Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Austin, Chips Mean Job Growth, Not Guacamole

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Austin, Chips Mean Job Growth, Not Guacamole

Article excerpt

DRIVE through the cedar-covered hills here, and you'll see the unmistakable signs of a silicon renaissance.

A decade ago, like many other college towns, Austin, Texas, had modest success fashioning itself as another high-tech Silicon Valley. But now, software and computer chipmakers are arriving in numbers that are transforming the economic and cultural face of the city - but bringing new social problems as well.

Austin is projected to have the second-fasted growing job market in the nation by 2000 - and perhaps the traffic congestion to match. Though the city has long hosted companies like IBM and Motorola, the high-tech growth has mushroomed in recent years, aided by the area's quality of life and relaxed regulatory environment.

For T.J. Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, the decision to build a $700 million chip factory in nearby Round Rock instead of California was easy: "It would take me longer to get a building permit {in California} than it will take me in Round Rock to build the building."

His is a common sentiment.

Last year, Advanced Micro Devices and Motorola finished computer chip-making facilities worth a total of $2.3 billion. Samsung and Cypress Semiconductor will also be setting up wafer fabrication plants, and Motorola is adding a $300 million research lab. Toss in expansions by computer makers like Austin-based Dell and Houston-based Compaq and you have a high-tech boom town.

In 1995, job growth in Austin exceeded 6 percent for the third year in a row. "I don't see how 1996 can be any less than that," says Glenn West, president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Boom town

Mr. West may be right. A study released last month by DRI/McGraw-Hill said that Austin is second only to Las Vegas in projected job growth for the next few years. Austin will likely add more than 100,000 jobs by the year 2000.

But all this commerce is putting a strain on the city's infrastructure.

"It's the No. 1 issue facing the Austin economy for the next five years," says Jon Hockenyos, an economist with the firm Texas Perspectives. Interstate 35, which connects Austin with Dallas to the north and San Antonio and Laredo to the south, is overloaded. …

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