“Georgetown has seen such incredible growth over the last decade on the residential side that we’re starting to see more and more interest in commercial and industrial development in the community,” said Michaela Dollar, the city’s economic development director. “One of the things that as a city we want to make sure we do is have purposeful growth and growth that makes sense for the community.”
In August, Austin-based Avalanche Consulting completed a workforce analysis that provided data on Georgetown’s employers and workers. Analysts recommended Georgetown’s recruitment efforts target three industries: advanced manufacturing, life sciences and professional services.
St. David’s Georgetown Hospital CEO Hugh Brown, who serves on the board of the Georgetown Economic Development Corp., also known as GEDCO, said the studies are necessary for the city’s business-recruiting activities to become more effective.
“We really needed to know what types of industries were good for the area,” Brown said.
In March, Georgetown City Council approved a request from the GEDCO to use up to $100,000 of the corporation’s funding to hire Avalanche Consulting to complete the studies.
Dollar said the studies would ultimately be building blocks for a new strategic plan for the city’s economic development program. City staff has begun outlining what the future strategic plan could look like and will continue that work through the end of 2017 before making recommendations to City Council, Dollar said.
Change in stance
Tony DeLisi, a senior consultant with Avalanche, told City Council during an Aug. 22 presentation that economic partners locally and around the state have viewed Georgetown’s reputation toward business as becoming more favorable over the past several years.
“Georgetown is on people’s radar,” he said. “It’s seen as a place that’s more welcoming to business.”
Responding to that point, Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross credited the efforts of new city leadership, including Dollar, who was hired in July 2016; City Manager David Morgan, who was selected to his position in March 2015; and Assistant City Manager Wayne Reed, who joined the city in January 2016.
In addition to changing opinions outside the city, Brown said Georgetown’s leadership has helped foster partnership and cooperation among local businesses.
“There is a real sense of collaboration in Georgetown right now,” Brown said.
Dollar said the economic development program’s future strategic plan will also address weaknesses found by the studies, including low building vacancy rates across all industries in the city, Dollar said. Companies often find it much cheaper and faster to move into an existing building rather than construct a new facility from the ground up, she said.
“A lot of the leads that we get [for businesses wanting to relocate to Georgetown] are looking for existing space. So to not have the inventory for available existing space immediately disqualifies us,” Dollar said.
Still, Dollar said the studies showed Georgetown has a robust manufacturing sector that pays good wages.
Reeling one in
Radiation Detection Co., which relocated to Georgetown from Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area in May 2014, is an example of an advanced manufacturing business Georgetown recruiters have managed to attract to the city. In its move, the company benefited from a $320,000 land-incentive agreement approved during the previous summer by the GEDCO and City Council.
The company’s headquarters are located on Snead Drive near the Texas Life-Sciences Collaboration Center.
“We chose this area very intentionally,” company President Barrie Laing said. “We just saw, looking forward a couple of years, that with increased taxation and the regulatory environment in California, there was going to come a day when we couldn’t do the things that we really wanted to. Georgetown offered a great mix of a better culture for us and also a really solid base of some very talented technology folks that we could hire.”
Radiation Detection produces specially designed badges for people in job environments that contain radioactive sources, such as medical professionals who work with X-ray machines. The badges allow Radiation Detection to measure and report radiation levels those people come in contact with.
The manufacturer has hired more than 20 new employees from the Georgetown area since relocating, Laing said. Radiation Detection employs about 60 people today.
The company sends out about 140,000 of its badges to clients each month out of its facility in Georgetown, Laing said.
Dollar said she hopes future recruitment efforts will be bolstered by the information included in the workforce and industry studies. She said having data to back up recruitment pitches often helps to ease hesitations for businesses looking for sites to relocate.
“A study with a third-party professional consultant gives more credibility to what we’re saying,” she said.
Scope of labor
Dollar said one of the key objectives of the workforce analysis was to determine the scale and reach of Georgetown’s “labor shed,” a term that describes the geographical area from which the city draws its workers. For Georgetown, that area stretches along I-35 between Austin and Temple and includes more than 700,000 people, according to the analysis.
“We were honestly surprised that we had such a far-reaching workforce as we do,” Dollar said.
About 75 percent of Georgetown residents work outside of the city, yet about 75 percent of jobs within the city are filled by people who do not live in Georgetown, the analysis found.
Researchers also reported low labor force participation among Georgetown residents, at least in respect to jobs in the city.
The analysis attributed that finding to the number of older residents in the city, noting that half of Georgetown residents are at least 47 years old, and more than a quarter are at least 65 years old.
Dollar said that although the older average age of residents has given Georgetown a reputation as a retirement community, the analysis showed that more young professionals have moved into town in recent years as the city’s population has grown.
She added that the level of education attained by people in Georgetown’s labor shed is major selling point for the city when it comes to attracting new businesses to the area.
In the past five years, Georgetown has seen its fastest growth in the manufacturing, professional and business services, and financial activities sectors, according to the analysis. Employment in the city is largely based in the construction or trade and transportation industries.
Laing said he sees potential for his business to continue growing, both locally and internationally. He said the company is “actively looking at building business operations around the world,” while being sustained from the company’s Georgetown headquarters.
Laing said there has been little difficulty finding qualified people to hire in the Georgetown area since moving the company three years ago.
“My only regret is I didn’t do it 10 years earlier,” he said.