Austin’s Tech Scene: Fewer People but Bigger Output

Scott Francis
Next Post
Previous Post

One of the disconnects I’ve had a hard time reconciling myself is why it feels like there is so much more going on in Austin’s tech scene than there used to be, and yet, overall Tech employment is still down from the boom days of the late 90’s.

A recent Statesman article captures the issue.  Software employment is actually up considerably, but not enough to replace all the hardware tech jobs that were lost in FABs and the like:

In his review of the EMSI data, local economic consultant Jon Hockenyos, principal at TXP, broke out the Central Texas industries into “hard tech” or “soft tech” categories. The hard tech industries, including hardware production and the like, have seen their headcounts drop by 41 percent since 2001 — almost 18,000 fewer jobs.
[…]Indeed, soft tech jobs have jumped by 27 percent, adding more than 14,000 positions, according to Hockenyos’ breakdown.

Reading the article reminded me that back then, you would hear ads on the radio looking for employees for AMD, Motorola, Dell, and other hard-asset high-tech companies.  Those days are gone – and yet with fewer total jobs in the industry, high-tech produces more economic output than ever in Austin.

After adjusting for inflation, Austin’s information, communications and technology sector more than tripled its output from $4.6 billion in 2001 to $15.4 billion by 2010, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

That growth, despite shrinking employment, is astonishing to me.  Personally I like that the article calls out a stalwart in Austin – National Instruments – as well as the usual names (Dell, Apple, Samsung, AMD, Freescale).

But maybe the part that got my attention was this bit of nostalgia:

Back in 2001, just before the inevitable collapse of the high-tech boom — and long before Austin had transformed into the more diverse and healthier technology ecosystem it is today — every new perk seemed better than the last.

Recruiters dangled new cars and ski weekends to entice the top college graduates. Students negotiated salaries for summer internships. And in Austin, when a night’s festivities wrapped up, people looked for the Trilogy employees.

The software company’s cab cards provided its workers — and many of their friends — a free ride home after a night on the town. Trilogy’s tab, Josh Baer recalled, ran as high as $30,000 a month.

“Ten years later I’m still talking about it,” said Baer, who joined the company in 1999 and now heads Capital Factory, a local technology incubator. “It was kind of brilliant actually.”

Let’s hope this time around the perks are a little more focused…