­ploy­ees to cre­ate a work record — whether to ad­vance at that com­pany or ap­ply to an­other. Com­pletely dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies with the same net re­sult: jobs at ev­ery level of the eco­nomic spec­trum.

Th­ese were at-risk op­por­tu­ni­ties. The com­pa­nies clearly stated that with­out the in­cen­tives, they could not have cho­sen Austin. This is the harsh re­al­ity of post-re­ces­sion eco­nomic devel­op­ment: we must com­pete in a bru­tally com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment.

Let’s be clear: In­cen­tives are not a sil­ver bul­let. They are just one tool in a busi­ness at­trac­tion tool kit that in­cludes our busi­ness cli­mate, our work force, and our stan­dard of liv­ing. When it comes to in­cen­tives, it is help­ful to fo­cus on what we get when we get a big win. When our in­cen­tive stan­dards are met and a com­pany re­lo­cates or ex­pands here, we are im­port­ing wealth to the en­tire re­gion. Ev­ery new or ex­panded com­pany spurs job cre­ation and cre­ates busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties for other lo­cal

We are one of Amer­ica’s first cities to come out of the re­ces­sion, and while it was hard for many of us, it could have been a lot worse.

com­pa­nies.

And we need job cre­ation. The un­em­ploy­ment rate in Cen­tral Texas still ex­ceeds our pre-re­ces­sion rate, which is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able. If the “wage floor” be­comes a re­quire­ment for in­cen­tives, we’ll be cut­ting out thou­sands of po­ten­tial jobs for those who need them the most.

We are one of Amer­ica’s first cities to come out of the re­ces­sion, and while it was hard for many of us, it could have been a lot worse. Let us not for­get that for those with­out job op­por­tu­ni­ties, it is still hard.

An­other is­sue of con­cern is the “lo­cal hires” re­quire­ment. Forc­ing a com­pany to hire only peo­ple who live within the city or county lim­its will only pit one Cen­tral Texas city against an­other. This is con­trary to ev­ery­thing for which the Greater Austin Cham­ber stands. A pol­icy that forces an em­ployer to dis­crim­i­nate based on an ad­dress goes against ev­ery­thing we work to ac­com­plish to­gether as a re­gion.

What mat­ters most to the Cham­ber is de­vel­op­ing a ro­bust econ­omy and strong com­mu­nity for decades to come. That means al­low­ing com­pa­nies to cre­ate the widest pos­si­ble range for job op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s sim­ple: with­out a va­ri­ety of jobs across the wage scale to ac­com­mo­date all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment, there will be no way for­ward for those most vul­ner­a­ble in our pop­u­la­tion. Our eco­nomic devel­op­ment poli­cies must be flex­i­ble and com­pet­i­tive to wel­come busi­nesses that of­fer di­verse wages. Ty­ing the hands of our lead­ers guar­an­tees that the op­por­tu­nity for job cre­ation will go else­where and that those who need help most will see their po­ten­tial for success de­nied.

Work­ing to­gether, the Greater Austin re­gion will con­tinue to at­tract com­pa­nies which cre­ate all man­ner of jobs, spurring growth and in­vest­ment in Cen­tral Texas. And that’s what com­mu­nity is all about.

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