By Lee Leffingwell, Mayor
If the topic is the economy, Austin has a good story to tell.
We have the distinction of sitting on top of many “best of” lists. Kiplinger’s Best City for the Next Decade. Forbes’ Biggest Boom Town in the U.S. Fox Business’ Best City for Business. ABC News’ Best Place to Retire. The list of lists goes on.
These rankings are no accident; we’ve worked hard to makeAustinone of the most desirable places to live in the world. I’ve said many times before that a good quality of life begins with a good job.
In Austin, we’re blessed to start with a strong base of education and government. We’re home to five colleges and universities, one of which is the fifth largest in the U.S. We’re also home to more than 60,000 state employees and 12,000 city employees, who not only have stable jobs, but contribute significantly to our local tax base.
Our unemployment rate has stayed consistently below our state and national averages.Austinis about a point below Texas’ unemployment rate and about two points below that of theUnited States.
I’m especially proud of our progress in helping bring good new jobs toAustin– as well as helping our current local businesses grow. Our highly talented and qualified workforce is very attractive to local and national businesses alike, whether it’s for blue, green or white collar jobs.
We put a deliberate focus on promoting growth in sectors that we believe play to Austin’s strengths. For example, we focused on growing our new media sector, and brought Facebook to Austin. We focused on life sciences, and brought Hanger Orthopedic. And we focused on renewable energy, and brought Sunpower to Austin. These are good new jobs for Austinites in sectors that we believe will continue to expand, and drive ongoing growth in our local economy.
We’ve been successful at bringing these folks to Austin by working with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the State of Texas in coordinated and collaborative ways. Occasionally we use incentives, but we always make sure they are cash positive for our taxpayers and that the jobs created are well-paying with good benefits for our workforce. In just the last year and a half, 15,000 private sector jobs have been created inAustin.
We have our share of major corporations in Austin – Samsung, Dell, Whole Foods, Texas Instruments and many, many more – but they don’t tell the whole story.
In Austin, small business is big business. We’ve also been focused on helping small local businesses, which is where the majority of our jobs actually are. The iconic “Keep Austin Weird” slogan is actually the mantra created by our small businesses.
Last year, we held a Small Local Business Summit, and identified several dozen ways in which business owners believe the city could be doing a better job of helping them succeed. We’re now in the process of implementing many of those ideas, and we’re always looking for more ways that we can help ensure good small business jobs for Austinites.
Elevate Austin, housed within the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, emerged from the Summit and serves as the umbrella strategy program for the city to work directly with small business owners and entrepreneurs. Ideas such as incentivizing small business development, streamlining our permitting process, enhancing vendor experiences and improving customer service via outreach and communication were at the top of the list.
For example, opening in the spring of 2012 will be a state-of-the-art EntrepreneurCenter, a fully-equipped training center with classes, counseling, space and technology that can house over 50 small business owners. The city also recently launched Vendor Connection, a website that allows vendors to view detailed information about current city business opportunities, create subscriber accounts to receive specific solicitations, and download solicitation documents. These are just a couple highlights we’ve started with.
And finally, the creative and music industries also have a huge role in our economy – not only for the talent they have produced, but also for the tourism dollars they bring to our city. The Austin City Limits Music Festival, South by Southwest and a host of other events and venues bring in over $250 million on an annual and sustainable basis. In addition to being the Live Music Capitol of the World, we have also had success fostering the film and gaming industries. Our creative community is as strong as any.
And speaking of tourism, jobs are being created there, too. In order to help boost the ease of visiting our city and planning major events here, we have several new hotels in various stages of planning or construction. This includes two 1,000+ room hotels that will boost our capacity to host large conventions and in the process, create jobs in construction and hospitality.
During my term as mayor, I’ve made it my mission to work directly with folks at the top of their industries. I believe this has gone a long way to empower our community leaders to have a strong stake in the direction our economy goes.
I intend to continue to work closely with our local leaders, and our entire community, throughout my tenure as mayor with the ultimate goal of leavingAustinbetter than I found it.
Lee Leffingwell is a native of Austin and graduated from the University of Texas. After college, Mayor Leffingwell became an officer and pilot in the U.S. Navy, then a commercial pilot with Delta Air Lines. Lee became Mayor in 2009.