Home ยป 'Lots of jobs need to be filled' in Austin as local economy booms – Austin American-Statesman

'Lots of jobs need to be filled' in Austin as local economy booms – Austin American-Statesman

by Arifa Rana

It doesn’t require an advanced degree in economics to deduce one of the key takeaways from what has been a deluge of corporate relocations and expansions in the Austin metro area over the past few years.
Namely, it’s a great time to look for a job here.
Austin has been the best-performing major metro area in the country in terms of recovering and exceeding its pre-pandemic employment levels, according to federal statistics compiled by the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
The number of people working in the region in February was up 6.3% — or by 71,500 — compared with February 2020, just before the coronavirus sent business activity into a deep freeze nationwide and triggered widespread layoffs, the figures show. The Dallas area, with a 4.7% gain in jobs, was in second place among the Top 50 U.S. metro areas over that time.
The trend has dropped Austin’s unemployment rate to near pre-pandemic levels, even though the local labor force has swelled significantly as people have flocked to the area.
“It’s been the same refrain — people are still moving here and it is still very much a desirable place to be,” said Matt Patton, an economist with Austin-based Angelou Economics. “Then you add on recent announcements by companies like Tesla and Samsung, and now we’ve got rumblings going on in Hutto about expansion there” by tech firm Applied Materials.
The upshot is “there are going to be lots of jobs that need to be filled” for the foreseeable future, Patton said.
Unadjusted for seasonal factors, the local unemployment rate came in at 3.3% in February, putting it within striking distance of its 2.6% level in the same month two years ago despite the addition of nearly 91,000 workers to the regional labor force since then. The unemployment rate in the Austin metro area — which includes Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties — had shot up to 11.2% in April 2020 amid the initial shock of the coronavirus before beginning to recover.
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A string of major economic development wins just before and during the pandemic have helped the region regain its economic footing and elevated its profile nationally.
They include electric automaker Tesla’s new $1.1 billion Travis County factory that started production in December, as well as the company’s decision last October to relocate its headquarters here.
In addition, chipmaker Samsung said in November that it will build a $17 billion manufacturing plant in Taylor, a Williamson County suburb of Austin, while software giant Oracle announced in December 2020 that it was moving its corporate headquarters to Austin. Apple, meanwhile, is nearing completion of a $1 billion corporate campus in North Austin that it announced in late 2018.
Applied Materials, a top supplier of equipment and services to the global semiconductor industry, might join that list of prominent names over the next few months. The company has said it’s considering Hutto, another suburb of Austin that’s in Williamson County, for a possible $2.4 billion research and development facility.
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Tesla and Apple — which have been advertising hundreds of job openings in Austin — have already entered what has been a scramble by local employers to hire enough workers amid the region’s stretched labor force. But even companies that have merely announced projects without beginning to hire for them yet are affecting the local job market, experts say.
“If you are an employer and you look on the horizon and see there is going to be competition (for skilled labor in your industry), you want to do everything you can to keep those workers,” said Tamara Atkinson, CEO of Workforce Solutions Capital Area.
“It’s simple supply and demand,” she said. “Employers are really having to get creative.”
Atkinson said she doesn’t recall a time when local employers seeking to hire or retain workers have been more willing to negotiate around issues such as salary, bonus, flexible scheduling and opportunities for training and career advancement. She has headed the regional workforce agency for about five years but said she’s been involved in workforce development in the Austin area for more than two decades.
“I have never seen a situation like we have now,” Atkinson said.
Patton, of Angelou Economics, said the flood of new and expanding businesses in the region — and the influx of people moving here and requiring housing and other infrastructure — has been reverberating throughout the local economy and fueling demand for many different categories of workers.
“In an indirect way, (even the announcements of new projects) affects things right now” in the job market because it takes time to prepare for them, he said.
He pointed to homebuilders as an example, saying more skilled construction workers are needed in anticipation of new residents even though “we already have a shortage of teams that are able to build housing” for current demand.
While Austin’s economy was also hitting on all cylinders just before the pandemic struck, Patton said the growth is different now in that it’s transforming a number of suburban areas outside of the city that didn’t participate significantly in prior booms.
Likewise, Atkinson said it’s a great time for residents throughout the region to do the same — by acquiring the skills necessary to obtain better-paying jobs that are more fulfilling and have greater opportunities for career advancement.
She urged people to contact her agency, which works with local companies as well as Austin Community College and multiple nonprofit organizations to provide services such as skills training and access to paid internships and scholarship money.
“There has never been a better time to train for your future,” Atkinson said. “Between Austin Community College and the nonprofits we have in this community, there are more programs with more seats and more scholarship funds” than ever before.

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