Report Signals Strength of Austin’s Cleantech Economy – So How Did we Become a Technopolis?

volts pecan stWhile growing up in Austin in the 70’s and 80’s, I did not fully appreciate one of the most important movements for the city was underway – the transformation of Austin into a hub of technological innovation. We can thank Dr. George Kozmetsky for that. While Dean of the College of Business at University of Texas in 1977, he founded the IC² Institute (which stands for Innovation, Creativity, and Capital) on the premise technological innovation can catalyze regional economic development by creating and leveraging synergies among the university, government, and private sectors. He understood the importance of collaboration and how communities working together across sectors can strengthen the economy.

More evidence of Dr. Kozmetsky’s leadership showed up last month when the Austin Technology Incubator and CleanTX Foundation, organizations born out of IC², provided the first ever Economic Impact Report for the Cleantech Sector in Central Texas. The report indicates the Austin Metropolitan Surrounding Areas have added $2.5 billion to the regional GDP with 20,000 jobs directly in the cleantech sector, and is expected to grow at 11 percent annually by 2020, almost twice the national growth rate. Furthermore, Clean Edge just named Austin as one of the top 10 metro areas for cleantech leadership in the nation.

These impressive cleantech numbers reflect an ecosystem that has flourished because of the technology foundation put in place three decades ago. Yet many people in the technology world in Central Texas today don’t know the critical and crucial role Dr. Kozmetsky played in its vision and development. 

[Tweet “.@CleanTX report signals strength of Austin’s #cleantech economy – so how did we become a technopolis? “]

The evolution of Austin as a “technopolis”

In the 80’s, Austin’s economy heavily depended on the government and the university. It needed to diversify.

That’s where Dr. Kozmetsky’s vision for an Austin “technopolis” comes in, helping the city land a major computer industry research and development company in 1983, Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation, followed in 1988 by a not-for-profit consortium that performs research and development to advance chip manufacturing, SEMATECH. Both ventures involved government, university, and business collaboration, which set the tone for the formation of the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) in 1989. A program of the IC² Institute, ATI has a 25-year track record of helping new tech companies achieve success and is one of the oldest continuously running incubators in the country. Flash forward to today and at least 15 incubators and accelerators call Austin home.

The arrival of cleantech

CleanTX, a cluster development organization for clean technology in Texas, came on the scene in 2006, spinning out of ATI’s Clean Energy Incubator with support from the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Austin Energy. CleanTX operates at the nexus of government, industry, academia, utility, and community interests. And it is CleanTX I can personally thank for the avenues to become involved in the burgeoning cleantech entrepreneurial movement in Austin. (Full disclosure: just last month, I was honored to become a board member for CleanTX.)

After a stint of living in Portland, OR, I moved back to Austin in 2008 to work in Applied Materials’ new solar division. I attended a “Solar Energy Entrepreneurs Network” CleanTX event and to my surprise,  a huge community of cleantech stakeholders – who regularly convened and conspired on how to grow this industry through their own individual creativity and opportunities – welcomed me with open arms. I did not realize how special this sense of community that CleanTX created was until my colleagues in other technology hubs shared this was not the case in their cities.

By December of 2008, I found myself at the launch of Pecan Street Inc., an organizational godchild of Dr. Kozmetsky’s vision of leveraging synergies among the university, government, and private sectors.  Pecan Street, a research and development organization focused on developing and testing advanced energy and water technology, was conceived to tackle some of today’s major urban challenges through cross-sector collaboration: how to create jobs, how to meet growing electricity needs, and how to limit climate pollution.

Cleantech boosts the Central Texas economy

Dr. George Kozmetsky and his vision enabled the growth and nurturing of the high technology sector in Austin, which provided the foundation to grow the cleantech sector and realize the double digit growth we anticipate. His contributions have resulted in employment for tens of thousands of Texans in jobs that advance the clean energy economy, and his accomplishments have helped bolster our state’s competitive position.

While many of the jobs that comprise the cleantech sector in Texas are obvious – like construction and engineering– some of the industries cited in the CleanTX report may surprise you. For example, both computer and semiconductor manufacturing companies are listed in the top ten industries for the role they play in building the components that make up clean energy technologies. This high-tech manufacturing base has been key to the growth of clean technology companies and jobs in the area.

So as we celebrate the emerging big business of cleantech in Austin and across the state, let’s remember how we got here. Innovative, collaborative organizations like the Austin Technology Incubator, CleanTX, and Pecan Street Inc. would most likely not exist if it were not for Dr. George Kozmetsky. And although Central Texas is not the only region making strides in cleantech, this new report shows clean technology has a significant role to play in the Austin area’s – and our whole state’s – economy.

Photo source: Pecan Street Inc.

This entry was posted in Green Jobs and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.