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County tentatively approves tax breaks for National Instruments

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though a final decision will not come until next week, the Travis County Commissioners Court moved forward with an economic development package Tuesday. The county is considering $1.3 million in tax breaks for National Instruments, which hopes to expand some of the work that they have done in Travis County since 1976.

National Instruments is expected to invest $46.9 million in a new facility, and $33.4 million in business equipment.


True to their word, members of Austin Interfaith appeared in Commissioners Court to support the incentives, which include the county’s recently-adopted wage floor requirement.


Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, one the group’s leaders, spoke in support of “the opportunity to create good jobs for our families and our institutions and our neighborhoods.”


“We applauded the county when you passed your living wage requirement for companies receiving economic incentives. We applauded you then, and we applaud you now,” said  Cadena-Mitchell.


National Instruments is asking for the incentives in order to establish a research and development center in Travis County. So far, the state of Texas has agreed to invest $4.4 million through the Texas Enterprise Fund, though that figure is contingent upon finalization of the local incentives. In addition to the county, City Council is also considering an economic development agreement. In all, incentives will total $7.4 million.


Under the terms of the agreement, the company will locate a research and development unit in Travis County. That facility will be 300,000 square feet, and is expected to bring 1,000 new jobs to the area, with an average salary of $63,000. It will be built near the current site at 11500 North MoPac Boulevard.


“We’ll be bringing folks from all over the United States, and probably about 80 percent of those hired are actually coming from outside of the area, because we just can’t find enough engineers here in Texas,” said Vice President of Human Resources at National Instruments Mark Finger. “We’re actively recruiting at Texas A&M, UT, and Rice, but the reality is we have to go to a lot of schools to get the numbers that we need. We’re up against Google and Microsoft and those are very competitive folks that we are going after. So we’ll be bringing a lot of folks to Austin from around the United States.”


Later, Finger clarified that they expected to hire about 35 percent locally, though Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt noted that this figure would not be a requirement of the contract. Eckhardt asked the constituency of the court to manage their expectations accordingly.


Commissioner Ron Davis expressed concern with the number of local hires, saying there were pockets of the county that were not benefiting from the Austin area economic boom, and those pockets continue to be left behind. He specifically asked about the entry-level jobs, which he hoped would help make a dent in unemployment rates that are “in the double digits” for some communities.


Aaron Chappell, a campaign director at the Laborers International Union of North America as well as  a member of Austin Interfaith, told the county that they had been working with the city on their economic incentive policy.


“They have sort of been sitting on those recommendations since November. Staff has finally released a memo addressing those issues, but they have not taken a vote yet,” said Chappell. “We just wanted to let you know that we will be going to the city to ask that they implement this policy before they approve this deal.”


Though a subcommittee that was formed to look at the way the city handles economic incentives recommended inclusion of a wage floor this past November, the process has stalled since then.


Kevin Johns, who is the director of the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Service Office, updated City Council on the process in a memo dated Feb. 21. In it he detailed the recommended changes to the current economic incentive policy.


“We are optimistic that completion is within the next 2-3 months,” wrote Johns.


The Commissioners will consider the final agreement on March 5. City Council will take up the matter this Thursday as well as at their March 7 meeting.

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