Austin Looks Well Positioned For Future Job Growth

John Rogers > Visualist Images

With the economy in a lukewarm recovery, it appears companies are starting to ramp up hiring efforts. If we look at the broader recovery, it’s easy to get excited about Austin’s momentum. Take a look at the map from Atlantic Cities (below) showing the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Austin ranked number one in job growth (2010-2011) out of 51 U.S. metros with populations of one million people or more. Number two, you ask? San Jose. So what’s behind the growth? And how is Austin positioned for the future? As far as growth, we can start by looking at the creative sector. A recent Statesman piece had details on its impact, highlighting how it pumped more than $4 billion into the local economy in 2010. According to data from Austin-based TXP Inc., that translated to almost 49,000 jobs in 2010 — a 25 percent increase over five years.

That alone makes for a healthy ecosystem, certainly one that can feed other models where knowledge and creativity intersect. Washington DC-based Brookings analyzed population growth and trends since the 2000s, and summarized what’s at stake: “metro areas with diversified, knowledge-based economies are likely to attract and retain population over the long run.”

That’s music to everybody’s ears, not just management consultants and filmmakers. And while the creative sector is a big driver, the diversity and flexibility of Austin’s workforce is perhaps more important. There’s a convergence happening in energy and technology, as well as gaming, enterprise software and media.

Cloud computing is changing software development, digital is spurring media, mobile and content businesses, and energy is being disrupted by alternative fuels and cleaner technology.

Part of what’s happening is a migration from one sector to another. It’s not necessarily a permanent shift, but one that has some advantages.

One example is the IT and semiconductor effect on things like the smartgrid and gaming. Companies are able to draw from a local workforce that has transferable and sought after skills. Large parts of both gaming and the smartgrid are heavily IT-driven, but also require a certain amount of design thinking. It’s that type of scenario that makes Austin attractive for large employers, like one of the biggest around.

Another way to see how Austin stacks up is to look at recent data from LinkedIn and the Council of Economic Advisors. They analyzed the fastest-growing and fastest-shrinking industries since 2007, (below) and the results are telling.

Green jobs continue to have a polarizing effect in political circles, but “Renewables & Environment” had the fastest growth, while newspapers were a strong last. If we map some of the data back to Austin’s creative sector for instance, you’ll see the Internet, online publishing and a few related verticals showed positive growth.

Perhaps the biggest black eye is the restaurant segment, though Austin’s arguably well insulated against too much of a restaurant dip with festivals and the like. And let’s not forget how some of the data correlates to some of Austin’s other anchor industries. Education, energy, and the utilities sector all showed growth nationally. If anything there’s a bit of cushion there as other, more volatile industries fluctuate over time.

Lastly, we can’t forget perceived intangibles. On a sunny and 65 degree day back in February my neighbor described it to me so eloquently. “Who needs fancy industry clusters when you’ve got this?” as both arms reached to the sky.


About George Dearing

George Dearing writes about technology, startups, and sustainability.
He advises clients on strategy and communications. You can follow him on Twitter here