‘CNN Money’ ranks five Texas counties in top 10
An August ranking of Williamson County on CNN Money’s “Where the jobs are” list, which identified the top 25 counties in the nation that have had high-job growth rates, was not a surprise to many economic development officials throughout the area.
The county earned the No. 3 slot and was one of five Texas counties—all in the top 10—on the list.
“I think all of the economic development directors in the [county] have spent a lot of time and hard work on creating an environment that is conducive to new businesses moving and expanding in the area,” said Phil Brewer, economic development director for Cedar Park. “We’ve created a very pro-business environment out here.”
Williamson County’s job growth from 2000–11 was 73.8 percent, according to the listing.
“The city and the business community understand prosperity and quality of life begin with job creation,” said Doug Kurkel, Round Rock Chamber of Commerce president.
CNN Money’s listing attributed incentives for companies from cities throughout the county and low property taxes as reasons for Williamson County’s job growth rate.
“In terms of Williamson County and Round Rock, we are very blessed to be a great location to do business,” Kurkel said. “It’s attributable to the community’s pro-business focus.”
Doing business in WilCo
Although there is no Williamson County–wide economic development program, each community has developed its own strategy for attracting and keeping businesses.
“I think there is always a combination of reasons why or criteria that [businesses] look at [when moving to a community],” Brewer said, adding that it would be difficult to say any particular company moved to Cedar Park because of an individual program.
Brewer said he works with companies to identify their specific needs and then finds a way to meet those needs, and although each city is working to bring business to its community, area economic developers recognize the need to collaborate.
“I find it real interesting that while we do compete on projects, it’s a very cooperative competition, and at the end of the day, we are still friends,” Brewer said. “I think the feeling is if we are successful on a project, everyone around benefits.”
In Cedar Park and Leander, economic developers worked together to create a Triple Freeport Tax Exemption, meaning the school district, city and county waive the tax on certain business inventories.
While other factors may have helped, Brewer credits the Triple Freeport Exemption with helping keep Fallbrook Technologies in the community. The company recently expanded and is expected to add 70–75 new jobs and invest about $5.5 million in capital investment into Cedar Park.
Georgetown Economic Development Director Mark Thomas said his focus during the recession has been business retention because a majority of job growth comes from companies already located in the community.
“To ignore them is kind of at your own peril,” he said, adding that most of the major projects he has worked on recently have been retention and expansions.
Thomas said his most recent retention project involved nonprofit health care provider Lone Star Circle of Care, which was looking outside of Georgetown for space for its headquarters.
The nonprofit that started with two people in 2003 now has more than 400 people on staff, he said.
“This is a major employer now within walking distance of the downtown Square,” Thomas said. “We very much want to work with them to keep them here and help them grow because really what they’re doing, there is no limit to how big they can grow.”
Population drives jobs
John Rees, Capital Area Council of Governments economic development program manager, said part of the county’s job growth could be attributed to the county’s population growth. Williamson County was the second-fastest growing county in the state and the ninth in the nation, according to the 2010 census.
“We are now, in Round Rock, the second-fastest growing city in the U.S., according to the 2010 census, and that has a big role in helping to drive population growth in Williamson County,” Kurkel said. “We are No. 2, and Austin is No. 3. That growth is regionwide.”
Others in Williamson County also point to Austin as a driver for economic growth in Williamson County.
“The biggest asset we have is directly to our south. It’s Austin,” Brewer said. “Not every company that comes to the Austin area necessarily has to be in Austin.”
According to CNN Money, “The rapid development of nearby Austin has spurred the growth of so-called ‘super suburbs’ like Williamson County’s Round Rock and Cedar Park, where affordable housing, cultural offerings and numerous parks and trails win points with young families.”
Cultural offerings such as The Dell Diamond in Round Rock, the Cedar Park Center and Georgetown’s downtown Square help attract people to the area and are a good draw to businesses who want a great place for their employees to live, Thomas said.
“We’ve got quality schools, safe neighborhoods; we are the Sports Capital of Texas; we have Triple-A baseball and destination retail,” Kurkel said. “We have a complete package here.”