Samsung's announcement of a $3.6 billion investment in its Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS) plant was the year's biggest news, according to Dave Porter, Senior Vice President of Economic Development for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. SAS will increase the capacity of its 12-inch semiconductor fabrication facility in the city, creating up to 500 permanent jobs.
"This investment, along with the creation of Samsung Austin Semiconductor's first research and development entity this spring, makes the Austin campus a true semiconductor complex and ensures Austin's premier status as a center for semiconductor research and manufacturing," said Dr. W. S. Han, SAS president.
Austin's robust tech work force will fulfill these jobs. According to the Census, the area has the sixth most educated work force in the nation. Porter says its highly educated potential employees are the top reason companies choose to relocate and grow in Austin. Many workers filter into the city's labor pool via the University of Texas at Austin, the state university system's flagship school, which has more than 48,000 students.
While Austin leads today, success didn't happen overnight. The chamber developed Opportunity Austin, a strategic plan to diversify the area's economy, in 2004 after the 2000-2002 tech bust, which impacted Austin's software and semiconductor businesses. Focusing on attracting clean energy companies, life science firms, creative media, and niche headquarters has strengthened Austin's economy. For instance, Hanger Orthopedics moved its headquarters to the city last year, bringing 280 jobs with it. "That's the perfect fit we're looking for," Porter says.
Today, industry group BioAustin represents approximately 100 life sciences companies that employ more than 7,000 people in Austin and central Texas. These businesses span fields from medical device manufacturing to agricultural biology.
Aggressive incentives and business-friendly taxes are just two more reasons why companies locate here. State business taxes are relatively low and local incentives range from tax abatement to public utility incentives and foreign trade zones.
But one of the single most important strategies Austin has implemented is encouraging local CEOs to talk to other executives about the benefits of relocating to the area.
"It's not brain surgery," Porter says. "It just comes down to building relationships."
Looking forward, the chamber is working on the second phase of Opportunity Austin, a five-year plan that runs from 2009-2013. The goal is to attract 117,000 net new jobs that represent a nearly $11 billion wage increase. Based on its success over the past decade, Austin is poised to continue its economic ascent.