Athenahealth picks Austin to expand its facilities

Following the approval of an economic incentive deal with the city of Austin, athenahealth Inc. expanded its footprint in Austin by bringing research and development operations to the Seaholm redevelopment project.

Councilman Chris Riley said investing the city's money into bringing the company here will be well worth it.

"In this case, I think that these incentives pass whatever test that we can apply," he said.

The council passed the agreement Jan. 30 with a vote of 5–2, with councilwomen Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting against the deal. The Austin Chamber of Commerce announced Jan. 31 that athenahealth chose Austin for its expansion.

"I do believe that it's OK for us to say we believe in our economy, we believe in the strength of our economy and we hope that [athenahealth] comes here, but we need to be very very careful with taxpayer dollars," Morrison said.

The agreement is for about $679,000 over 10 years. The deal is a performance-based incentive that is dependent on athenahealth meeting bringing a set number of jobs to Austin. In total, the company is expected to bring 607 jobs to the city.

Resident and advocate Paul Robbins spoke against the development, noting the Seaholm project has already received public money for its development.

"Now they want more [money] so the development can land clients to rent a building that was originally intended as a museum or a public space," Robbins said.

Brian Rogers, a co-founder of https://changeaustin.org, told council members the WebLoci program the city uses to evaluate economic agreements was leaving out additional costs of more people coming to the city, including roads and other infrastructure.

Rodney Gonzalez, deputy director of the Economic Development Department, said because the city collects 100 percent of the tax revenue from the Seaholm project, those costs would be offset.

Those in favor of the agreement pointed out that athenahealth scored high in the city's ranking system, is bringing new jobs to the city and the company is adding diversity to Austin's economy.

Mike Rollins, president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the health information technology sector will be the next generation of Austin jobs.

"I'd say we need to look forward another few years to make sure we continue to diversify our economy here and create the health care, life science and biotechnology jobs that I think we've worked so hard over the last number of years to bring to this community," Rollins said.

Amendments made to the agreement at the council meeting include paying $11 an hour for on-site construction work and establishing protections against discrimination of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Several council members agreed with the concern about the former power plant being used as office space rather than something more public or dependent on foot traffic. Tovo said she believes athenahealth and Austin are a good match but does not agree with the location.

"I just cannot bring myself to support providing incentives for an office to locate there in the Seaholm building," Tovo said.

Dan Haley, vice president of government and regulatory affairs with athenahealth, said he believes both the council and the public will be proud of what athenhealth will do with the space in terms of including the public.

"One of the wonderful things about the company where I work is we firmly seek to locate in beautiful spaces with a lot of character, and we firmly seek to create public interaction in those spaces," Haley said.

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