Amid national recession concerns, Round Rock is in 'phenomenal place,' economist says

Mark Sprague, state director of information capital at Independence Title, discussed the state of Round Rock's economy during the coronavirus pandemic at a May 19 Round Rock Chamber virtual power lunch.
Mark Sprague, state director of information capital at Independence Title, discussed the state of Round Rock's economy during the coronavirus pandemic at a May 19 Round Rock Chamber virtual power lunch.

Mark Sprague, state director of information capital at Independence Title, discussed the state of Round Rock's economy during the coronavirus pandemic at a May 19 Round Rock Chamber virtual power lunch.

The United States and Texas could take between three to five years to come out of the current recession brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Mark Sprague, state director of information capital at Independence Title. However, the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area is likely to rebound much faster—within two to three quarters, Sprague said.

"I'm telling you: I think we're just in a phenomenal, phenomenal place," he said in a discussion with the Round Rock Chamber on May 19.

Sprague served as a guest speaker at the chamber's power lunch, which was held virtually. He discussed the state of Round Rock, Austin and Williamson County's economic standings during the outbreak. In his 90-minute presentation, Sprague referred to the current financial crisis as a "suppression," where the demand for work is present, but there are limitations and closures due to the pandemic.

"This is unlike any previous recession or crisis like this," Sprague said.

With record unemployment on the national level, Sprague said that local economies, including Round Rock's, have not taken quite as drastic of a hit. As businesses begin resuming operations at limited capacity throughout Texas, Sprague said everyone will begin readjusting to a new normal.


From a commercial and residential real estate perspective, Sprague said the pandemic has shifted some priorities in terms of home and office amenities. There is an increase in market demand for studies and "Zoom rooms" from prospective buyers, Sprague said, while commercial real estate saw a rebirth in May following downturns in March and April.

The three industry sectors that have been hit the hardest, Sprague said, are retail, hospitality and leisure, which account for the majority of the layoffs. Despite Gov. Greg Abbott's recent order allowing 50% occupancy in restaurants, local iconic institutions—including Shady Grove and Magnolia Cafe in Austin—are likely not the only casualties to come.

"Unfortunately, the State Restaurant Association has said one out of five restaurants will not reopen," Sprague said.

But Sprague said that other industry sectors, such as technology, that have continually defined Austin and Round Rock's job markets, will help engage prospective new businesses. He cited Round Rock's high education workforce as an attractive quality working in its favor.

When asked what city leaders and business owners should focus on right now for economic recovery, Sprague said that above all else, public health is necessary for economic success.

"I’m not a health expert, but the scariest thing about all this is how quickly it shut down everything," he said.

While Sprague said he is uncertain on the timeline for a potential vaccine, he said social distancing provisions and face masks will be essential in ensuring the health of residents first and the economy second.

He also added that there needs to be increased focus on education, as it pertains to safety measures. He encouraged local education leadership to focus their objectives on figuring out a game plan for the upcoming academic year now as opposed to delaying these conversations in the hope of the virus's downturn.

The new normal, Sprague said, will likely change day to day, with seemingly menial things such as shaking hands and hugging friends and colleagues. Looking forward, Sprague said an interesting thing up for review is venue-based events, such as The University of Texas at Austin football games, the Austin City Limits Music Festival and South by Southwest Conference & Festivals.

While there is some concern on the state level involving its bounce back, Sprague said Round Rock and Austin are better positioned to weather this storm.

“Our new normal will be different," Sprague said. "But we’ve got to embrace it.”


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