Economy

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The Second Annual SXSW Eco Conference and Festival kicks off today and is aptly named Evolving the Environmental Conversation.

The three day conference will bring in experts from all over the globe who are working to find sustainable environmental solutions. Attendees will get top-level presentations and discussions with professionals in the public, private and academic sectors. SXSW Eco hopes that the participants will gain access to information that will allow them to both collaborate and advance solutions for the challenges facing the environment, economy and society. 

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The Austin area experienced the greatest jobs gain in Texas last month, as unemployment dropped half a percentage point.  

In August, the Austin area added 5,900 jobs, according to the Workforce Solutions Capital Area Workforce Board.  This brings the Austin unemployment rate down from 6.4 percent in July to 5.9 percent in August. This is third time this year that the unemployment rate has dropped below six percent. Prior to April 2012, Austin had not seen an unemployment rate below six percent since 2009.

Tiffany Daniels, of Workforce Solutions Capital Area explains where Austin saw its biggest gains:

In professional and business services, we saw gains of 2,300 hires in August.  That is one of our strongest segments [in Austin], and again, expect to see continued growth in those areas. Local government, retail trade and financial activities also saw significant increases of 1300 and 900, respectively.

HID Global

Traffic is now clearing up around Stassney Lane and Manchaca Road after a gas leak at the intersection this morning. Schools in the area started on time. Here's a roundup of other news this morning:

More HID Global Incentives?

Travis County Commissioners will meet in executive session today to talk about whether the county will offer economic incentives to a company that’s considering relocating to the area.

The State of Texas is already offering HID Global $1.9 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund. And the City of Austin is considering offering the company close to a million dollars in rebates on taxes for real estate and equipment purchases. The city plans to hold a public hearing on the issue Sept. 27.

In return, HID Global would build a manufacturing and distribution center in Northeast Austin, and create 276 jobs over 10 years. HID Global makes products like ID cards and key-card readers.

Problems in Texas County Prisons

Today Texas lawmakers will take a look at problems facing county jails.

Update at 12:31 p.m. ET. Federal Reserve Announces QE3:

The Federal Reserve announced it would spend $40 billion a month on bond purchases in an effort to stimulate the economy and drive the the unemployment rate down.

The Wall Street Journal says that unlike the first two rounds of Quantitative Easing, this time the Fed will focus solely on buying mortgage-backed securities.

The iPhone 5 will give a nice boost to U.S. economic growth in the last three months of this year, according to a new note from JPMorgan.

General Motors

An announcement on the General Motors website this morning says the auto maker is coming to Austin – creating an "Information Technology Innovation Center" that may ultimately employ up to 500 people. 

The company writes on its website:

Austin was chosen for an Innovation Center because the city already has people with the skills GM is seeking -  46,000, according to the May 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Report.

“We anticipate hiring as many as 500 new GM employees in Austin,”[GM Chief Information Officer Randy Mott] said. “We look to the Innovation Centers to design and deliver IT that drives down the cost of ongoing operations while continuously increasing the level and speed at which innovative products and services are available to GM customers."

hidglobal.com

City officials are mulling another economic incentives agreement with a company eyeing Austin for expansion – this time, California-based HID Global.

The self-described provider of “secure identity” products produces items like key-card readers, RFID tags, ID cards and more. In city documents, HID Global writes that it wants to build a manufacturing and distribution center in Austin. 

The company is offering to create at least 276 full-time jobs over 10 years – 47 before the end of 2014, and 276 by the end of 2015. Positions range from semiconductor and electronic component assembly, printing and film developing, to warehouse and shipping jobs. The average proposed wage is approximately $51,000 a year, but the expected average wage of the lowest paid 10 percent of workers is estimated at $21,000. You can read the proposed economic development agreement.

Erik Reyna for KUT News

Texas has one of the strongest economies in the nation. But in recent months the Lone Star State seems to have been outshined by the Golden State. The U.S. Labor Department reports that California has added 365,100 new jobs to its economy while Texas added 222,500.

This horse race captured the attention of The Atlantic. In a post to its website called “Why California Is Suddenly Adding Jobs Faster Than Texas,” author Jordan Weissman posits several reasons for the change:. One is growing government jobs in California versus declining government work in Texas. Another is the theory that California’s economy is primarily based on housing – which is making a slow but somewhat steady recovery.

Laura Rice, KUT News

Austin economist Jon Hockenyos says bringing a medical school and teaching hospital to Austin could add about 15,000 permanent jobs to the community.

Hockenyos says nearly 7,000 of those jobs would be directly connected with the medical facility and research. The other 8,000 or so would be indirectly created.

“The impact of this facility and the operation of this entire complex is going to create ripple effects through the whole community and so we’ll raise the overall level of economic activity here and that will in turn create opportunities in restaurants and dry cleaners and for people supplying things to the medical complex – all those different, related, ancillary activities will then, in turn, have to hire workers,” Hockenyos says.

