Tech's Impact On Austin
Tech accounts for 20% of the Austin economy, with 100,000 employees, Austin Technology Council vice chair Lynn Atchison says. And it’s “absolutely still growing,” projected to add 3,000 jobs a year for the next decade. Those aren’t all software engineers; Lynn says as tech companies grow, they add lots of types of talent. Tech was a big focus at Bisnow’s Austin state of the market event, where Lynn (pictured here with Southwest Strategies Group's Mike Wiley) spoke.
Tech isn’t all a Downtown story. Brandywine Realty Trust EVP Bill Redd (here with Solomon Cordwell Buenz’s Clara Wineberg) says it’s a myth that all Millennials live or want to live Downtown; only about 13% of Austin’s young professionals do. Connectivity is really what they’re after, which can be found in a walkable, amenity-laden suburban project. (That’s why the city is encouraging growth via “centers.”) Lynn, a former HomeAway exec, can attest to that—HomeAway’s 1,000 employees were spread out across the metro. Its solution was a distributed workforce with its 200k SF of office spread across Downtown, South Congress and the Domain, with a shuttle (with WiFi!) running among them multiple times a day. Besides hitting more of its employees, it’s hard to find 200k SF contiguous anyway.
Sam agrees; he’s got three Millennial daughters and says they’ll start having kids and will move to the best school districts. He says education is what got well-off Millennials where they are, so they’ll value it strongly. He expects in about five years, we’ll see residents flow back to the suburbs. Tech companies’ influx into Austin is creating some problems, he says. Those companies are much denser than typical office users, which strains electrical, plumbing and parking. (The average parking requirement is 3 or 4:1,000, but tech often wants 6:1,000.) The Domain won’t even allow parking above 4:1,000, which is creating friction.
Sam’s second from the right here here with the rest of the tech/office/transportation panel: Greenberg Traurig shareholder Carey Venditti, Momark Development president Terry Mitchell, Lynn, Austin chief of staff John-Michael Cortez, Bill, and VTS Southeast regional director Rhett Miller.
Rhett (here talking to Honest Buildings’ Frank Hartmann) says other tech-heavy cities VTS is in don’t drive the way Austin is, and that’s becoming a problem as Austin grows. But there are trends cutting down on car use, Bill says, a plus for developers since parking is so expensive to build. Uber and driverless cars could reduce parking load. (Sam plans to send his driverless car off to Uber while he’s at work.)
Mixed-use development is also helping; our moderator Carey (snapped with CohnReznick partner Mike Celkis) says these projects increase congestion around them, but ease regional transportation issues. Terry is already seeing that impact in Downtown—most households take 10 car trips a day, but Downtown is around three. John-Michael says that’s because only 20% of car travel is commuting, the rest is picking up the kids, grabbing groceries, going to see a movie, etc. If much of that is happening in a walkable environment, it majorly reduces auto load overall.