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McClatchy-Tribune  07/24/2014 11:46 PM ET
Schwab to bring 823 tech jobs to Austin [Austin American-Statesman :: ]

July 24--

Austin's technology sector got a boost Thursday, as the governor's office said financial services firm Charles Schwab wants to add 823 high-paying jobs to its North Austin regional office.

The tech workers, who would be paid an average wage of $79,602, would be added over 10 years to the firm's existing Austin workforce of almost 1,000 employees, according to the company's application for local incentives.

Schwab also has committed to making $196 million in capital investments, including construction of a 200,000- to 300,000-square-foot office on a 50-acre site in North Austin.

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said that the planned site is at IBM's Tivoli Software campus, which is across Burnet Road from the Domain shopping, office and residential center.

Sarah Bulgatz, director of public relations for Charles Schwab, declined to confirm the site and said she couldn't provide any details "about the property we have an option to purchase."

Biscoe said the county would grant incentives only on new construction.

Jon Hockenyos, president of Austin-based economic consulting firm TXP, said the new jobs will be a welcome addition to Austin's economy.

"It's always good to see new jobs coming to Austin, especially since it looks like they will pay well and match a segment of our labor force that we've been targeting," Hockenyos said. "It's projects like this that contribute to Austin recently being ranked No. 2 in the nation by Forbes for future job growth."

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry said the state would grant $4.5 million to the company, pending approval of local incentives by the Travis County Commissioners Court.

The county's staff is recommending a 48.5 percent rebate on property taxes for the new facility, plus a 5 percent bonus for energy-efficient construction.

The county staff estimated that the incentives would cost Travis County $8.5 million but would provide $11 million in benefits over the 10 years covered by the agreement.

The public is invited to comment on the proposal at Tuesday's meeting of the Commissioners Court. A final vote could come as soon as Aug. 5.

"I think it's the right thing to do," Biscoe said. "We're only paying for performance."

Currently, Schwab has about 1,000 employees in Austin working in technology, retirement plan services, trading, marketing, human resources and other areas, Bulgatz said.

"We've been in Austin for over 20 years, and it's one of eight important, geographically dispersed employment centers for Schwab -- in addition to the over 320 branch offices we have across the U.S.," she said.

The company has agreed to make a good-faith effort to hire local workers.

The new jobs would pay an average salary of $79,602, with a minimum wage of $15 an hour, according to county documents. The average salary for the lowest 10 percent of new jobs would be $39,733.

Schwab has agreed to require an $11 wage floor for construction workers at the new office site.

The agreement requires the first phase of office construction to be completed by Dec. 31, 2016. A second phase of construction is due by the end of 2023.

Over the past three years, officials with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce have called on Schwab at its California headquarters to discuss the possibility of expanding its Austin operations, said Dave Porter, senior vice president for economic development at the chamber.

Porter said the discussions heated up a couple of months ago.

"We're excited about the opportunity," Porter said. "Hopefully, we will have 800 more people working in good jobs here."

Schwab also is opening a call center in El Paso as part of its Texas expansion. The state is providing $1.45 million for the El Paso project, which will create 445 jobs and $21.5 million in capital investment over the next 10 years.

Perry's commitment of $5.95 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund to Schwab is just the latest deal-closing incentive championed by the governor.

Since the Legislature created the fund in 2003, the state has invested nearly $560 million and closed on projects generating 75,000 jobs and nearly $24 billion in capital investment across the state, according the governor's office.

Austin's technology sector has benefited with deals that brought Apple, eBay, Visa and Facebook to Central Texas and helped persuade Samsung to expand its Austin operations.

However, incentives have been criticized in some quarters.

A legislative committee is studying the future of state incentives while Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has complained that companies -- including Dropbox, National Instruments and eBay -- have pulled out of incentive deals with the city because of onerous requirements.

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Schwab deal by the numbers

823 -- New jobs planned for Austin

$196 million -- Planned capital investment in Austin

$79,602 -- Average salary of new jobs

$4.5 million -- Incentives offered from the state

$8.5 million -- Estimated incentives from Travis County

$11 million -- Estimated benefits to Travis County

 

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