How Austin's innovation district could evolve

Jan 16, 2015
Austin Business Journal

What if Sematech had stayed in Austin forever

The world-renowned semiconductor consortium that called Austin home until 2010 was an economic powerhouse for its two-plus decades here, generating thousands of jobs, $12 billion in economic activity and giving the city its first huge push in the national economic scene

That kind of business muscle is what's being talked about by local leaders as they look to the northeast section of downtown Austin and the proposed innovation district around the under-construction Dell Medical School

Innovation zones are a hot business and planning concept in major cities that seek to marry academic research, medical know-how, startup companies and major corporations in densely packed urban areas

Focused in the area around 15th and Trinity streets but with an economic spillover that is bound to spread all over downtown, the Austin district is expected to house more than 7,000 jobs and generate $2.7 billion in direct sales when it is complete, according to a study by Pegasus Planning and Development

And unlike Sematech, it would be a permanent fixture that could help Austin grow a strong life sciences economy to go along with its tech, state government and creative economic sectors.

The district was a key conceptual piece of the years-long effort to establish the medical school at the University of Texas, with former Mayor Lee Leffingwell often drawing the Sematech comparison during speeches touting its potential

Leffingwell helped spearhead the creation of the district along with State Sen. Kirk Watson and in late 2013 created an advisory group of more than two dozen members, only a handful of which came from the Austin business community. Those members spent much of 2014 meeting in small groups to gather input and feedback from other local stakeholders but there has been no formal announcement about the results of their work

Thus far the only action taken by the city concerning the district was a December vote by City Council directing City Manager Marc Ott to move ahead with the establishment of the district. The details of how exactly that will be done are sparse

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