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Are Millennial ‘Stealth Dorms’ Ruining Texas Cities?

Kriston Capps at CityLab reports on the occupancy limits debate in Austin and Fort Worth: Are Millennial ‘Stealth Dorms’ Ruining Texas Cities? Capps cited our pro-bono study, working with the Austin Board of REALTORS and others, on the relationship between occupancy limits and housing affordability in Austin, which, of course, boiled down to the need for better data and more thorough, objective analysis before anything could be said for certain.

Hopefully city leaders and interest groups will be more open to that possibility when the moratorium expires and it’s time to take another look at this issue and realize that potential impacts extend far beyond student housing.

High-Occ Map Zoomed_Revised2

Expedia deal sends HomeAway stock soaring

This story was written by Lori Hawkins and appeared in the Austin-American Statesman.

Expedia deal sends HomeAway stock soaring

A day after agreeing to be acquired by online travel site Expedia, Austin-based HomeAway saw its shares soar amid speculation that a competitor such as Priceline could make a counter offer.

Expedia on Wednesday said it would pay $3.9 billion in cash and stock for HomeAway, which is the leading player in the online vacation rental industry.

Shares of HomeAway surged as much as 27 percent in trading on Thursday, closing up $8.11, or 25.3 percent, at $40.15.

Expedia said it would pay $38.31 a share for HomeAway, a 20 percent premium over HomeAway’s price before the deal was announced.

But with HomeAway’s stock surpassing the offer, analysts said a competing bid was a possibility. Cowen & Co.’s Kevin Kopelman said such a move by online travel rival Priceline or home-sharing company Airbnb was “not out of the question.”

Deutsche Bank analysts said that the buyout price seems low, particularly as HomeAway changes its fee structure. HomeAway makes most of its revenue by charging property owners to list on sites right now, but the company said that it will start charging travelers for booking locations, similar to Airbnb’s model.

Founded in 2005, HomeAway has built a network of websites that have more than a million paid listings in nearly 200 countries. Expedia, based in Bellevue, Wash., lets customers book flights and hotel rooms through its website and apps. The HomeAway deal would give it a major presence in the fast-growing alternative lodging market.

Regardless of whether more bidders jump in, a deal is all but certain, which means Austin will lose another well-regarded publicly traded company.

The agreement marks the third multibillion-dollar deal for an Austin-based company this year, joining the $11.8 billion acquisition of Freescale Semiconductor and the recently announced $4.5 billion private equity buyout of SolarWinds Inc.

HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples said the company, which has more than 1,900 employees worldwide, including 1,086 in Austin, will keep its operations in Central Texas and likely expand here.

“In Austin, I don’t think there is going to be much of a change,” Sharples said in an interview with the American-Statesman. “As a combined company we’ll probably be able to grow even faster.”

But there are still unknowns, Austin economist Brian Kelsey said.

“From an economic development standpoint, there’s always a bit of uncertainty and nervousness when a major local employer is acquired by an out-of-market company,” Kelsey said. “Maybe less so in this case, compared to something like consolidation in the semiconductor industry, but I’m sure there’s still some uncertainty among economic developers and employees at HomeAway.

“Anytime you see a deal like this you also wonder about impacts on entrepreneurship – i.e. will it encourage anybody with newly available capital to jump off and start a new venture after the dust settles? We’ll have to wait and see what the ripple effect is on the local economy.”

While being acquired by a larger player can be a financial home run for a company and its shareholders, it’s not always the most beneficial outcome for a community, said Bob Smith, principal at Bridgepoint Consulting, which works with technology companies.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Smith said. “It’s disheartening to lose another high profile corporate headquarters in Austin. But it will also be very good financially for some employees. Hopefully you’ll have people who will use that to go fund some new startups or branch out and start up some of their own companies.”

Making Data Work for Economic Development Districts

There are 387 federally-funded Economic Development Districts (EDDs) across the country. These EDDs, operating with planning funds from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), manage a wide array of multi-county, regional programs related to community and economic development. Occasionally, one of these EDDs will win a large, multi-million-dollar, multi-year grant from a program like HUD Sustainable Communities and then create an impressive data platform that makes integrated regional planning a lot easier. Urban planners can overlay project information, such as proposed transportation improvements or affordable housing developments, over base maps that demonstrate need with demographic data. Economic developers can showcase available properties and incentive offerings on maps that identify workforce availability around any given site. Many EDDs are investing in dashboards that feature compelling visualizations of economic indicators or plan performance measures.

