Mayor paints rosy economic outlook for Austin


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist DOUG NAUGLE

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Posted on February 5, 2013 at 6:36 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 5 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Forbes recently listed Austin as the fastest growing city in the U.S. Leading economists paint a rosy, economic forecast for the city. Tuesday in his State of the City address, Mayor Lee Leffingwell did nothing to dispel that encouraging economic outlook. In fact, he says today Austin is the strongest it's been in its 173-year history.

It was an upbeat Leffingwell who delivered his State of the City address to the sold-out crowd at the Real Estate Council of Austin's monthly luncheon at the Four Seasons.

"There's not a mayor in the United States who wouldn't want to trade places with me," said Leffingwell. "Without a question we are in better economic shape than virtually any other city in the country."  

Leffingwell says Austin has grown by 20 percent over the last decade and nearly four percent last year alone. It now ranks as the 13th largest city in the nation. He says despite that growth, Austin's unemployment remains a remarkably low five percent.

"That is close to full employment," said Leffingwell. "Four percent is full employment. We're over one percent of the Texas average. Texas is doing well, but we're almost three percentage points below the national average. We're doing very, very well."

Leffingwell says as Austin's population grew, so did job creation. More than 34,000 jobs were added he says making Austin the top performing economy among the 50 largest metro areas in the country last year. Leffingwell says the city has more than $3 billion worth of roadway projects planned, including I-35, but to properly address traffic congestion, a multi-modal transportation system is a must. Members of the local business community KVUE talked to say they were encouraged by what they heard.

"I think just maintaining the edge (is important)," said Rashed Islam with HRD Engineering. "I think there are a lot of people who would like to be in Austin's position. We just need to make sure we maintain that, so that we don't stop and not be complacent in our position."  

"We're just a local contractor, not national," said Gary Keil with America Contractors. "If the mayor feels things here in the local economy are going well, the city is going to be supporting growth and construction. That's good news for us."

The mayor also touched on the new University of Texas medical school and how it will add 15,000 new, permanent jobs and nearly $2 billion annually in new economic activity.