Austin economic outlook bright but not without hurdles

Austin continues to grow at an unmatched pace nationally, a panel of experts agreed Dec. 5 during the Austin Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook.

"2014 prospects are great—they've never been better, in my opinion," said Gary Farmer, president of Heritage Title Company of Austin.

The biggest advantage working in Austin's favor, Farmer said, is the area's young, smart and qualified workforce.

"This is why companies are coming here—not to 'Keep Austin Weird,'" Farmer said.

While not surprising, the forecast for the next year did come with several caveats to ensuring Austin's continued growth.

"There's nothing like having momentum on your side but the quickest way to lose momentum is by becoming complacent," Farmer said.

National and international factors can also negatively influence local success, said Angelo Ciardella, Austin complex director for Merrill Lynch. There is no guessing how federal interest rates might change in the next year, he said, and much of Europe is still in financial disarray.

Also, being at the top of many national lists makes Austin a target, Ciardella said.

"We are on everyone's radar—cities do compete for business," he said. "We're not just Austin trying to take business away from the Silicon Valley or other parts of the country. We're on other cities' radar as far as taking business away from us."

Austin real estate continues to boom, said Rick Whiteley, partner at Oxford Commercial, especially the multifamily market. The quickest way to stop that success, he said, would be another dip in the national economy.

"That looms out there more often than maybe it should," Whiteley said. "We're coming out ahead, but the prospect of potentially sinking bank [into recession] for any number of reasons is there."

Ryan Robinson, city of Austin demographer, said Austin so far has had an advantage compared to other cities after being relatively unscathed by the recession.

"As the national economy improves, can we maintain that advantage and continue to be a destination city?" he said.

Robinson and Farmer both argued that Austin also needs to better leverage its diversity, which they consider to be one of Austin's most valuable economic development drivers. If not leveraged effectively, they agreed Austin will fail in much the same way as other cities that failed to embrace diversity.

"If we're not mindful, we will indeed become this tale of two cities—this deeply divided city," Robinson said. "A deep division like that, I think, could derail us going forward in addition to our traffic and water concerns."

By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.