Q&A: New Williamson County EDP head Dave Porter talks future of growth hot spot

Q&A: New Williamson County EDP head Dave Porter talks future of growth hot spot

By Justin Sayers  –  Staff Writer, Austin Business Journal

Nov 3, 2022

When Williamson County Economic Development Partnership leaders reached out to Dave Porter this summer, he jumped at the opportunity to help.

It had been more than seven years since he left his longtime post working for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce for a role in Florida. But he always felt that the Austin metro remained the envy of the economic development world.

Porter was initially brought on as a consultant to develop a strategic plan — but months later he’s tasked with putting those ideas to work as he was named the group’s first executive director late last month.

He’ll lead the partnership as it attempts to achieve aggressive growth, spearheaded by a new $600,000 budget, in the burgeoning economic hub north of Austin. The group was founded in 2014 and is aimed at marketing and promoting economic development across the county, whether it’s hosting site selecting tours or dealing directly with companies. Members include Williamson County, Cedar Park, Georgetown, Jarrell, Leander, Liberty Hill, Round Rock and Taylor.

Williamson County’s rapidly maturing business landscape and exploding population have bolstered its importance to the Central Texas economy. Its population reached an estimated 643,026 in 2021, up more than 50% from 422,679 in 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Among the companies that have announced expansions or relocations to the region over the past year are Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which is building a $17 billion semiconductor factory in Taylor; CelLink Corp., which is gearing up to occupy a 300,000-square-foot building in Georgetown; and Valex Corp., which is expanding to both Round Rock and Georgetown. Long-time corporate denizens include Dell Technologies Inc. and Emerson Automation Solutions.

As he transitions into his new role, Porter answered some questions, including why returned to Central Texas, what advantages he thinks Williamson County has in the region and priorities in his new role.

What was it about this job that made you want to return?

The excitement around everything happening in Central Texas — that everything is beginning to grow out of Travis County. A lot of the tech-related opportunities I see as an opportunity for Williamson County. Samsung was a huge announcement, CelLink up in Georgetown, Apple and of course we have the Dell global headquarters. It’s becoming a center of employment here in Williamson County. It reminds me a little bit of Austin, Travis County about 10 years ago when momentum was beginning to take off.

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What was the biggest shock about Williamson County now versus before you left?

You just don’t see any distinction really between Round Rock and Georgetown, Round Rock and Cedar Park, Cedar Park and Leander. Everything is kind of filling in, which I think is incredible. That creates a lot of opportunity for the workforce, for companies to come in and take advantage of the workforce that lives here, that maybe commutes into Austin. If we can get some more employers to be located up here, that would ease a lot of the traffic congestion.

There’s just a whole slew of things but being involved like I was, from 2004 to the end of 2014, it’s just, it’s a magical place from an economic development standpoint. Opportunity Austin has been a tremendous success for the region, and it’s because of them that Williamson County is really no longer simply a bedroom county. There’s so much potential, with the eight or nine cities in Williamson County providing a menu of options for companies, whether it’s industrial or office.

What are your priorities?

One of the key priorities is we need to get a better understanding of our availability of buildings and sites in the county for both industrial and office use. So we’ll be doing a comprehensive inventory of sites, both that are ready or could be ready within a short period of time. And then we’ll start pushing the product. We have the workforce, and we’ll start marketing Williamson County as a great place to do business.

What does Williamson County have that other areas of the metro don’t have?

I think the big difference is you have really a pro-business county government here in Williamson County and all the cities are pro-business. I see that as a great opportunity. It’s always been challenging in Austin, but it’s been successful. But I just think having a business-friendly environment will just only help attract more companies here.

Are their target industries you’re going after?

It kind of follows the same strategy that Opportunity Austin has — the same industry sectors are very similar here. I think there’s a push here to get more industrial. At the same time, I think communities like Round Rock, Cedar Park and Georgetown could use more class A office space. If you look at all the announcements that have been made over the last few years in the region, probably 75% of those have been office-related projects. So if we had more office product here, we might be able to win a few more of those.

Why do you think it’s time for Williamson County EDP to branch out on its own?

For the last 20 years, they’ve relied — and it’s worked well — on the Austin Chamber through Opportunity Austin to do the majority of the marketing. Now that we’ve landed here in Williamson County a couple of major league announcements, and with the growth that’s occurring here, it’s time to take a little bit more control of our destiny. We’ll continue to be a partner with the Austin Chamber, that’s never going to go away. But we’re going to rely more on internal marketing and it’s only going to be what I consider to be gravy with Opportunity Austin doing marketing. To have an organization here in Williamson County focused on marketing full-time, Opportunity Austin will only supplement what we’re doing.

What did you miss most about Austin while you were gone?

Tex-Mex. I have been gorging myself on Tex-Mex. But other than that, I’ve missed the people. There’s a can-do attitude here in Central Texas, and in Texas in general, that I haven’t found in a lot of other places.

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