Austin would need to recruit talent if Amazon HQ were to open here


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tech giant Amazon announced Thursday Austin made the “short list” of the top 20 potential cities to house the company’s second headquarters (HQ2). If Amazon came to Austin, where would the people who fill those new jobs come from?

Amazon says it will invest $5 billion in constructing the headquarters and create around 50,000 jobs, which will have an average salary of $100,000. At Amazon’s original headquarters in Seattle, the company says they created 53,000 additional jobs in the city as a result of Amazon’s direct investments.

The new jobs available at Amazon would be be similar to those already posted for their Seattle location, a spokesperson for Amazon said. There are a wide range of jobs there now, from financial analysts to marketing employees.

“We are looking for a location with strong local and regional talent – particularly in software development and related fields – as well as a stable and business-friendly environment to continue hiring and innovating on behalf of our customers,” the Amazon HQ2 website reads.

Mark Turpin, CEO of the HT Group in Austin, believes that while Austin is home to many talented people in tech, there would be a need to recruit from outside cities to fill all the jobs Amazon would bring. Turpin’s company helps to recruit specialized tech talent, and recently he’s felt that the Austin market has been stretched fairly thin.

“Many times we can fill the positions in Austin with Austin people, but there are also times that we have to go out of the city and relocate people to Austin,” Turpin explained. “I think with Amazon here that’s something we’ll have to look to in the future.”

Turpin said he believes getting the Austin workforce trained and educated to fill some of those roles will be a “necessary ingredient” to support a player like Amazon in town.

Fortunately for Austin, there are many places to get that extra education, including UT Austin’s Department of Computer Science. Currently 1,750 undergraduates and 250 graduate students are enrolled there. The university is working to expand enrollment to 1,900 students, that would make them the largest computer science department by enrollment among the top 10 CS programs ranked by US News.

Computer Science Department Chair Don Fussell said many companies go to his department to recruit, including Amazon. The top 10 companies that hire graduates from the department include big names like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon.

“We are one of the best computer science departments in the country, so there are some cities that don’t have the quality of students that we produce,” he said.

For the last 10 years his department has been growing and over the last several years enrollment has increased rapidly. Several years ago they had to start controlling their enrollment because they’d reached capacity.

“We’re trying to move in a direction that helps us teach the kinds of skills that are beyond programming skills that will help them in their careers,” Fussell explained.

He believes UT graduates could make a dent in filling some of those 50,000 potential jobs. “But that’s a large number and of course they’ll still be competing with lots of other institutions to hire our students,” he added.

Fussell believes talent across departments at UT Austin could benefit Amazon and he thinks having Amazon in town wold be positive for the Forty Acres as well.

“Any time we do economic development in Austin, it benefits all of us, especially the university,” he said.

But with the prospect of added jobs, how well would Austin do at getting those people to and from their jobs? Ali Dadpay, professor of Economics at the School of Business at St. Edward’s University believes this move will have to come with an increase in infrastructure.

“Places like Dallas might offer more transportation infrastructure to them, but the good thing about Austin is we’ve been proactive about infrastructure and we’ll be thinking about it,” he said. “Other cities have to go out of their ways to accommodate Amazon, we are going in the same way, on the same path.”

Dadpay also believes that all of Austin’s higher education resources will be a draw for Amazon as well.

“It’s a natural fit from a workforce profile perspective,” said David Hughen, co-founder of Austin HR. Hughen added that the knowledge base in Austin seems to be able to support the kind of challenge a new Amazon headquarters will present.

Hughen added that in the Austin workforce at large — not just in tech — there is more work than need.

“The challenge is for whoever is responsible if Austin was to win the Amazon HQ2, there would have to be some real thought put into a partnership between the [Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce], firms like us and other partners associated with attracting and bringing talent, because most of the talent would not be in our midst,” Hughen explained, which is why continuing and higher education may be key for Austin’s success in this venture.

“If our solution is very thoughtful and creative, bringing up people on the fringe of skills and help them enter in,  then we are going to have a great story about opportunity in Austin,” Hughen said.

Amazon expects to decide on a final location for HQ2 at some point in 2018.

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