Examples of impressive data platforms are not hard to find in the planning world. The challenge is: What happens when the grant money runs out?

Most EDA-funded Economic Development Districts operate on very lean budgets, especially those located in small metropolitan and rural communities. Licensing even the most basic GIS and/or data platform solutions from private firms is out of the question for the vast majority of EDDs. Further, value-added services at EDDs, or any regional planning organization with voluntary participation from local governments, must be financially sustained through fee-for-service or cost sharing agreements with members. Getting buy-in from members to purchase and maintain these tools (not to mention hire and train the planners to run them) requires a very clearly communicated return on investment. Data platforms, GIS tools, and dashboards must have functional value to planners and other technical users, but be easy enough for non-technical, general public users to access in order to create a wide user base–i.e. increase the chances of constituents complaining to elected officials on your board if their support for maintaining the data platform and/or your staff running it ever shows signs of wavering.

What we’re talking about is the sweet spot for EDDs: delivery of cost-effective, value-added services that (1) expand resource capacity of member governments, which, hopefully, increases the likelihood of successful implementation of CEDS and other types of plans; (2) create a niche market that presents revenue generating opportunities for EDDs to offer more advanced technical services on a fee-for-service basis; (3) empower community members to get more engaged in planning efforts by lowering the barrier to participate through providing free, publicly-available tools; and (4) grow the EDD’s role in the region.

We thought about these goals a lot when I worked at CAPCOG, the EDA-funded Economic Development District in Austin, but that was more than five years ago and technology (or our knowledge of it) had not improved yet to the point of being able to fully explore where data could take us, at least not in a way that was cost-effective enough to develop a sound business plan around it. Proprietary tools were still too expensive; data still too cumbersome.


Fortunately, we got another chance. East Arkansas Planning and Development District (EAPDD) was awarded a $2.6 million HUD Sustainable Communities grant and then turned to us with a challenge: Create a free, publicly available data platform that the agency could maintain itself with existing staff after the grant money was gone. No licenses. No fees. No maintenance agreements. No consultants, unless they chose to use them, not because they had to. We also had to figure out how community members could be trained to use the data to accomplish planning objectives, and track progress on the new HUD-funded regional and local plans under development.

The EAPDD data platform is powered by free Google technology and includes three main components: interactive map and data warehouse for visualizing primary and secondary data; step-by-step tutorials, or “field guides,” that demonstrate how to leverage the data platform to complete planning activities; and a data dashboard featuring performance measures that will be used to evaluate progress on the new regional and local plans.

Interactive Map and Data Warehouse

Here’s an example for economic developers. Suppose you’re working with a prospect company and need to identify a site under a given budget that is zoned commercial with access to ports and rail. The data platform includes a zoning map (where parcel data is available) and you can quickly identify candidate sites based on a company’s infrastructure needs. The data can be viewed on the EAPDD map or downloaded in various file formats, such as Excel or .kml for Google Earth.


Field Guides

No formal training or planning experience is needed to successfully use the field guides, which is one way we are leveling the playing field for small, rural communities. For communities interested in downtown redevelopment, start with learning how to identify an appropriate site and visualize a new development.


Data Dashboard

Effective planning requires an ability to tell a compelling story–helping civic-minded members of your community understand opportunities and challenges and then motivating them to act. EAPDD will use a data dashboard to tell that story at the regional and county level as communities work to implement the new plans.


Designing and building the EAPDD data platform was a challenging experiment and we’re looking forward to seeing how EAPDD and its member communities leverage the new resource to improve the East Arkansas region.

For more information on the data platform experience, please read the case study on the Civic Analytics website. Thanks to Make It So Design and Aunt Bertha for all their contributions.

Austin: This is the best economy you’re likely to see

Here’s my roundup of the latest statistics available on the Austin economy:

Austin, TX: State of the Economy

The comparisons to Raleigh, another extremely fast-growing, tech-driven economy, are stunning to me. I grew up in Raleigh and often hear people comparing Austin to the Research Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). There are clear similarities–research universities, influx of young, well-educated people, tech hubs–but it’s the differences that underscore Austin’s singular economic performance lately.

