Opportunity Austin

In the early 2000s Austin was not doing very well economically. The city was shedding jobs and losing semiconductor fabrication plants, and was very clearly headed in the wrong direction. The city realized that it had to take some very positive steps to embrace the situation to create a plan that they could create a burgeoning economy with, and that plan became Opportunity Austin. The regional business community saw the writing on the wall and decided to invest $14.4 million with the goal of increasing the regional payroll to the tune of $2.9 billion in five years. So what exactly was Opportunity Austin? In short, it was an economic development initiative aimed at fostering job-creating investment in the Central Texas region. But it became more than that and succeeded far beyond all expectations.

The humble proponents of the plan will say that it’s always been about the people and making sure that they have quality jobs so they can then provide for their families, have pride and dignity, and be more fully engaged in the community. With an estimated 319,200 new jobs and a payroll increase of $17.5 billion, they can pretty much say whatever they want.

These efforts resulted in over 250 announcements of companies locating or expanding to the region including Apple, Facebook, Hanger Orthopedic, Legalzoom, Samsung and HID Global. And it is this incredible industry relocation that has turned Austin into the economically diverse and unstoppable powerhouse it is today.

Despite the considerable amount of organic growth in the city, Opportunity Austin has provided a channel for inorganic growth that has really fueled industry relocation and economic diversity. By focusing on the most recently completed cycle of the Opportunity Austin initiative from 2011 to 2015, the results paint a pretty conclusive picture on the success of the program.

Even considering the dips in the data, the rate of growth has been tremendous. Not only have businesses been relocating to the city at an alarming rate, but entirely new industries have been added to the roster. While some industries have been a focus from the beginning such as creative media, green industries, and corporate headquarters, others have become new focuses for the program such as life sciences, data management, and advanced manufacturing. The newest initiative of Opportunity Austin has even started targeting space technology.

In 8 and a half years the city of Austin has used 12 public investments to recruit big name companies like Apple, Facebook, Ebay/Paypal, and Legalzoom. Dallas, in the same period of time has had 92 public investments and San Antonio has had 47. The city has been very selective with the use of public investments and every deal they’ve done has been cash positive just based on direct investment, direct return, and direct cost. The cost of the program and the addition of all these new companies to the Central Texas region are essentially not costing the taxpayer or the city any money, completely the opposite, they’re making money.

Since its inception the program has been all about the economy, talent, and the city itself. Opportunity Austin will leverage the data and results gathered from the program and make the next phase of the economic initiative smarter and stronger and it will continue to do so for as long as it feels a competitive spirit. The initiative may have started out of a fear of falling behind, but that is no longer the case. Results from the program show the city as being so far ahead of its initial goal that Opportunity Austin seems to be continuing not out of necessity, but out of sheer curiosity in the ability of this region to grow exponentially.

Martha Smiley from the firm ENOCH KEVER sums up the current state of the Central Texas region perfectly: “Growth is not the enemy. The enemy is permitting growth to occur without planning, without thought, without preparation, and without commitment to preserving the things that we love.” Now the question seems to be whether the region can continue to support this growth and continue to flourish, or if it will figuratively fly too close to the sun and collapse under the weight of its hopes and expectations.

Martha Smiley from the firm ENOCH KEVER sums up the current state of the Central Texas region perfectly: “Growth is not the enemy. The enemy is permitting growth to occur without planning, without thought, without preparation, and without commitment to preserving the things that we love.” Now the question seems to be whether the region can continue to support this growth and continue to flourish, or if it will figuratively fly too close to the sun and collapse under the weight of its hopes and expectations.