After months of sitting on their wallets, Americans went shopping in July. The uptick reported Tuesday is boosting economists' hopes for a reasonably strong back-to-school season. And retailers are looking for clues about how the holiday shopping season will turn out later in the year.

"This is a good report," Chris Christopher, an economist with IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm, wrote in an assessment of the latest report. "It indicates that consumers came back after hunkering down" during the year's first half when sales were "dismal."

Update at 4:33 p.m. ET. Right At Expectations:

Facebook reported slightly stronger than expected profits. For the second quarter, it reported a net loss of $157 million or 11 cents a share. But when it adjusted its earnings to remove stock compensation charges related to its IPO, Reuters reports, Facebook actually made 12 cents a share.

Former Citigroup CEO Says Big Banks Should Be Split Up

Jul 25, 2012

Sandy I. Weill, the former Citigroup CEO who helped usher in the era of super banks, said during an interview with CNBC today that big banks should be split up.

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That’s a lot of Chimichangas: The parent company of Austin restaurant chain Chuy’s made its initial stock offering Monday, raising $75.8 million.

Chuy's Holdings Inc. will begin trading shares today on the NASDAQ exchange, under the trading symbol CHUY. It makes Chuy’s Austin's newest publicly-traded company.

The Austin-American Statesman reports that the company originally filed for an initial public offering in August of last year, amid a market downturn when few companies were making IPOs. But the market has since strengthened, and the IPO window has reopened. 

Almost two billion dollars in Texas sales taxes were collected in June – some 15 percent more than the state collected in June last year.

Austin's share of sales taxes comes to about $12.5 million in revenue, which is up more than 10 percent from the same time last year.

"Sales tax revenue has increased for 27 consecutive months in Texas,” Comptroller Susan Combs says in a statement. “Strong business spending in industries such as manufacturing and oil and natural gas boosted the latest sales tax collections. Revenue from consumer spending in the retail trade and restaurant sectors also did well."

Losing your job is rarely good. Not being able to find one for months can be disastrous for individuals, and bad for society as well. Yet during the recent recession and the current anemic recovery, more people in the U.S. have been unemployed for longer than at any time since 1948.

Of all Americans who were unemployed in June, almost half had been without a job for 27 weeks or longer. In other words, 5.4 million people have been jobless for more than half a year.

KUT News

Home prices have again increased in the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos area.

Prices rose 5.7 percent since last May, and 2.3 percent since last month, according to a home prices index released by a real estate data company.

Amand Nallathambi is the president of CoreLogic, the company that released the report.  "The recent upward trend in U.S. home prices is an encouraging signal that we may be seeing a bottoming of the housing down cycle," he says in a press release. "Tighter inventory is contributing to broad, but modest, price gains nationwide and more significant gains in the harder-hit markets, like Phoenix."

KUT News

The Central Texas housing market continues to be a strong one, according to numbers released today by the Austin Board of Realtors.

May 2012 was the 12th straight month of sales increases. It’s also the fourth consecutive month of price increases.

“That has to do with our shrinking inventory,” says Board of Realtors chairman Leonard Guerrero, crediting the shrink to “the jobs that have been created in our state and in our local area, Austin, in particular. And the number of people that are coming into the state to fill those positions.”

flickr.com/maysbusinessschool

New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show the effects of a down economy: median household net worth declined by 35 percent between 2005 and 2010. That’s a loss of over $36,000, falling from $102,844 to $66,740.

”The overall decline in net worth reflects drops in housing values and stock market indices,” Census Bureau economist Alfred Gottschalck says in a statement.

While the households of people over 65 lost more money over the period, people under 35 lost a much greater percentage of net worth. Similarly, while groups at all levels of education also experienced declines, education provided a degree of economic insulation.

Austin’s unemployment rate went up last month.

It hit a three-year low in April of 5.5 percent, but grew last month to 5.8 percent.

According to the Workforce Solutions Capital Area Workforce Board, that increase is the largest the Austin area has seen since June 2011 (6.7 percent in May 2011 to 7.6 percent in June 2011). 

“Going up three tenths of a percent – it’s never positive to go up, we’d love to see the continued decreases that we’ve seen over the last few years – but we still created 2,000 jobs in the month of May. So while it may not be the number that we’re hoping for, it’s definitely positive and we continue to encourage employers to look at new job opportunities locally,” said Tiffany Daniels, Communication Coordinator for Workforce Solutions Capital Area Workforce Board.

Flickr.com/exlibris

More Texans are planning to go on vacation this summer.

A new AAA Texas survey found 75 percent of Texans plan to take at least one summer trip. That’s up from 72 percent last year.

Lower gas prices may have something to do with the increase. In Austin, a gallon of unleaded is about 20 cents cheaper now than a year ago.

Around half of those who are traveling say gas prices are not significantly affecting their plans. The survey found those Texans who are going on vacation are finding ways to adjust their trip budgets for gas prices.

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