More primary working age, educated people are moving to Austin than any other U.S. city, and that’s having a profound effect on wealth creation. Research Triangle is also among the leaders nationally, but there’s an important difference: When the demographic driving economic growth is making approximately $15,000 more on average in Austin than in Raleigh (see Slide 14), you can start to understand why affordability and inequality are dominating policy discussions in Austin.

Austin may still be a bargain compared to expensive coastal places like Seattle, the Bay Area, and New York, but we are a world away from many other fast-growing, mid-size markets like Raleigh-Durham and Nashville. And, trust me, the economic developers in those comparable mid-size markets are starting to take notice.

This is the best economy we’re likely to experience in Austin, assuming, of course, that you have the education, skills, and luck to be able to fully participate in it.

Have we become too data-driven?

I anticipated the question, but I wasn’t sure in what form it would come. Turns out it was about the extent to which high school and postsecondary curriculum should be aligned with what employers say they need, assuming they (1) know what they need; and (2) can communicate needs in terms educators can translate into curriculum design and operationalize. My response struck a somewhat philosophical tone:

“The goal of education is not to get a good job. It’s one of the goals. It’s not the goal.”

Such started a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking stay in Coeur d’Alene last week for EMSI’s 2015 National Conference, where I served as the keynote presenter. EMSI posted a rundown of the conference and a selection of memorable quotes from participants. You can find my keynote slides posted on the CA website. Presentations were not recorded, but the slides should give you an idea of the key points – all things covered during the semester in my class at UT-Austin, but never assembled as a single talk in a partially autobiographical format. Thanks again to EMSI for giving me an opportunity to try that out.

So, have we become too data-driven? Given the nature of most of our projects at Civic Analytics, it’s something that is always on my mind when working with clients, as well as with students in my class. Examples include:

What is the appropriate role of data in planning, and how best should it be incorporated into a planning process?

How much insight can we really glean from imperfect data, such as job postings, about supply and demand conditions in the labor market?

Further, to what extent should we rely on labor market information at all to drive curriculum choices in K-12 and postsecondary education? We insist on “aligning” education and workforce development to employer needs in an employer-driven system based on labor market insight, but what good does alignment do if newly minted graduates don’t have the three to five years of work experience required to get a foot in the door for an “entry-level” job interview?

Do we have too much faith in data?

Answering that question depends on how you view data. For me, this is where the line is drawn that separates academic research from applied research. Most academic researchers would, I think, say that the goal of research is knowledge creation. That knowledge may be applied to improve the world in some way, but creation is the primary goal, and, hopefully, we are all smarter as a result.

Most applied researchers, at least in the economic and workforce development context, view data as a means of communication. Applied researchers are responsible for using data to tell compelling stories, create a sense of urgency about needed improvements, and inspire people to act. We are judged not so much on our ability to make sense of the world, but on our track record of inspiring public and private sector leaders to make tough and often unpopular decisions to act to improve it. That requires quite a bit of faith in data, but even more confidence in the ability of practitioner storytellers.

Teaching applied data analysis for planning in an environment dominated by infographics, lofty claims about the power of “big data,” and a growing spotlight on open data in the public sector is increasingly difficult. The gains we’ve made in data accessibility are unbelievable, and planning is better off because of them. Yet, when confronted with such a vast amount of data, it’s easy for early-career planners and students to focus only on the mechanics of dealing with data–methods, statistics, dashboards–and less on the power of good storytelling. Knowing your audience. Avoiding jargon. Creating data-driven calls to action and goals that connect with community priorities. Inspiring people to want to act, and then empowering them with the insight and tools to do so.

Teaching methods is relatively easy. Helping people learn how to use data to ask good questions and inspire action is much more difficult.

But based on the expertise in the room and quality of discussion at the EMSI conference, I think our profession has a bright future.

Photo: Peter Røise Photography

Austin’s takes different tack on hiring tech talent

This story was written by Lori Hawkins and appeared in the Austin-American Statesman. It mentions a study that Civic Analytics completed for the Austin Technology Council on workforce availability in the tech sector.

A recent study by the Austin Technology Council underscored the hiring mindset held by many local tech companies.

Although 70 percent of those surveyed said they were having difficulties filling technical positions, 42 percent said they require applicants to have at least five years of work experience to even get consideration.

Only 12 percent of respondents said they hire recent college graduates or don’t require previous work experience.

At, company leaders are taking a different tack. The Internet job search company is focused on hiring engineering students directly out of college and providing extensive training to prepare them for their first job.

