by: Michael Theis / Austin Business Journal
It’s no secret that Williamson County, just north of Austin, is growing like wildfire. But as that growth continues, the county’s government and economic development leaders are working to cope with the quickly-changing demands of a red-hot economy.
Recently released Census data shows that Williamson County was the 19th-fastest growing county in the nation with a population of more than 10,000 in 2009, growing by nearly 84,800 residents over the past five years to a population of 457,218 in 2014, a 22.7 percent growth rate.
Those government and economic development officials remained optimistic about the state of the county’s economy in remarks made during the Austin Business Journal’s annual Williamson County Growth Summit, held Monday in Round Rock. The event attracted some 450 attendees.
One tool that county leaders are using to help guide and manage growth in Williamson County is regionalism. New efforts to work across municipalities and with their colleagues in Austin have taken root in the form of the Williamson County Economic Development Partnership, a group made up of economic development leaders that meets monthly to hash out strategies.
“We firmly believe in regionalism,” said Ben White, vice president of economic development for the Round Rock Chamber. “When one community wins a project, we all win.”
But some threats linger over the region’s future growth. Phil Brewer, director of economic development for Cedar Park, said that as his town has attracted new residents and new investment, there has appeared a persistent strain of NIMBYism — an acronym that means “not in my backyard” and used to refer to groups opposed to a wide variety of development projects — from new residents who were drawn to the city in part by its small town vibe and who don’t want that to change.
“As we encourage people to come in here, it is important to be able to sell our story about what we are doing,” said Hutto Mayor Debbie Holland, echoing Brewers remarks. “Just the change and growth that we are all experience is sometimes our biggest challenge. People don’t like change, but change is inevitable.”
Michael Theis covers local government, courts and economic development for the Austin Business Journal.