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Opportunity Austin’s plan for the next five years of growth in ATX

The business and economic development group outlined their plan, called Opportunity Austin 5.0.

A group of people listening to a panel at the Opportunity Austin conference.

Tony DeLisi, senior manager of economic development at Ernst & Young, speaks at an Opportunity Austin event on Wednesday.

Photo by ATXtoday

Between Tesla, Samsung, and hundreds of other new companies, the jobs just keep coming to Austin. Now, business leaders say, the challenge facing the Capital City is maintaining that boomtown status in a sustainable way.

At an event downtown Wednesday, Opportunity Austin — an economic development initiative that recently split from the Austin Chamber of Commerce — outlined their plan for the next five years of economic growth in Austin.

Here’s what to know.

Where are we now?

To the surprise of no one who’s read the news in the last 30 years, Austin is growing.

Between 2016 and 2021, Austin’s employment grew by 16.8% — higher than comparable cities like Phoenix and Nashville, and significantly higher than Texas’ rate of 7%.

However, Austin is also growing increasingly unaffordable, which business leaders fear could make it harder for businesses to recruit talent and sustain that growth.

“We are losing some of our advantage when we talk about affordability,” said Tony DeLisi, senior manager of economic development at Ernst & Young, at the event. “Now, [job candidates] look at housing prices, and they look at availability and they say, ‘Maybe I’ll look at Tulsa.’”

Investing in life sciences

Investments in the life sciences appear to be of key focus for Austin’s business leaders.

At the event on Wednesday, UT Austin and Karlin Real Estate announced a new, 10,000-sqft wet lab at Parmer Austin. The initiative, called UT Impact Labs, will be the university’s first off-campus site for the Discovery to Impact program.

“I think Austin has the chance to be the next big destination for life sciences technology,” UT president Jay Hartzell said, shortly after the announcement. “We felt like this was a crucial gap.”

The news comes on the heels of UT’s newly announced partnership with MD Anderson to build hospital space on the site of the Frank Erwin Center, adding to an already-growing innovation district downtown.

A rendering of the new UT Impact Labs.

UT Austin and Karlin Real Estate announced a new, 10,000-sqft wet lab called UT Impact Labs.

Rendering provided by Karlin Real Estate

Other priorities

Opportunity Austin outlined four priorities for the next stage of Austin’s growth:

Enhance economic resilience

  • Refocus recruitment on emerging industries like life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and aerospace engineering
  • Develop and market assets for these emerging industries
  • Enhance business retention and expansion
  • Share information about development incentives

Connect to global markets

  • Raise awareness of Austin’s benefits through marketing
  • Develop a “soft landing” program for international organizations
  • Support regional expansion into foreign markets

Fill the talent pipeline

  • Support college and career readiness
  • Connect regional students to local career pathways
  • Continue FAFSA
  • Prioritize training

Improve quality of life

  • Improve housing development, and density
  • Invest in regional mobility
  • Focus on critical infrastructure
  • Address public safety

Gary Farmer, Opportunity Austin Chairman and CEO, said he hopes to work with nearby cities like Round Rock and San Antonio to work on broader, regional goals.
“I’ve never been more excited about the future than this very day with this very plan,” Farmer said at the event. “There are a lot of great places in this country. And guess what? They look at us now as the shining city on the hill.”