A steady cacophony of mechanical noise emanates throughout the production floor of technology company Continental’s New Braunfels manufacturing plant. Opened in 2022, the plant has so far added 450 manufacturing jobs to the local economy.

“The product that we make is our radar sensors and they help with your blind spot monitoring,” said Brandon Lane, plant manager for the Continental Autonomous Mobility plant on Kohlenberg Road. “So the light that comes on in your rearview mirror when something’s behind you—that's us.”

Operations such as Continental’s have diversified the types of jobs available in the New Braunfels area outside of the city’s traditional industries—at a time when the population has soared upward, growing by 71% in the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

City officials recently endorsed a plan to keep up with that growth—the 2024-29 City of New Braunfels Strategic Plan—which focuses on continuing to diversify both economic opportunities, livability, transportation, community well-being available jobs, transportation and housing types to keep pace with demand.

Two-minute impact

The 2024-29 City of New Braunfels Strategic Plan contains numerous goals for guiding the city through the next five years of growth and change. It also prioritizes ways to maintain the city’s identity and adapt to its anticipated challenges.

Several questions and goals are presented with the intention of addressing what types of local jobs are available and how they benefit residents. If most current residents seek out employment outside of the city, how can city policy attract more jobs for current residents? If most of those employed in town do not live in New Braunfels, how can city policy encourage the types of housing needed for those workers?

“I think we’ll always have the tourism employment base as long as this is a desirable place to visit,” said Jonathan Packer, CEO of the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce. “Now we do see massive inflow of that labor force, whether it’s from Bexar County or Hays County, college students—we have significant inflow of our tourism labor force.”

A 2023 economic benchmarks study shows that even though employment in the city has grown by 64% since 2013, 73% of residents commute outside the city for employment. One of the stated desired outcomes in the city’s strategic plan is to increase the percentage of citizens who work and live in town. One avenue to achieve that is to create different types of workforce housing. Some of the ways proposed include that the city should:

• Create incentives for mixed-use development

• Encourage a "built environment" that enhances walkability and mixes housing types

• Develop more workforce housing units and affordability

• Increase different housing types in areas where demand is outpacing supply

Some context

The New Braunfels economy has seen the number of jobs within the community grow to 49,338—a 64% increase since 2013, according to data from the chamber’s 2023 benchmark study.

That occurred all while the city outperformed the national and statewide averages in unemployment.

In that same 2013-23 timespan, the unemployment rate largely remained below 4% with the major exception of business disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the numbers tracked in that benchmark study include the number of jobs generated annually by local “primary” employers—those that produce a good or service sold outside of the city, according to the chamber. Those 52 primary employers created on average 933 local jobs annually since 2013.

But for all of that job growth, local earnings lagged.

According to the workforce study, average wages were $19,000 below the national average in Comal and Guadalupe counties, a difference some of these initiatives aim to close.

Dig Deeper

The city faces a number of obstacles to housing options for workers to contend with, namely that while a recent surge in new housing has come on the market, rents are still higher than in the surrounding area.

Danny Khalil, associate director of market analytics for CoStar—a real estate analytics firm—said a number of factors will slow down new construction. That could keep prices high.

“While construction activity continues to be near historic highs in Comal County, things will begin to slow later this year and the next,” Khalil said. “The San Antonio market is in a similar position across all eight counties at the moment.”

Interest rates not only weigh on homebuyers, but on financing apartments and other housing developments, Khalil said, meaning fewer new projects are on the horizon.

“Since multifamily developments generally have a timeline of approximately two years, a slowdown in construction starts can begin to manifest as a slowdown in deliveries 18 to 30 months later,” Khalil said. “We have already witnessed the peak of this latest wave of multifamily development in Comal County, as both the construction pipeline and construction starts reached their high points in 2022.”

Zooming out

One key takeaway from the 2023 economic benchmarks study is how lopsided commuting trends are in New Braunfels.

According to the study, the city’s employers benefit from the large labor pool of the entire San Antonio-Austin corridor.

Of New Braunfels residents who earn a salary of more than $40,000 annually, 78.4% commute away from town for work to San Antonio or Austin.

But for jobs available in the city itself, there is a net inflow of workers that commute to New Braunfels from elsewhere for jobs that pay less than $40,000 locally. The 2024-29 Strategic Plan aims to lessen this trend, with the stated goal of creating an economy locally that allows anyone to live “self-reliantly within the community.”

Next steps

Another factor in keeping up with the growing population and workforce is making sure residents have access to the technical training needed for those new industries, Packer said.

“So look at Continental, making sensors down the road. Their average employee needs some level of technical training,” Packer said. “We’re in a high growth, advanced manufacturing corridor.”

With employers needing a highly trained workforce, other investments in higher education are also essential, Packer said.

“I think this region has the capacity to add advanced manufacturing,” Packer said. “That’s why when we were talking to Texas State Technical College last year, they made the statement that the I-35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin has the highest discrepancy in the state between the demand for technical training and the supply of it.”

Continental officials plan to continue to partner regionally with higher education institutes to keep a pipeline of skilled workers.

“We participate in the maintenance apprenticeship program [with Texas State Technical College],” said Meridith Anderson with Continental. “The objective is to fulfill our pipeline with early talent but also experienced talent.”