Research, Data, and Analysis Focused on Central Texas
Produced by the Capital Area Council of Governments
Between 2003 and 2013, the Austin-Round Rock MSA saw population grow by over 500,000 people and employment grow by more than 220,000 jobs. For this issue of Data Points, we thought we’d ask the question, “Where did we put all those people?” The maps below show changes in employment and residential densities in the MSA between 2003 and 2013.
Note: For the purposes of the commuting discussion that follows, the Resident Density Maps include only residents that are employed.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, LEHD Program
With respect to jobs, the map highlights the primacy of Travis County in the local economy. The vast majority of employment density falls in Austin-proper, illustrating why so many workers in the region must cross a county line to commute to and from work every day. Looking more closely, though, one can see that employment grew more dense along IH-35, particularly in Hays and Williamson County. Along IH-35, the cities of Kyle, Buda, and Georgetown, as well as the areas around them, show marked increases in job density. In Williamson County specifically, one can also see significant employment density growth in Cedar Park and along Highway 79, which connects Round Rock, Hutto, and Taylor. Looking east from Austin, one can also see job growth taking place in Bastrop County. It is most dense along Highways 71 and 290, but employment density seems to have increased throughout much of the western half of Bastrop County.
The changes in population density follow similar patterns, with high density areas growing near the major highways and freeways in the region. However, while jobs in the region are fairly concentrated, housing is far more spread out. Moderate levels of population density essentially cover all of the suburban or rural areas in the MSA. This view is in line with what CAPCOG has observed throughout the region: Generally speaking, Texans like their space. Mixed-use and multifamily developments are often viewed as common sense features of a downtown space, but individual personal preferences lean heavily toward single-family housing, driving the need to spread residential development across the region.
The Downside? Congestion.
Given this distribution of jobs and population, it is not surprising that the region suffers from congestion issues. Solving that issue will require dramatic gains in one (or more likely, all) of the following areas:
The Upside? An Opportunity for Suburban and Rural Communities
For the communities outside of Austin and along major corridors, the data shown on these maps present a tremendous opportunity. The regions residents have spread out faster and farther than employment has. Put another way, the workers who are helping to fuel the dramatic economic growth the region has seen in recent years either already reside, or are soon to be represented in much larger number, in communities outside of Austin. Several communities, particularly in Williamson and Hays Counties, have already begun to capitalize on this phenomenon by showing prospective companies that a high-skilled workforce already resides in their community, even if it currently commutes to somewhere else.
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Data Points is a blog dedicated to policy and planning issues in the Capital Area of Central Texas. It is produced by staff at the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG).