How the Austin Region Is Achieving Inclusive Economic Growth (for now)

Posted on 05/18/2017 by Austin Chamber of Commerce

It’s another accolade for the Austin region that reinforces what remains one of the best areas of the country to live, work, and play. A new Brookings Report shows Austin as one of only four metro areas in the United States to achieve "all-encompassing economic growth" from 2010 to 2015 in all major categories: growth in the size of the economy, prosperity through improved productivity and living standards, and inclusion (broad-based opportunity and reduction in economic disparity). The other three metros are Albany, Charleston, and Denver. In September the Chamber plans to lead a 100 person delegation to Denver as part of its InterCity Visit program.

According to Brookings, how and why did Austin do so well?

Growth: Like all 100 metros, Austin achieved growth through increased net job generation, output and net new jobs at young firms. In a related finding, the Chamber's 13-year Opportunity Austin initiative to attract out-of-market companies diversifies the industry base, and remove barriers to job creation at existing local companies has helped make Austin #2 in the Milken Institute annual assessment of the best-performing city of Where American’s Jobs are Created and Sustained.

Prosperity: Like only 30 metros, Austin achieved greater prosperity through enhanced average wages. Last year, Metro Austin had a 4 percent increase in per capita income. And one can look around Austin to see improved schools, entertainment, and dining, parks, direct flights and amenities of a higher standard of living while advancing productivity.

Inclusion: Brookings used employment rates, middle-class wages, and poverty rates to determine that Austin is one of only 11 metros who achieved greater overall inclusion through improved employment, wages, and working poverty for both whites and minorities.

The Austin area is well-known for job generation. After recent studies about Austin's affordability and economic segregation, the city ranked high for inclusive economic growth.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), inclusive growth creates the opportunity for all segments of the population. Below are ways the area has shared its growth:

Broad-based employment: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Austin's employment rate reached 97 percent in mid-2016, before settling in at approximately 96.5 percent.

Lower rates of poverty: Metro Austin's share of people in poverty continued to shrink, from 14.3 percent to 11.7 percent between 2013 and 2015, according to the American Community Survey (ACS) data.

Balanced economic development: For several years, Austin had strong growth in the professional and business service sector (which includes software) as well as middle-wage jobs tied to population growth (like registered nurse and electricians).This is in contrast to boom-related growth in places with few export-related industries.

The inclusive economic growth of the region can be seen through its residents—their economic status, wealth, assets, age, gender, jobs, and the areas citizens choose to dwell in. Yet, although Austin has achieved inclusive economic growth, the city is experiencing increased political and social divisions.

The Brookings Report states that real progress toward inclusive growth requires an informed and intentional approach, one that leverages metropolitan assets around innovation and trade to support sectors that can provide meaningful opportunities for the greatest number of workers. Austin's current and future decision making will play a key role. On a local level, officials should ask themselves how the City of Austin will:

  • revise its economic development policy to ensure attraction of diverse industries
  • ensure zoning and permitting that allows builders to create enough housing supply at varying price points that reduce the double-digit increase in appraised value
  • ensure timely implementation of Proposition 1 transportation dollars so that residents do not endure as long of commutes for employment or traveling throughout the city

On a state level, officials should ask themselves how Texas will:

  • invest in state 'deal closers' like the Texas Enterprise Fund, the Chapter 313 abatement, and the Moving Image Incentive Fund to continue to diversify the state's mix of industries
  • reduce its dependency on local school property taxpayers (in the next two years they will keep $1.3 billion from taxpayers to pay their bills)
  • use $300 billion in liquid assets to invest in small, high-growth companies in the State
  • invest in ideas that will transform industries and grow jobs out of Texas State University, the University of Texas and other research centers
  • improve procurement to speed technological innovation from the lab into government practice

Metro Austin provides 10 percent of the nation’s angel capital to grow small, high growth companies and have become the global taste-maker for innovation, music, and food. On a Federal level, officials should ask themselves how Texas will:

  • preserve trade deals such as NAFTA where 380,000 Texas jobs depend on trade with our closest neighbor Mexico
  • invest in research which leads to increased jobs and innovation
  • ensure that the potential national infrastructure plan does not exclude Texas or the more than 350,000 people who commute to and from the city daily

Societal separation lags not too far behind when you have political division. In Austin, we see this in numerous ways including food deserts. Residents who live in zip codes 78745, 78735, 78747, 78748, 78737, 78739, 78736, 78749 are more likely to experience food insecurity based on higher levels of poverty, low annual median household income, and higher unemployment.

Working together is inclusion and growth at its finest. Our community thrives when there are job opportunities that offer people excellent paying salaries in the city. This allows our residents and families to build and grow from the bottom up not only for their generation but the future as well. Our businesses, entrepreneurs, governmental officials, and community all play a crucial role in the success of this city. We must each do our part to ensure it remains the vibrant city that we all love and call home.

To view more content like this story, sign up for the Chamber’s advocacy newsletter here.


Related Categories: Public Policy