by Mike Parker
This article was originally published in the Austin American Statesman.
Pflugerville is home to more veterans than other similar cities, its residents are more prone to register original patents and most work outside city limits.
Those are only some of the numerous data revealed in a recently finished city economic strategic plan. The Pflugerville Community Development Corporation, a semi-autonomous entity that acts as the city’s economic arm, funded the in-depth plan that will set its agenda over the next three years.
The city corporation in July 2016 contracted with Austin-based Avalanche Consulting to create the document, which took several months of work and meetings with stakeholders. The consulting group compiled data from multiple sources like the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to offer an up-to-date, holistic snapshot of the city’s economy.
A major focal point of the plan is a list of goals spanning three years for the city corporation and city staff as they work toward increasing local economic prosperity.
City Councilman Doug Weiss, who acts as a council liaison on the city corporation board, said the ambitious plan offers a roadmap for both city officials and stakeholders.
“The strategic plan should be — barring any changes made at any individual time — what we want our staff to spend their time on,” he said. “It’s a very wide-ranging plan and gets a lot of people involved.”
Tony DeLisi, the Avalanche consultant who helped oversee the project, said a 50-member steering committee played a pivotal role in creating the plan. The committee involved representatives of various community groups and organizations, including former and current mayors Jeff Coleman and Victor Gonzales, Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, Pflugerville Chamber of Commerce CEO Patricia Gervan-Brown and Pflugerville Rotary Club member Janice Heath.
“There is a really engaged community here,” DeLisi said. “Pflugerville is diverse, and we wanted to make sure we had people who represented the community.”
The plan puts local economic data against Austin, Central Texas, state and national numbers, as well as six “benchmark” cities: Plano; Sugar Land; Indian Trail, N.C.; Broomfield, Colorado; Hendersonville, Tennessee; and Tigard, Oregon.
Among one of several takeaways in the plan is that 93 percent of residents work outside city limits, and 85 percent of local jobs are filled by non-residents. The majority of those commuting outside of Pflugerville head to Austin or Round Rock.
According to an analysis of the city workforce, 25,875 local workers live within city limits, while 12,150 — fewer than half — live outside the city.
DeLisi said while some might find that percentage of commuters high, it is very common among cities neighboring dense metropolitan areas like Austin.
“People are choosing to live in Pflugerville because they want to live there and not because of the jobs they may get there, at least for now,” he said.
City corporation Executive Director Amy Madison said she sees that high percentage as a challenge to reverse the commute.
“I think we have the capability; we have a talented workforce,” she said. “We need to bring companies to help (commuters) potentially have a choice.”
The assessment also points to a high number of patents coming from locals — even higher than Austin per capita. City residents registered 134 patents in 2015 — more than twice the highest number among the benchmark cities listed in the plan.
Madison said the number of patents is a “headliner” for the city as it showcases residents’ ingenuity and personal drive.
The city unemployment rate is 2.5 percent, the plan shows, which is lower than Austin’s rate of 2.9 percent and 4.2 percent statewide. While DeLisi called that percentage “scary good,” it could reveal a potential workforce shortage.
“The economy has done well over the past five years. We’ve healed from the recession,” he said. “But now we’re struggling to grow as fast as we want to grow.”
Pflugerville is also home to a higher population of veterans — comprising 12 percent of the total population compared to 7.8 percent in the Austin metro area and 8.2 percent statewide. Weiss said the statistic is not surprising, noting that the local Kerlin-Lyerly American Legion post is very active and service-oriented.
Construction is playing a major role in city economic growth, both for current and forecasted jobs in the near future. The number of regional retail and entertainment jobs in Pflugerville is also higher than the national average.
The leading job category by far within the city is hospitality, which includes food and culinary positions and hotel and motel staff. The second-leading occupation is construction, with 460 new jobs created over the past five years.
The analysis estimates job increases in the hospitality industry to continue, with 373 more projected through 2021.
Other jobs that listed high in local jobs were back office (e.g., information, office administration and finance), production (e.g., assembly and machinery) and computer-related jobs (e.g., software and technical support).
Due to a large population of available workers in the city, the analysis shows an imbalance of available jobs within city limits. Looking at 2014, health care and social assistance industries had the highest imbalance of 2,515 extra workers compared to what jobs are available in Pflugerville. DeLisi said those numbers are important, since most residents would prefer shorter work commutes.
The analysis also delves into local residents’ wages and how they match with the same professions in Round Rock and Austin. While most match up closely, education salaries are as much as $10,000 less annually — $40,000 instead of $50,000 in Austin — than others in the region.
The Pflugerville school district recently approved staff salary increases to offset that wage gap, bringing starting teacher salaries to $46,000 annually.
Data presented in the first chapter of the strategic plan lays the foundation for the three-year action plan. The extensive list consists of nearly a hundred goals, from strengthening partnerships and communication with governmental entities to building awareness of the city on the national and global stage.
The action plan also includes more concrete goals like developing or assisting in “shovel-ready” city properties and attracting a full-service hospital.
Madison said the action plan will spur discussion on the city corporation’s next course of action as the 130 Commerce Center reaches complete buildout. The years-long commercial project at Texas 130 and Pecan Street has been the city corporation’s main economic engine, enticing two hotels and large businesses like Cortec, Flooring Services Southwest and FedEx.
“There is a lot of opportunity on (the Texas) 130 corridor for investors and developers alike,” she said. “We’re hoping to have a hand in making sure that’s being done sooner than later.”
While Madison said the action plan will mean long work hours and require a strong commitment, the focused approach will greatly benefit the city and its residents.
“It is challenging, but that’s why you do it. You can’t meet goals until you set them,” she said.
A snapshot of Pflugerville’s economy
An economic strategic plan created by Avalanche Consulting and overseen by a citizen steering committee reveals characteristics of the city’s economy that make it unique among others.
– The city grew by 17.3 percent from 2010-15.
– The city’s population reached 57,122 in 2015.
– 24,005 people (93 percent) live in the city but work outside the city.
– 10,276 people who work in the city commute to work from outside city limits.
– 1,863 people live and work in the city.
– Local residents registered 134 patents in 2015 — more per capita than Austin.
– The city unemployment rate is 2.5 percent, compared to 2.9 percent in Austin and 4.2 percent statewide.