Economic incentive changes could bring more middle-skill jobs to east Austin

February 22, 2017

This is an article originally published on the KXAN website.

By Kylie McGiven

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Chamber has unveiled an agenda meant to improve the city’s affordability, ranging from housing needs to permitting and building a skilled workforce. Mayor Steve Adler says access to economic opportunity is another important piece, one an “Economic Incentives Reform Resolution” hopes to tackle, by meeting people where they’re at, connecting jobs with communities in need.

Council members Ellen Troxclair, Ora Houston, Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler plan to introduce the resolution next week.

What’s known as the Eastern Crescent, including portions of neighborhoods in the central East Austin, Colony Park, Del Valle, Dove Springs, Montopolis and Rundberg areas, is where the city aims to focus its efforts, incentivizing middle-skill jobs. These are jobs beyond high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree.

“I’ve definitely met quite a few people that don’t have college degrees that have to find entry level positions in other fields,” Jon Bolden, who lives in east Austin told KXAN. The positions are often in other parts of town, adding to the burden of transportation costs. “They’ve found that they usually have to drive pretty far away.”

Amy Holloway, President & CEO of Avalanche Consulting, says Austin has a wide diversity of jobs beyond the tech community. She tells KXAN many people may not realize the jobs are out there, naming manufacturing, healthcare and public service. But here’s the issue: “What we see is a disconnect between the people who can fill those jobs and where the jobs are located.”

Drew Scheberle, senior president of Policy & Advocacy for the Austin Chamber, says that’s what city council’s resolution aims — and needs to address.

“The chamber is concerned that our job creation has slowed significantly. For almost four years we were growing between 4-5 percent job growth and that has dropped now to 1.9 percent – just in the last year,” Scheberle said, adding that the city still has more than 30,000 people unemployed. Most, he says, lack an associate’s degree.

“Just being able to target certain parts of the city. We just don’t have an economic opportunity that helps attract those kids of companies. We haven’t had one in three years and we really need to do that now,” Scheberle told KXAN.

Another important piece is to support job training and paid internships.

“It’s not just about where we’re incentivizing jobs to locate in our community but it’s also making sure that there’s educational programs in close vicinity to those jobs and those people so that they can connect to education and the jobs as well. Without the educational component, it’s all for not,” Holloway said.

A Community Workforce Master Plan has a goal to secure “middle-skill jobs” for 10,000 economically disadvantaged people in Travis County by 2022.