February 21, 2020

An Economic Powerhouse: How Dell Technologies helped change the direction of Round Rock’s future

Before Dell Technologies made its home in Round Rock in the mid-1990s, the area was often called “that small town north of Austin.” And while Round Rock may have been small in size all those years ago, it was never small in its spirit of business. The city came from humble beginnings like many small Texas towns, but over the last several decades Round Rock has proven itself to be an economic powerhouse with no chance of slowing down. And thanks to Dell Technologies making Round Rock the site for its worldwide headquarters, it put Round Rock on the map globally as well.

Before the Days of Dell

Longtime Round Rock resident, Judy McLeod, moved to Round Rock in 1973 when her husband decided to open the first veterinary clinic in Round Rock. At that time, she says there were about 5,000 people in town and the Round Rock Chamber was housed inside Hoover Insurance’s building downtown. “Before we moved to Round Rock we were living in Austin and thinking about the area, because we wanted to raise our children in a small community,” she says. “We were invited to the chamber’s annual banquet and were immediately impressed with the spirit of the community. Before we knew it, we had bought land and a house in Round Rock.”

Back then, Round Rock only had one light downtown, one or two small grocery stores, and one doctor. “We felt like we knew everyone,” McLeod says. “I don’t know exactly when things really started to change, but I guess it was around when Dell announced they were coming. We thought, ‘My gracious, that was a huge announcement,’ but that was the beginning of what has never stopped.”

Jim Boles, Round Rock resident and community advocate, also moved to Round Rock in the 1970s. “I got here in 1974, and Round Rock didn’t have a formal economic development organization,” he says. “We got started from a meager beginning of having a meeting with people in town, the mayor, and the city council. We talked about organizing our economic development. Back then, when we called on an industry, we not only had to tell them who we were, but also where we were. We had no recognition. But from the beginning, our community leaders have had the same goals to grow the city and make the growth pay for itself.” Because of Dell, Boles says when Round Rock pitches to companies today, they know plenty about the city and its positive reputation.

Mike Robinson, former city council member and mayor of Round Rock from 1984 to 1993, says when he first joined the city council in 1978, there were 7,800 residents in town. By the time he left in 1993, there were 50,000 people. “When I left, Dell hadn’t opened yet, and people just knew Round Rock as a growing community north of Austin,” he says. “A lot of us on the city council were committed to raising our families in Round Rock, and we knew we were going to grow. We had to decide how we wanted to do that. That’s when we quit trying to control growth and started to manage the growth instead.”

“When I was first elected there were no jobs for our kids to come back to,” Robinson adds. “We set a goal that we wanted to make Round Rock a place where we could raise our families, enjoy low taxes, and our kids could go away to school but come back to Round Rock to work, which wasn’t an option back then.”

Dell’s Big Announcement

Dell announced the location of its world headquarters would move to Round Rock in August 1993 and their new campus opened in 1994. Once that announcement was made, development in Round Rock picked up quickly. More businesses, restaurants, and companies moved to the area, and the people followed. “Little by little companies began to come and little by little we began to see the influx of people,” McLeod said.

Robinson says Dell was slated to set the world on fire—which they did—and that made it a very competitive scene when trying to get Dell to relocate to Round Rock. When Dell was first looking into finding a site, it focused on Nashville, TN and Ireland but because of Round Rock’s tenacity and forward thinking, Dell chose Round Rock to plant roots.

“As soon as they got building and hired on employees, it immediately changed the dynamic on everything from buying groceries to eating at restaurants,” said Boles. “We went through this tremendous amount of growth.”

Dell’s announcement also gave Round Rock a big advantage in recruiting, because if the city was good enough for Dell, it was good enough for other large companies too, Boles says, adding that Dell broke the city out of the pack when it came to credibility.

“We were so far out in front of other cities after Dell’s announcement,” Boles says. “We took advantage of where we were at the time. We stayed aggressive at recruiting and started taking our mayor with us on our recruiting trips. We never wanted to be a bedroom town. We wanted to be a complete city with employment and education and all that comes with it.”

Bob Bennett, who served as city manager for Round Rock during Dell’s announcement and subsequent relocation to the city, said city officials knew Dell Technologies would bring immeasurable value to the city for the long term.

Ultimately, Boles said Round Rock has grown as gracefully as it can. “We may not be the prettiest town out there, but we’re an economic machine,” he says. “We’re as pretty as we can be, and we believe in jobs and economy to drive that. Growth is always painful, but I think we’ve done a good job planning for growth and carrying out that plan.”

Dell’s Impact Today

McLeod says Round Rock’s reputation of being practical-minded and good to work with has been earned over the last several years, and Dell has bolstered that reputation. “It’s not always that way in other towns, but time and time again it has been proven that Round Rock has a heart for community,” she says. “We’ve accomplished a lot over the years with strong leadership from the chamber, the city, our mayors, and our businesses. I’m probably very biased, but I’d give our community an A plus. We’re sitting in a good place.”

Robinson adds that Dell has brought more than just name recognition and good business to Round Rock. The company has also brought in diversity and chances for small-business suppliers to thrive. “A lot of suppliers like to be where the home office is, so a lot of mom-and-pop suppliers like to be in Round Rock because they’re close to Dell,” he says. “And the diversity Dell brings to Round Rock can be seen everywhere from the grocery store to restaurants. We have people of all color and creeds here now, and that’s really good for our community because it’s making us grow up to be a metro area as opposed to the sleepy little town that Round Rock was.”

Bennett added that nobody was thinking as big as Dell during that time, and its game-changing technology added to the diversity of the city. “Dell brought so many young workers here to Central Texas,” he said. “Those people drove the downtown economy to where it is today. It helped in terms of community formation. Because young people came to work for Dell, downtown grew, we have Dell Diamond, nice housing was developed, and so on. Round Rock has really had a love affair with Dell. And the people at Dell are not just for themselves, they’re for the whole community. It’s been a labor of love. Dell is really special.”

Robinson expects Round Rock to continue to grow into a metro area, and that Dell will grow along with it as it continues to diversify its offerings. “As the town grows and matures, and Dell grows and matures, things will just continue to grow,” he says. “Round Rock is also home to a lot of other major, successful companies, and a lot of them create a lot of jobs, which will help us to continue to grow. People see Round Rock as it is today, but it wasn’t that long ago that it looked much different.”

Boles adds that while Round Rock has come into its own over the last several decades, the work it took to get this point was plentiful—but it has all been worth it. “Most towns when you move there everything is already done, but we had plenty to do when we got here,” Boles says of his arrival in the 1970s. “And it’s been an unbelievable ride. When I look around town now, and I think of the competition we’ve had with big cities and how hard we worked to get where we are, I get goose pimples. I really love this town. We’ve exceeded our expectations.”

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