TAYLOR, Texas — Just a few months after Samsung announced a new manufacturing facility in Taylor, Texas, the towns around Taylor have started to feel the ripple effects.
Taylor lies on the crossroads of US Highway 79 and State Highway 95. The towns along those routes have already felt the pressure of growth because of Austin's housing market. Now, town leaders say that growth may come even faster. They're masterplanning in real-time.
"I don't think anybody ever moves to a little town like Elgin and says, 'Man, I sure hope it grows to be a town of 50,000 people,'" Elgin City Manager Tom Mattis said. "That's tough for people to live here. And then the other part is the reality of the developing businesses. ... Already with this year, we passed the largest budget ever in the city's history. We're already seeing financial benefits from that. That'll turn into better parks, better roads, better facilities."
Mattis helps oversee the long-term planning of Elgin's development. The town has already had its fair share of Austinites moving to the suburb for various reasons: cheaper housing and land, quieter neighborhoods and the small-town feel that Elgin prides itself on. Mattis added that City staff has to plan for decades down the road and basically guess at what the town might be like.
"It's about mastering the art of the possible and truthfully what that can be," Mattis said. "What this area can be in 20 or 30 years is really hard for everybody to grasp and visualize because the chance for change can be so massive that it's just hard to know."
For lifelong Elginite and real estate agent Kelly Koenning, she's seen the growth firsthand.
"When I graduated many years ago, Class of '89, I graduated with, like, 85 people. My son graduated in 2017 with almost 400," Koenning said.
She's sold homes in Manor for 20 years, and the real estate market has only gotten more competitive in that time. With Samsung opening up in Taylor, Koenning only expects the housing market to get hotter.
"With Samsung coming in Taylor and then Tesla out on the tollway, you know, anything in Bastrop County is pretty much gone pretty fast. Multiple offers," Koenning said.
Leading up to Samsung's announcement in November, the company said it would bring about 2,000 jobs to the Taylor area. Elgin will inevitably feel the ripple effect of thousands more people a stone's throw away from the town.
While housing projects are already in motion in Elgin, Koenning believes the first step should be expanding the city commercially.
"We need shopping. We don't have stores," Koenning said. "A little bit of everything has to happen. Our schools are growing, of course, so we need more space for our schools. I mean, it was inevitable. But I love that we try to keep our downtown district the way we do."
Shooting out northeast of Taylor, Rockdale, Texas, leaders are bracing for a small influx of people too. The small Milam County town sits about a 30-minute drive down Highway 79 from Taylor. For years, the town's economy thrived on a handful of major businesses, but those companies have since closed or moved on, leaving Rockdale's downtown empty of pedestrian traffic.
"Rockdale, as a city, never really had to do anything to make the town attractive or make the town a desirable place to live," said James Gibson, the new economic development director for Rockdale's Municipal Development District. "Because if you're working in Alcoa or the power plants, well, more than likely you're going to live here. So the City never really had to do those things like build, you know, really stellar parks."
Gibson believes maybe 10% of people who work at Samsung would look to live in Rockdale. However, he sees the tech company's expansion in Taylor as a huge win for the area.
"What you're going to see is, it's kind of like taking a big boulder and you drop it into a small pond, and when you drop that big boulder into a small pond, displacement pushes water outside of the pond and you're going to have these big ripple effects," Gibson said. "The bigger the boulder, then the larger the splash. And so, I think what's going to happen is, you're going to have all these little towns – Rockdale included – that you're going to see increased demand for housing."
Carol Matous Worley, who at one point was only one of a handful of real estate agents in the area, said the growth in Rockdale has already been steady for some time.
"We're an hour to Austin, hour to Temple, hour to Bryan-College Station. We're right in the center of everything," Worley said.
Worley has been selling homes in Rockdale for 36 years. Samsung choosing Taylor is just the latest investment that will drive people to the small town.
"Anything within an hour from here, especially from that direction, people are coming here," Worley said. "We get a listing, it's on the market maybe 60 days at the most. It could be a day or two days or a week. Things are just moving."
Towns like Rockdale and Elgin don't need to look far to see the long-term effects of Samsung's presence. Samsung Austin Semiconductor opened the manufacturing facility more than 20 years ago. In that time, Austin has boomed and Manor, Texas, a suburb to the east of Austin, has boomed too.
"When Samsung first came in all those years ago, on Parmer Lane near Dessau Road, there wasn't a lot of development out there," said Ashley Jackson, who will lead the Austin Board of Realtors in 2023.
Jackson primarily sells homes in East Austin and the surrounding area, including Manor.
"In August of 2020, I had a client go under contract for a home in Manor for a new build, and then they finished it in the summer of 2021, so about 10 months," Jackson said. "Six months later, I had another client in the same neighborhood go under contract for the same home. I'd say about a year and a half has passed between contract dates. It is $125,000 more for the very same floor plan in the same neighborhood, almost literally behind the other house."
The major effect of Samsung has been on Manor's school district, according to the town's mayor, Dr. Christopher Harvey.
"Between 2005 and 2006 is really when we start to see an impact in Manor because our school district worked with Samsung and there was some agreements and some support from Samsung and to the Manor New Tech High School," Harvey said.
However, in the time since then, Manor focused primarily on residential growth. The growth of small businesses in Manor hasn't taken off in the same way.
"We're hiring our first-ever economic development director," Harvey said "We're doing a lot of things that we haven't done before. We have staff persons that have history with Main Street, and so putting all those pieces together will help us to explore how we can bring those things into our city."
While Harvey doesn't attribute the majority of Manor's growth to Samsung Austin Semiconductor, he says it does play a role.
"Applied Materials to our west, Samsung coming into our north and you have Tesla down to our southeast," Harvey said. "I think now that puts Manor in the triangle of opportunity."
With the new Taylor facility slated to break ground this year, the surrounding towns are hoping to take advantage of opportunities of their own, inviting businesses in while still holding onto the small-town feel their communities are known for.
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