Research, Data, and Analysis Focused on Central Texas
Produced by the Capital Area Council of Governments
As the Capital Area works to address challenges related to middle-skill and middle-wage jobs, Data Points is taking a close look at the manufacturing sector, one of the key historical sources of those jobs throughout the country.
The History of Manufacturing in Travis County
Those job gains have come in across a wider range of manufacturing sectors, helping to diversify manufacturing employment beyond electronics and semiconductors.
And while total employment has declined precipitously from its peak in 2000, the number of manufacturing establishments has largely stabilized near peak levels. Following employment trends, establishments in Travis County are growing more diverse, operating in sectors ranging from food and beverage manufacturing (108 establishments in 2013) to fabricated metal and machinery manufacturing (132 establishments in 2013).
Outlook for the Future of Manufacturing in the Capital Area
Turning from history to the future, how will manufacturing in our region continue to evolve? How will dynamics like rapid population growth, the rising price of land, and an increasingly diverse economy shape the region’s goods producing sectors? We may not have all the answers yet, but there are several interesting factors to consider.
First, the increasingly regional nature of the local economy has been a boon for manufacturing opportunities. While manufacturing of semiconductors and electronics components has declined in Travis County, it has blossomed in the rest of the MSA. Between 2001 and 2016 the First, the increasingly regional nature of the local economy has been a boon for manufacturing opportunities. While manufacturing of semiconductors and electronics components has declined in Travis County, it has blossomed in the rest of the MSA. Between 2001 and 2016 the number of jobs in that sector in the rest of the MSA grew from just under 3,000 to about 7,750—an increase of about 161%. Overall, manufacturing employment in the Non-Travis counties of the MSA has increased from 13,564 in 2001 to 18,659 in 2016.
Other efforts are also underway to strengthen manufacturing in the region. Texas Workforce Commission and Austin Community College are proving to be a powerful partnership to provide targeted skills development to companies in need of workers with specific manufacturing capabilities. Commercialization of research coming out of the University of Texas and Texas State has the potential to create new high-growth manufacturing companies in the region. And looking at future workers, House Bill 5 and an increased emphasis on technical/vocational training in high school offers a mechanism for training a new generation of skilled manufacturing workers.
One seemingly large loss to the future competitiveness of manufacturing in the region is Union Pacific’s decision to pull out of the Lone Star Rail project. While there has been much discussion of that project’s potential benefits through the provision of commuter rail, the creation of a new freight line running through the eastern part of the MSA offered interesting potential for manufacturing in the region. The apparent loss of that potential feels like a missed opportunity to jumpstart manufacturing in a part of the MSA that is hungry for middle-skill job opportunities.
In short, manufacturing is no sure bet to be the provider of middle-skill employment opportunities in the Capital Area that it once was. However, there are reasons to be optimistic about the sector’s future, and working to identify opportunities to support manufacturing in the region may be an economic development strategy that bears considerable fruit.
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).