Report: Austin’s advanced-industry growth fastest in U.S. since 1980

Feb 3, 2015
Austin American Statesman

The rapid growth of high-tech and other advanced industries transformed many of the country’s metro-area economies over the past three decades, but no metro changed as quickly as Austin, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution


Since 1980, when Central Texas featured a staid economy based primarily on higher education and state government, the area’s high-tech and other research-intensive industries have boomed, adding jobs and expanding their output at rates faster than any of the country’s 100 largest metro areas, according to the Brookings Institution study of 50 advanced industries


Local employment in those industries, which include anything from computer system design to motor vehicle parts manufacturing, grew at an annual rate of 4.5 percent from 1980 to 2013, the report said. Output exploded at a 9.9 percent annual rate over that span


Austin maintained its momentum in recent years as well, the report said, with the area’s 2010-2013 job and output growth rates both ranking among the top 10 nationally


“Austin wasn’t built primarily on firm attraction. That’s what’s interesting,” said Mark Muro, a policy director and fellow at the organization’s Metropolitan Policy Program


Instead, a leading research university, a strong workforce, an entrepreneurial ecosystem and an attractive quality of life helped drive the area’s rapid transformation, Muro said


As for 2013, local employers in Brookings’ 50 advanced industries provided more than 106,000 jobs – roughly 12 percent of all the jobs in the metro area, the report said. Those workers brought in average earnings of $103,950, almost double the average earnings in all industries


Those workers helped produce $24.1 billion of output in 2013, the report said, accounting for almost a quarter of the regional economy and good for the eighth-highest share in the country


The current figures were consistent with previous analyses of the Central Texas tech economy. In a 2013 study for the Austin Technology Council, local economic development consultant Brian Kelsey found that the area’s tech-specific industries accounted for roughly 21 percent of the region’s economic output and 9 percent of its job base


At the time, Kelsey said Austin had maintained a strong advantage in its existing tech industries while starting to develop new areas of expertise


The Brookings report underscored that point. Muro and his colleagues looked at location quotients—essentially, the concentration of industry activity in an area versus the country as a whole —and found that Austin had a very high measure in 11 different industries


Such diversity could help shield Austin from the disruptions that can sweep through advanced industries, he said. However, the report urged both the public and private sector to heighten its investments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to insure a sufficient pool of talent to fill these high- and middle-skill jobs – an issue consistently raised by many of the area’s tech companies and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce


In its most recent monthly analysis of online job openings, the chamber again found that many of the 10 most common openings required computer and programming skills. Six of the 10 occupations in highest demand fell into the advanced industries studied by the Brookings report



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