With the decision of where the next Amazon.com Inc’s headquarters will be still up in the air, the city of Buda is looking for ways to attract other technology businesses.
Ann Miller, director of the Buda Economic Development Corp., announced in March that Buda would make three properties—Sunfield Development’s 210 acres in Buda’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, HFH Investments’ three tracts of land that span both Buda and Austin, and the Heep Ranch Properties Ltd.’s parcels located north of Buda—more appealing for tech companies to take root.
“It has always been pointed out that these properties just north of [Buda] would be perfect for some type of corporate campus. With the [Amazon.com, Inc.] HQ2 project we really started to have the conversation of how we could make that happen and working with those property owners to really put together a plan.”
Miller said Sunfield’s housing and planned commercial developments create the ideal work, play and live environment for a tech company. A tech campus near HFH Investments provide views of downtown Austin and allow for construction along Onion Creek, and a tech campus on the The Heep Ranch Properties Ltd. parcels would create recreational activities such as kayaking and swimming because of Onion Creek.
BEDC members attended the VentureBeat’s Blueprint conference—an event hosted by an online technology news platform—to learn how cities like Buda can adapt to become more welcoming toward tech companies in March.
CEO of Austin Technology Council Barbary Brunner said because businesses are becoming so tech-enabled, cities have to be open to innovation if they want to attract or keep tech companies within their city limits.
“Everything from cultural amenities to affordable and accessible housing to fewer traffic problems aid access to high-quality technical talent,” Brunner said.
Miller said she is aware of citizens’ desires to keep Buda’s small-town feel, which is why a lot of the large companies coming to Buda such as Baylor Scott & White Health and Ascension Seton are moving into the Sunfield MUD area instead of downtown Buda.
“We can keep the small-town feel but improve the economy by having this adjacent complex that brings people into town to spend money but not through town just to drive through,” Miller said.
According to Brunner, Austin has been a hub for small- to mid-sized technological enterprises for the last 30 years. However, size limitations of the city, a rapidly growing population, and the rising prices of commercial and residential properties have caused companies to consider the broader Austin metropolitan area to set up shop.
While Miller believes Buda has the potential to be on tech companies’ shortlist for future headquarters, she said there are certain features the city lacks.
“Public transportation is going to be key, especially if, let’s say, a big tech campus goes in north Buda or South Austin. Connecting that to everything is going to be really key,” Miller said. “Walkability, bikeability, housing diversification and creating an environment that allows that is [important]. I think Austin had that, but it has gotten too expensive for people who have much to lose if they start a business.”
Buda began working with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in 2016 to potentially establish a Park & Ride bus stop in Buda as part of the Capital Area Rural Transit System. Buda Public Information Officer David Marino said city staff would discuss funding a transit program during the upcoming budget workshops. Currently, the city has a senior transportation program called Seniors Taking a Ride, or STAR, that uses a federally funded handicap-accessible van.
Buda Mayor George Haehn said as the city continues to grow with more businesses and more people start to move in, there may be a stronger push for infrastructure and amenity projects to be completed faster.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Austin is going to want to connect with Buda,” Haehn said. “Everyone is going to need housing. [Population growth] could possibly impact zoning decisions [in the future]and we’re going to place certain housing [developments]. I keep saying we need to find a way to diversify the housing, and [the growth]may put an impetus to actually have developers come and put in a diversity of housing.”
Over the next five to seven years, Miller said she expects to see a mixed-use development with a residential component as well as office, medical and retail space come to Buda. She said residents can also look forward to new recreation elements.
“Buda has invested a lot in bike trails and the city park, and with the new edition of Garrison Park, there is potential for kayaking and swimming activities,” Miller said. “Another thing that came up multiple times [during brainstorm meetings]is quality food options and unique food options. Buda has a little bit of that, but having unique food that is not chain and where people can go hang out with friends is important.”
Benefits of a tech campus
Brunner said cities looking to bring tech companies into their boundaries should focus less on startups and more on established companies making a profit.
“A company that is three or four years old, has 100 employees and
$15 million in venture funding—that’s no longer a startup. That is actually a small-enterprise company,” she said. “[People] are way too enthusiastic about startups, and we’re not nearly as enthusiastic enough about businesses that are actually producing jobs and revenue, which turns into a GDP [gross domestic product]and a tax base for the local economy.”
Producing jobs and increasing the local economy are some of Miller’s goals for recruiting a corporate campus to Buda.
“Google has figured it out that you don’t need a college degree to work as an IT specialist. They offer online training and partner with a bunch of other companies so that when you complete your online training you are contacted by 600 companies looking to hire that skill set,” she said. “It’s a way that we can take our existing workforce, upscale them, get them a better-quality job, improve their quality of life [and]raise the income for the area. But also if people do get college degrees, they have a company they can go work for and be an executive in and have advancement opportunities, and hopefully, they do it right in their backyard of Buda instead of commuting to Austin.”
Miller said the presence of a tech-based company could create other opportunities in fields like the medical industry, which the EDC is actively recruiting. This year, the EDC has successfully brought Baylor Scott & White, St. David’s HeatlthCare and Ascension Seton on board.
“There’s a big shift coming, and it’s all coming from technology. Our lives are getting more and more technology-based; even health care uses a lot more technology in it than it did in the past,” Miller said. “Like with the hospital project, a [tech campus]is going to generate a lot of spinoff, not only in retail. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone built a medical office space here and then got approached by someone who just wanted to put a [professional]office.”
As the BEDC and city continue to map out the future of Buda, Miller said the strategic planning process is underway and will be presented to the public in the fall.
“Ideally we are trying to make this a community where you can live, work and play, but it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.