Travis County suspends program bringing new business to Central Texas, evaluates goals for local economy

Travis County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County has suspended all economic incentives offered to companies to move here. Those rewards have attracted big businesses like Apple, Samsung and Charles Schwab in the past. 

Part of the decision has to do with shrinking revenue caps from recent state legislation. But another reason is to attract a new type of business to our local economy.  

This is just a temporary suspension while the Travis County Economic Development team investigates improvements to the policy, areas for collaboration and alternative sources of funding for these incentives. The team will then present its findings to the commissioner’s court by the end of the year. 

“The hardest resource and the biggest constraint in growing a business is hiring great people,” said Garrett Wood, President for GetSales Inc. 

GetSales Inc., a start-up with less than 100 employees, needs workers.

That’s why the San Francisco-based company relocated to Austin in the first place. 

“We worship, we prioritize, and just want to build the best sales team possible,” Wood said. 

The Travis County Commissioners said they have a lot of great constituents looking for jobs and hope they can bring more small businesses like GetSales Inc. to the area. A representative of the Travis County economic development team mentioned that health care is another industry being closely considered.

But it’s a give-and take: Travis County officials will have to change their approach to attract that talent pool. 

Since 2003, the companies given the biggest breaks to set up shop in the county are giants like Samsung and Apple, Fortune 500 companies which offer jobs primarily for skilled workers.

That’s not always in line with the needs of the community. 

“We want to make sure we align where it’s appropriate with the Austin Chamber of Commerce, but also align with the small business,” said Diana Ramirez, the Director for Economic Development and Strategic Investments within the Travis County Planning Office. “No one is hiring the missing middle jobs. Jobs where you don’t need to have a college degree. Or where you have some college or some technical training.” 

The Austin Chamber of Commerce said now is not the time to pull back, but double down on hauling in the big fish.

So far this year, the Chamber of Commerce reported 25 businesses moving into the greater-Austin area. Dozens of other businesses have expanded. 

“Look at the value that they brought into this community! Look at the jobs they brought into this community! Look at the jobs where they have people working, providing for their famlies and helping the citizens of this community,” said Charisse Bodisch, the Senior Vice President of Economic Development for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. 

Chamber President Mike Rollins said attracting these big businesses will help grow the county’s tax revenue, not shrink it. 

“We support an all-in strategy,” Rollins said. “If you have a business hoping to make a $300 million investment versus one that makes a $1 million, which will yield more?” 

Rollins said it’s a better strategy to be flexible and find ways to attract all businesses, not one over the other. 

“What problem are we solving? Is economic success not the goal?” Rollins questioned. 

“We’ve seen what can happen in this community where we lost tens of thousands of jobs. You have to keep creating those jobs,” Bodisch said. 

“Let’s align where we can with the different organizations and then that’s how we move forward thoughtfully,” Ramirez said. 

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