Ed Latson, executive director of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, said in the six years he has been working in his current position, the biggest challenge local manufacturers have faced is attracting and maintaining talent.
“There’s more than 1,700 businesses here, and they’re all thriving. They’re doing fantastic, but they’re throttled by people,” Latson said. “They have demand and customers. They don’t always have the skilled workforce to run their equipment and get the product out the door. Can you imagine anything more frustrating than that, as a business owner?”
A new incubator program at Austin Community College is looking to address that problem for the local manufacturing industry while also providing training for students and a space for start-up companies to grow.
The incubator will be housed in a building currently under construction on ACC’s Highland campus—one that is scheduled to open in 2020, according to ACC. It will become the third incubator on campus, joining the bioscience and fashion spaces. Each of the three are designed to fill a need in the local economy by combining space for local small businesses and entrepreneurs with opportunities for ACC students.
ACC President Richard Rhodes said the community college chose the specializations for the three incubators based on needs in the local economy identified by its partners, such as the city of Austin. Rhodes said the recent growth in manufacturing made that industry an obvious focal point for the community college.
According to the ARMA, manufacturing companies account for more than 57,000 jobs in Central Texas, and the industry accounts for 10.3% of the region’s gross domestic product. Rhodes said there are significant challenges for the industry that ACC can help address.
“One of the problems we have in Central Texas, for small startups, those who want to get into the business—there’s not a good training space for that to happen,” Rhodes said.
The incubator will include two spaces: the Innovative Manufacturing Prototype Acceleration Central Texas—or IMPACT—lab, which will provide facilities for manufacturing companies to develop prototypes and products; and the manufacturing academy, which will offer high school students a chance to complete dual-credit courses that will lead to a certificate and will help them prepare for a career in manufacturing.
Mitch Jacobson is the executive director of the Austin Technology Incubator at the University of Austin, which partnered with ACC in establishing both the manufacturing and the biosciences spaces.
Jacobson said small companies in their early stages need a space to build and design their products in order to get them out to the market. The advent of 3D printers made it much easier for companies to make products, Jacobson said, but entrepreneurs still need access to technology and spaces to manufacture.
“The more we can have these kinds of spaces training special young people—it opens up a whole new aspect of industries they potentially couldn’t have gotten involved with before a center like this was built," he said. "It creates opportunity.”
Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect the correct name of the Innovative Manufacturing Prototype Acceleration Central Texas—or IMPACT—lab.