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City hopes Eco-Industrial park will bring jobs

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 by Mark Richardson

The City of Austin is planning to spend up to $10 million to create an eco-industrial park south of the city’s airport. Officials hope the park will lure dozens of businesses that specialize in manufacturing goods from recycled, reused or repaired materials. They add that the project could bring more than 1,200 new jobs for low-skilled Austinites passed over by the city’s current economic boom.

City officials, joined by federal luminaries, announced a $1 million challenge grant Tuesday from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help build water and sewer infrastructure improvements for the proposed Austin (re)Manufacturing Hub.

The city would match the federal funds with an additional $2 million to construct a wastewater utility extension to serve the site, with additional projects to come later. Austin City Council members will consider approving those funds when they return from summer break in August. The project will be located on 107 acres of undeveloped land on the site of the former FM 812 Landfill south of Austin Bergstrom International Airport.

City officials hope to begin a competitive leasing process for sites in the park later this year. Under that plan, tenants would break ground in early 2015. Officials say they are locating the park and its jobs right where many less-educated, lower-income Austinites need them the most.

“Manufacturing can provide significant job opportunities for those currently living in poverty, the unemployed, the underemployed and the previously incarcerated,’ said Kevin Johns, director of Austin’s Economic Development Department. The Austin (re)Manufacturing Hub will be a catalyst for development in Southeast Austin, creating hundreds of quality green jobs in a growing industry.”

Bob Gedert, director of the city’s Resource Recovery Department, said that because of its proximity to the closed landfill, the land was not suitable for any other kind of development.

“Our goal is to use this vacant land for purposes of promoting our Zero Waste goals, our recycling collection goals, by locating remanufacturing businesses here,” he told the Monitor. “What we mean by remanufacturing is manufacturers that recycle our discards. It will mean that our recyclable materials will stay in Austin and produce jobs here, rather than it being sold and shipped to China or Mexico to produce jobs there.”

Gedert said the project is part of Austin’s Zero Waste Plan. Under that document, the city is committed to reducing the amount of waste sent to area landfills by 90 percent by 2040 or sooner.

Natalie Betts, a recycling economic development liaison for the city, said they expect to be able to leverage about $30 million in private sector development that would create up to 1,250 manufacturing jobs through development of the hub.

“The city will continue to own the land and will do long-term leases,” she said. “While the companies will build their own facilities, the city will invest in the infrastructure, which will pay for itself through lease rates over time.”

Betts said the city expects to spend about $10 million to develop the site, which will pay for itself over 20 to 25 years through lease revenues. She said the $10 million would pay for building roads, lighting, drainage, stormwater management as well as the water and wastewater lines to the site.

“We have targeted industries such as construction and demolition salvage recyclers, plastics recyclers, electronics or appliance repair companies, glass manufacturers, paper remanufacturing,” Betts said. “We won’t know what specific businesses will be there until our process for requesting proposals from companies to locate at the site, and then take them through the evaluation process.”

The city announced the plan Tuesday at a City Hall news conference headlined by Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, along with others from the city’s Economic Development and Resource Recovery departments.

For more information on the project, follow this link.

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