Monday, May 7, 2012

May 2012 Engage - Forecasting Austin's Economy and Entrepreneurial Scene

Guest post from Essential Class of 2008 graduate Thom Singer. Read this and other posts from Thom at his blog Some Assembly Required.
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The May 2012 Leadership Austin Engage breakfast was the final in the 2011-12 series, and they ended the year with a BANG.

Economic Forecast: Austin's Challenges and Opportunities

Austin’s economy is as eclectic as its people - driven by major employers, thriving universities, and thousands of small businesses. What are Austin’s current opportunities and real-time economic challenges? How are we attracting new businesses to Austin, and what are we doing to “grow our own?” Recent forecasts indicate that we continue to fare comparatively well, but what are we doing to create long-term viability? Can the “magic” of Austin sustain us in the boom to come?

The panel attacked these topics in their discussion with the sold out crowd and reminded everyone that Austin is the place to be in 2012 and beyond.

Panelists Bijoy Goswami, Angelos Angelou, and Tim Crowley

Panelists:
  • Angelos Angelou - Principal Executive Officer, Angelou Economics
  • Tim Crowley - Regional President, Frost Bank; Opportunity Austin
  • Bijoy Goswami - Founder, Bootstrap Austin; Co-founder, ATXEquation

Below are some nuggets shared by the panel:
  • Not all cities have a unique "vibe," but Austin's has clearly become "Be Yourself." This moniker rings true for people, companies, organizations, festivals, etc... If our city is anything, it is unique and this is attracting interesting and creative people to Central Texas.
  • Austin' economy is doing well. Over 22,000 jobs were created last year (the most of any city of comparable size), and all area of business - except construction - are showing positive growth.
  • The Texas capital is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, and that is not only championed by those who live here, but also those who have come to visit. There are many cities where businesses can thrive, but no other place in the country has the mix of business and fun that permeates Austin. Other cities have "things to do," but there is always something special to do in Austin.
  • The entrepreneurial spirit has existed for many years, but only in the past two or three years has there been an explosion of infrastructure for those who want to start something new. Dozens of organizations have been created to expose people to the social capital side of things. Beyond just money (Austin is on track for nearly $1 Billion in venture capital investment this year), there is a tendency for people to share ideas and assist others in bringing their ideas to reality.
  • The population of Austin has doubled every 20 years since 1900, and there is no sign of that slowing down. The city fathers of decades ago adopted an "if we don't build it... they wont come" philosophy, but the people came anyway. Today we are plagued with transportation issues that need to be addressed, because as more people arrive these issues just get worse.
  • The city, Chamber of Commerce and other economic development organizations are attracting new employers (Apple's new campus is in the news this week), but are also working on retention and helping local companies expand. We cannot lose sight of both sides of this coin, but cannot let the arguments over tax abatement keep Apple (and others) from coming here. Their success will bring jobs and taxes to Austin, and a smaller percent of that success is better than zero. Large companies make their decisions to locate in an area based on several criteria and losing these jobs to places like Phoenix is bad for everyone.
  • We must avoid falling prey to the continuing comparisons to Silicon Valley, as the history of the San Jose area is unique and cannot be replicated. But Austin is also unique and we should embrace our own "story" and stop being concerned with how we are "like" the Silicon Valley.
  • There is also the need to get beyond the focus on technology companies. We need diversity in employers as we do have other business areas that are expanding (including hospitality, business services, medical devices and others). With nearly 1/3 of high school graduates in Central Texas not going to four year colleges, we need to be looking to create jobs for these residents as well. While the high paying, creative class jobs are important, we cannot forget those who do not have college degrees.
  • The outlook for Austin continues to be strong. The inventory of houses for sale is low, and that should spur an uptick in construction very soon. The advice to all was "if you don't own a house, buy one soon!"
  • The "Be Yourself" culture of Austin will continue to serve our community well.  It will attract employers, creative genius, and the national spot light.  Beyond that, it makes Austin a great place to live, work and play.

Thank you to Bijoy, Tim and Angelos (and moderator Robert Hadlock from KXAN) for a thought-provoking and informative discussion.

I appreciate Leadership Austin for the continuing conversations they bring to the Austin Community.  The Engage Speaker Series will kick off again in September 2012.

If you are not an alumni of the Leadership Austin Essential Class, they are currently accepting applications for the Class of 2013. I am a graduate of the Essential Class of 2008... and I can assure you it is one of the best programs I have ever participated in. Find more information at www.leadershipaustin.org.

Have A Great Day.
thom singer

Audio Podcast:

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