A great deal of compelling information was shared at the recent Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) Exchange event held at the JW Marriott. One of the sessions, Why Are Companies Choosing to Expand in Austin, included panelists from Google and Merck, both expanding their presence in Austin.
Heather Paffe, Director of External Affairs for Merck, said they plan to hire several hundred people in Austin over the next 10 years. The emerging healthcare ecosystem and Dell Medical School opening made Austin a good fit for Merck. She credited the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce as well as community leaders for being pro-active in working with Merck to get them here.
Gerardo Interiano, Head of Local Market Staffing for Google, emphasized a focus on diversifying in an effort to prevent effects similar to the tech bust in 2000. At about 300,000 square feet and 800 employees in their downtown office, Interiano believes that Google’s growth is directly related to Austin. He noted that Austin’s culture has huge appeal for their employee base, and quipped that the city is the perfect intersection of fitness and food. He indicated that Austin is the ideal pilot market for Google Fiber and self-driving cars.
Paffe added that the spirit of collaboration in Austin is also a draw for Merck, versus the highly competitive environment of Silicon Valley. When asked who Merck is hiring, she said access to top talent is one of the main reasons they chose Austin. Internally, they refer to Austin as the IT hub. They also benefit from working closely with local universities to develop recruiting pipelines, which works well as graduates often state that staying in Austin is a big priority for them. However, she also notes that competition for top talent in Austin is high, and because senior level talent tends to be happy where they are, they must be creative in recruiting.
Interiano said Google staff in Austin consists largely of their recruiting team and sales team. He noted the soft skills for sales and recruiting tend to work well together, making cross-training easier.
Both Paffe and Interiano named transportation and infrastructure as the biggest challenges for their employees in terms of commute time, and both companies are seeking creative solutions. Google offers a Van Pool and picks up the tab on the van and gas for those willing to carpool. They are also trying incentives, like paying employees to find alternatives to driving to work. Merck hosts company events using public transportation to give employees a chance to experience the routes. Paffe says alternative transportation is a big focus for Merck, and that about 50% of the team does not drive themselves to work.
Aside from transportation woes, it came as no surprise that quality of life in Austin is a big draw for companies and individuals alike.