In return to Austin, Cedar Park’s new economic development director says ‘sky’s the limit’

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Apr 30th, 2024

Arthur Jackson is back, and he’s on the hunt for economic wins

By Justin Sayers – Senior Staff Writer, Austin Business Journal

Apr 24, 2024 Updated Apr 25, 2024 8:38am CDT

Arthur Jackson’s return to the Austin area to lead economic development in Cedar Park was all about relationships.

First and foremost, the born-and-raised Central Texan and his wife wanted to be closer to their family. Second, there was his relationship with Ben White, his predecessor in Cedar Park who he views as a mentor. There was also a foundation he laid years ago with Cedar Park leadership, including City Manager Brenda Eivens. And lastly, there was the support of regional partnerships and the county government to continue “international economic development growth in this part of Austin,” he said.

Those factors and more helped seal the deal for Jackson to take over as Cedar Park’s chief economic development officer on April 15. Jackson previously handled economic development at Opportunity Austin from 2015 to 2021 and served as senior vice president of the Tulsa Regional Chamber in Oklahoma until recently.

In his new role, he’ll be tasked with maintaining the momentum of Cedar Park, which is located about 20 miles northwest of Austin and has a population of about 78,000. The city in the last several years has helped foster the growth of a number of companies while also attracting new ones, like rocket maker Firefly Aerospace Inc., electric truck parts maker Hyliion Holdings Corp. and Korean semiconductor supplier Hanyang ENG Co. Ltd.

Jackson has hit the ground running, already participating in site selector visits and meetings with advanced manufacturers seeking built-out space.

In between, he spoke with the Austin Business Journal about what it’s like to be back in Cedar Park and his priorities for the city’s economic development.

On his impression of Cedar Park since returning:

“It’s even better,” Jackson said, pointing to the number of companies that now call Cedar Park their corporate headquarters, or the city’s role in the growing semiconductor ecosystem to support Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. building in Taylor, and more. “Those things were not necessarily on the table for Cedar Park when I left, so to know the great work and the foundation that’s been laid by previous economic developers is really remarkable.”

On top of that, he pointed to the retail recruitment, with big projects like the Nebraska Furniture Market development that includes a 1.2 million-square-foot NFM storeNorth Dakota-based sporting goods chain Scheels, as well as a future convention center.

“The sky’s the limit for the city,” Jackson said. “We still have more development on the rise, and we have a pretty deep project pipeline to continue that growth here.”

On what sectors are of importance to the fast-growing city:

Jackson said that the primary industry they’ll continue to target is advanced manufacturing. But unlike some of their partners in Williamson County, like Georgetown, Hutto, or Taylor, “while we do have water, we’re being intentional how we conserve that and use that for projects,” he said.

“You won’t see any of the big gigafactories out here in Cedar Park. We don’t have 1000-acre mega sites,” Jackson said, saying they’ll likely attract the companies like Firefly, Hyliion or Silicon Valley-based semiconductor industry supplier EcoMicron Inc., which is eyeing the suburb for its headquarters.

That mixture of corporate headquarters and advanced manufacturing opportunities, along with the general residential growth in Cedar Park, has resulted in “a lot of diverse talent up here.” That can help propel them into other industries like life sciences, he said.

“Obviously, we need the infrastructure built, but I think the tools that we have within the city, whether that’s development incentives or incentives to get companies here, we can help build out some of that infrastructure when you talk about wet lab space and things of that nature,” Jackson said.

On whether there’s room for more development in Cedar Park:

Even with that push for more density and careful growth, Jackson pointed to a number of big developments underway in the city, like San Francisco-based Prologis Inc.’s industrial park on Brushy Creek Road or the 95-acre mixed-use New Hope project. Both are well underway and have interest from tenants.

“We do still have a lot of work to do and a lot of space and development that’s happening here to be able to support those projects,” Jackson said.

One thing that he said separates Cedar Park from other cities is its partnership with Plug and Play Tech Center, a Silicon Valley-based company that bills itself as a conduit for corporate innovation and startup funding, which recently opened in the city.

Jackson said entrepreneurship is a focus of economic development, as cities need to help foster the growth of companies rather than just attracting behemoths.

“We can’t continue to just to focus on these big job creators, we also have to foster that growth, and I think a smaller city like Cedar Park is poised to do that, especially with the support of Plug and Play to really get those next Metas, those next Googles of the world, and hopefully have them headquartered here and have them grow,” Jackson said.

On how tourism plays a role in economic development:

Cedar Park is an emerging tourism destination. Take the H-E-B Center that houses the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars and NBA G-League’s Austin Spurs, plus the amenities around it, as an example.

But the city is also attracting destination retail, like NFM, Scheels and the future Perfect Game Inc. headquarters and sports complex.

These types of amenities — plus a good quality of life, like Cedar Park’s outdoor parks and trails and entertainment options — is key to helping land prospective companies, Jackson said.

“We say that for economic development, you’re not going to be successful in a project, if you don’t get the site selection team or the executive team that’s doing the selection process into your city. They’re just not going to make an announcement before they’ve made a site visit,” he said. “So you want people to visit, you want people to have a good time, and we have those things that provide the quality of place.”

That will open up a larger prospective talent base and more development, plus it will provide tax dollars that can be used to court additional projects.

“That just leads to hopefully more talent moving here and more people moving here. But at the end of the day, we’re the city so we also want those tax dollars. That really helps uplift everybody — not only the city but also companies who are looking at continue to recruit talent here as they grow,” Jackson said.

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