May 3, 2016 Brian Kelsey

What the tech industry’s slowdown means for Austin

This article was written by Lilly Rockwell and appeared in 512 Tech in the Austin American-Statesman.

What the tech industry’s slowdown means for Austin

Recently I wrote about the dreary headlines dominating the tech world these days.

Companies like Intel are announcing major layoffs, while other large tech employers, like Apple and Microsoft, are watching their stock prices plummet.

So what does this all mean for Austin? Could the tech industry downturn lead to layoffs here?

Over the past week I interviewed several local tech industry experts to try to answer this question. As expected, their reactions were mostly incredulous. The Austin tech industry prides itself on its exceptionalism.

I was reminded that the Austin tech ecosystem is fairly diverse. No longer does Dell Inc. and the semiconductor industry dictate the health of the local tech economy, though they certainly have a significant impact.

People like Barbary Brunner, head of the Austin Technology Council, said Intel’s layoffs¬† – the company announced last month it was eliminating 12,000 jobs – were mostly just a reflection of poor management.

She warned against taking the example of Intel and applying it to other tech firms. That’s a fair point, though local chipmakers have also struggled in recent months, reporting falling sales and profits not in line with analyst expectations.

Brunner distinguishes between what’s going on with the bigger, legacy tech firms and the startups and medium-sized companies such as HomeAway or Indeed that populate Austin’s tech landscape.

Even so, Brunner acknowledges that hiring data recently has revealed a detectable tech industry slowdown.

“What we’re seeing happen in Austin right now is that companies are absorbing all the hiring they have done over the last five years,” Brunner said. Translation: Hiring in the local tech sector has slowed down.

Local economic development expert Brian Kelsey said employment growth has cooled off from the “torrid pace of the economic recovery.” Last year, tech job growth in Austin was about 4 percent compared to 3 percent nationally.

The latest forecasts are predicting a 2.4 percent tech job growth in 2016 compared to 1.6 percent nationally.

“As of right now, there are still segments within tech that are expected to see relatively strong employment growth this year,” Kelsey said. And certain areas, like custom computer programming and systems design, are still expected to have job growth in the range of 4 percent to 6 percent in 2016.

“There were nearly 9,000 job postings advertised for core tech related positions in the Austin region as of March, which was only about 8 percent off the pace from a year ago,” Kelsey said.

Brunner echoed those comments, saying tech workers in Austin shouldn’t be worried about losing their jobs, though, interestingly, she made the caveat that people who work for larger employers like Dell should be more concerned.

She might be right about that. Some of Austin’s biggest tech employers could be shedding additional jobs this year, or they have already done so in recent months. For instance, both Dell and Advanced Micro Devices downsized their workforce last year. Dell eliminated 10,000 jobs and AMD said it would cut 500.

“If I wanted a job in tech, Austin is one of the best places I would come,” Bruner said. “We have an incredibly fertile environment here. Particularly if you want to be in early-to-mid-stage companies.”

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