By: Joe Warner and Emily Donaldson / Community Impact Newspaper
Leaders in Round Rock point to a successful partnership that feeds the city’s economic growth, bringing regular announcements of new businesses and industries coming to town.
The system has changed over the years, but what works for economic development is the current pact between the city of Round Rock and the Round Rock Chamber, called the Round Rock Economic Development Partnership.
The group also includes private businesses that support the chamber’s Momentum campaign, a five-year development strategy.
The needle, said Ben White, chamber vice president of economic development, is always moving.
“It’s unique for communities this size doing it this way in Texas,” White said. “It works for us, and we have a strong buy-in from everyone.”
Officials said although Dell Technologies changed the landscape of companies investing in Round Rock, other businesses have followed because of strong school districts, major highways with access to other major Texas cities, the proximity to Austin, an educated workforce and an international airport 30 minutes away. The Round Rock Economic Development Partnership also works with the Williamson County Economic Development Partnership and the Texas Workforce Commission.
Round Rock has six target sectors for growth, including:
computer systems development;
corporate offices, operations and support services;
destination retail; and
health care and biotechnology.
“The plan, with our targeted sectors, brings businesses in like IKEA, Premium Outlets and Bass Pro Shops,” Mayor Alan McGraw said. “Back a dozen years ago, Dell made up over 50 percent of the sales tax collected by the city. Today, that number is under 20 percent. It’s because of corporate offices like Emerson Process Management. There was one hospital in town, and now there are five. We have five institutions of higher learning here. Our “Sports Capital of Texas” initiative added tourism, and now we’re spilling into the convention business with Kalahari [Resorts & Conventions].”
The plan has brought more than 6,100 jobs from 50 projects with an investment total of more than $864 million since 2011, according to figures from the Chamber.
City, chamber officials team for Round Rock’s economic developmentRecruiting and retaining
Chamber President and CEO Mike Odom said the partnership recruits constantly, which he said is made easier by the fact Round Rock sought its own identity long ago.
“There are so many positives,” Odom said. “First and foremost, the school district and quality of life. This community has invested a lot of money into transportation and has developed a good balance of business. We do have benefits from being close to Austin, but we are a city that made a very conscious decision it did not want to be a bedroom community.”
White and other members of the partnership will visit California and the Eastern U.S. this year to court businesses to move to Round Rock—some on the verge of announcements.
The list of newcomers relocating or building large facilities in Round Rock over the past few years include Emerson and United Parcel Service. Kalahari will build a new $350 million hotel, water park and convention center in Round Rock.
Recruiting and the proximity of business partner Dell brought Emerson to town with a new $70 million, 282,000-square-foot facility. Education content provider Houghton Mifflin Harcourt relocated its regional headquarters to Round Rock in 2016, bringing 270 jobs with an average salary of $70,000. The HMH office, built in LaFrontera, is 100,000 square feet, and Emerson is also near the I-35 and SH 45 N
There are no quotas, but goals each year fluctuate based on discussions with different businesses. The goal for 2017 is 10 deals.
“We turn away a lot of companies that want to come here,” White said. “They may not be the right fit for us. We won’t make bad deals to make the number. We are always working to bring business here.”
Advantage, Round Rock
Brad Wiseman, city director of planning and development services, said Round Rock has been growing longer than many other cities around Austin. The maturation of a diverse economy and a city that will work with businesses plays well when it comes to growth.
“If you compare us to the bigger cities, we can get permits issued faster; our staff has an extremely proactive mindset when we deal with applications,” Wiseman said. “We have our rules and regulations that we are required to enforce, but we take more of a proactive approach as opposed to a more adversarial approach with the contract engineer, helping them meet the requirements, working on solutions for problems that come up.”
McGraw said there are many cities across the U.S. vying for companies, startups or established.
“A lot of the companies, not all, are still family-owned,” McGraw said. “And so, for them to move or expand, they are going to ask the same questions that you would ask when you relocate your family. They ask about safety, what the education system is like, what the quality of life is like, are there parks, are there sports, are there arts? Can I afford to live there? That is where we do really well.”
The city and chamber also work together to provide continuing education and growth opportunities to businesses and their employees.
One family-owned company, ThermaSol, purchased 27 acres in 2014 for its headquarters and new manufacturing facilities. The company produces steam shower products and technology.
ThermaSol CEO Mitch Altman, during the announcement to come to Round Rock, said the “city and chamber have been great development partners for us … Round Rock works hard to be business-friendly, and it shows.”
City, chamber officials team for Round Rock’s economic developmentNo immediate need for incentives
Incentives in Round Rock’s economic development are not the main draw, according to Odom and White.
Discussions with a company coming to the city usually end, not begin, with incentives.
“They are really only used to close the deal,” White said. “We try to attract deals that are good for our community. We discuss the business climate, taxation, transportation and the workforce long before we talk about incentives.”
Odom said the city does not have to compete dollar-for-dollar with other cities.
“Businesses coming here want to have a solid workforce and all of the advantages of Round Rock and the area,” Odom said. “We won’t spin our wheels if the project isn’t right.”
Common incentives used by Round Rock include tax abatements for real or personal property, special financing, performance-based cash grants, fast-tracking of permits, job training funds, and capital grants and loans. Other statewide incentives are also available.
Challenges with growth
As vital as new businesses are to Round Rock, retention of current businesses is also a priority, White said.
“It’s important we understand their needs, help them expand and look at the long-term health of the relationship,” White said.
The success of businesses thriving once they are here is a priority, officials said.
“They do an excellent job of business retention,” Wiseman said of the economic partnership. “It’s really a team environment. They are always trying to link up businesses work together.”
Wiseman said the younger generation is driving changes in development, and Round Rock is addressing the wishes of many millennials.
“They look for a place after work they can walk to a restaurant and do some shopping right there,” Wiseman said of the growing number of mixed-use developments. “And at the same time we need to keep up with growth in terms of transportation planning and infrastructure. Our biggest challenge is to process everything efficiently and follow the development standards that our community expects.”