Cedar Park incentivizes 200 rocket science jobs


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Cedar Park incentivizes 200 rocket science jobs
Cedar Park incentivizes 200 rocket science jobs

Photo by David Weaver

Cedar Park incentivizes 200 rocket science jobs

Test engineers Brent Bauer (left) and Chris Minns work on a dynamometer calibration at Dana Holding Corp. in Cedar Park. The company was incentivized by the city in 2013 to create 80 jobs.

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Cedar Park incentivizes 200 rocket science jobs
Firefly Chief Operations Officer PJ King said the company is in the final stages of designing an orbital launch vehicle for small satellites. Cedar Park is an ideal location because of its proximity to Firefly’s 200-acre test site in Briggs as well as The University of Texas’ engineering program and advanced computing center, King said.

Cedar Park incentivizes 200 rocket science jobs

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City uses sales tax to recruit employers in manufacturing, software and tech industries

Cedar Park’s space technology industry is poised to grow by 200 jobs by 2019 following City Council’s approval of a $1.225 million incentive deal Sept. 25.

The economic development agreement includes reimbursements and employment grants for Firefly Space Systems’ new headquarters in Cedar Park. Funding comes from the city’s Economic Development Corp., or 4A Board, which receives a half cent from the city’s sales collections tax to support job-creating projects. The 4B Board, or Community Development Corp., also receives a half cent to fund projects and incentives.

“The state’s regulatory climate is very attractive to us,” King said. “The thing that really impressed me is at every meeting we introduced this project … the first four words everybody has said to me have been, ‘How can we help?’”

Firefly is the most recent company among nearly a dozen in the advanced manufacturing and technology-based industries that has been assisted or incentivized by the city to create local jobs. While some incentives are cash grants, others come in the form of facility assistance, reimbursements and tax abatements, Assistant Director of Economic Development Larry Holt said.

“We have lots of different tools that we can assist Cedar Park businesses with, from state programs, to infrastructure, to support that allows a company to physically expand, to the traditional direct incentives,” Holt said.

Incentives for technology

Earlier in September, Cedar Park City Council approved two incentive deals with Voltabox of Texas, which has agreed to create and maintain at least 10 new skilled jobs in exchange for a

50 percent reimbursement of its city property taxes for up to five years. In addition, according to the agreement Voltabox will construct a $6 million facility at Scottsdale Crossing as well as a road between Toll 183A and Scottsdale Drive and subsequently receive a $147,908 reimbursement.

Voltabox officials broke ground on the company’s high-tech lithium-ion battery systems manufacturing facility Sept. 19 adjacent to another company incentivized by the city: Dana Holding Corp. Rob Smithson, vice president of powertrain innovations engineering at Dana, said the company has created and filled about 30 of the 80 Cedar Park jobs expected by 2019 per the deal approved by City Council in October 2013.

“We are hiring degreed professionals [who are offered] full benefits, good salaries, educational opportunities, good health care [and] we put in a wellness gym,” he said. “We have jobs posted, and we’ll be posting more.”

Economic impact

A total of 780 jobs in the technology, computer and advanced manufacturing industries have been incentivized by the city or state in Cedar Park since 2008, Holt said. With or without incentives, companies in these and related industries bring significant economic benefits to the city, he said.

“Advanced manufacturing in general results in more local spending than any other industry,” Holt said. “That gives us what I think is the most bang for our buck: offering a good mix of high-wage to entry-level jobs, creating value on the tax roll and and having a potential for future growth.”

In the Austin metropolitan statistical area, high-tech companies, including those in the advanced manufacturing, engineering and aerospace industries, created more than 10,500 jobs between 2008 and 2013, according to data produced by the Texas Workforce Commission and compiled by the Austin Chamber of Commerce. While the total number of high-tech and non-high-tech manufacturing jobs decreased during that time, the average annual salary increased 10.7 percent.

“A lot of those jobs [created] don’t necessarily have to have a four-year college degree,” said Dave Porter, senior vice president of economic development for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “A focus for us as a region in reducing poverty is finding more advanced manufacturing jobs that pay well so that kids that drop out of high school or decide not to go to college can find a good job, get training and have a good quality of life.”

Lasting advantage

Porter said along with the announcement of Firefly in Cedar Park, Opportunity Austin—a Central Texas job-creation initiative led by the Austin Chamber—is expected to make space technology a target employment sector for the next five years.

“There was an effort before Firefly came here to carve out a niche in the space technology industry,” he said. “But … advanced manufacturing is [already] one of our key targets, and we are delighted that Cedar Park has experienced a couple of wins.”

Porter said in the coming years he expects to see more regional growth in the high-tech, aerospace and manufacturing fields even as one of the state’s tools for funding economic development incentives, the Texas Enterprise Fund, dwindles.

“There’s probably going to be quite a period of time [before], or even if, the Legislature decides to refund the Enterprise Fund. It could go dry as early as November, and then you’re looking at September 2015 before it’s refunded, if it is at all,” he said. “So the 4A and 4B communities [such as Cedar Park] are going to have a big advantage over the metros ... because we are not allowed to use sales tax dollars [for economic development] by state law. Especially as the enterprise fund dwindles, the 4A and 4B communities that can use their sales tax are going to be in a great position to recruit more business.”

Cedar Park incentivizes 200 rocket science jobs