Indeed, which has grown to 500 employees in Austin, is one of the region’s fastest-growing Internet companies

Indeed has grown from 90 employees in Austin four years ago to more than 500 today. The company, which has been one of the more aggressive recruiters of engineering talent, is also hiring experienced developers.

This year, the company hired 54 graduates from 25 schools, including University of Texas, Carnegie Mellon University, Rice University, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and MIT.

The new recruits have spent the past 12 weeks at Indeed’s offices in Northwest Austin, where they learned about the company, got to know company executives and broke into teams to come up with new Indeed products that they’ll pitch at an upcoming Shark Tank-style competition.

“There’s a huge benefit to bringing in people who don’t have experience,” said Chris Hyams, Indeed senior vice president of product. “Sometimes as companies get bigger they fall down in terms of new innovation. When you bring in people who are fresh out of college they are unburdened by the experience of what can’t work, and they are full of creativity about approaching problems from a new way that we might not have thought about.”

Indeed’s website aggregates job listings from thousands of websites, including job boards, newspapers, associations and company career pages. Job seekers search for listings on Indeed’s home page and can post their resumes for recruiters. The website, which is available in 55 countries and 28 languages, has 180 million monthly unique visitors worldwide.

In January, Indeed will move into a new 220,000-square-foot space at the Champion Office Park on North Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360). The new offices can accommodate 1,500 employees, and Hyams said Indeed plans to fill them.

Founded in 2004, Indeed was acquired by Japan’s largest recruitment firm, Recruit Co., in 2012 for an undisclosed price. Under the deal, Indeed retained its name and operates an independent unit of Recruit.

According to financial reports filed by Recruit, Indeed posted revenue of $453 million in fiscal 2014, up 71 percent from the year before.

In addition to its Austin office, Indeed has operations in Seattle, San Francisco and Tokyo, and college hires have the option of working at those offices.

This year’s recruits spent the summer creating new apps and websites that could eventually become part of Indeed’s offerings. The teams developed 11 products, including a site that lets people post and respond to one-time job listings, such as language translation or logo design; and another that helps workers map out new career paths based on their work experience.

Shumeng Gu, who graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May, said she chose Indeed over other job offers because the company gives new hires big responsibilities.

“If you go to Facebook or another big company, you will likely spend your time just fixing bugs. At Indeed, you have ownership over what you’re working on,” Gu said. “The first week I got hired I put code into production, which is almost unheard of for someone at my level.”

Although it costs more to hire and train new workers, building your own talent has advantages, Hyams said.

“In Austin, we’re all trying to hire those same people with three to five years experience,” he said. “We decided this is a long-term plan for us, it’s not a short-term gain. We want to have sustainable growth, and the best way to get people with three years experience is to hire them at zero years experience. We now have a bunch of people with three years experience that we hired three years ago. Soon we’re going to have 54 more.”

Among Austin transplants, Florida is the new California

This story was written by Marty Toohey and appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on 09/05/15.

Among Austin transplants, Florida is the new California

“Californian” has for years been Austin’s shorthand for someone, usually of means, who moves here from another part of the country. But no more. Florida is the new California.

Here are five things to know about the newest migration pattern:

1. Nearly twice as many Floridians moved to Travis County in 2012-13 as did Californians. The Sunshine State sent 13,347 transplants here versus 7,959 from the Golden State,according to Internal Revenue Service data and further analysis by Austin economist Brian Kelsey. That ratio held for 2011-12 as well.

2. When you calculate net migration between Travis County and other states (people coming here minus people going there), Florida still remains the top feeder with 9,695 net arrivals. But New York (4,416 net arrivals) slipped past California (4,278) for the No. 2 spot. This trend held in 2011-12 as well.

3. Think it’s California tech money pushing up earnings? Floridians brought higher gross-adjusted incomes ($128,509 per household) than did Californians ($98,979) in 2012-13, according to the IRS data.

4. It’s not clear whether the Florida influx, which only surpassed California in the two most recent years of data, is a long-term pattern, Kelsey said. The IRS changed its methodology starting with the 2011-12 data by including late filers who previously weren’t counted and by better tracking people as they shift from a dependent to filing their own tax return, for instance.

5. Texans still by far make up the most people moving in and out of Travis County. But there’s a consolation prize for California: It remains the top out-of-state destination for people moving out of Travis County, edging out Florida in 2012-13 by 29 people.