The "P" is silent, but Pflugerville's leadership team is turning up the volume on its case for making this central Texas city a logical location for families and businesses.
ew highways and a triple freeport exemption make getting in and out of – and doing business in – Pflugerville, Texas, easier than ever. It's not that it was ever difficult to get to the city of 47,417 just a few miles northeast of state capital Austin, in central Texas' high-tech district. The difference is that businesses and residents can now use the new State Highway 130 to bypass increasingly congested I-35 through Austin, the so-called NAFTA highway, to get to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and points south. Another new toll road, State Highway 45, links Pflugerville to points west of the capital, crossing I-35 north of Austin.
The roads' significance is more than logistical: Increased traffic to and through Pflugerville will help dispel the myth in central Texas that the city's economic prospects evaporated with the farmland that shrank as Austin kept pace with the tech boom of recent decades (think Dell, Applied Materials, Freescale Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices, among many others). Pflugerville was
a farming community, like countless other cities in Texas – hence the apparent shortage of woodlands relative to the geography east of the Interstate and closer to Austin. But its potential is in the present and future, not its past. The new toll roads are only part of the story.
Mayor Jeff Coleman
"Pflugerville for different reasons is perceived as something different than we are," says Mayor Jeff Coleman. "Our average median income, for example, is in the ballpark of $89,000 per family, which is the second or third highest in central Texas." But the city is still perceived as being a lower- to middle-income community with limited appeal to house-hunters looking to trade up.
"Average education level and median income are very important to businesses looking to locate facilities," says Coleman. "Everything I have seen says that we have a better-educated work force in Pflugerville and a higher number of college-degreed professionals than most areas. As for income, we are not an affluent community, but we are a very middle-class community. We have no upper income or lower income, so we have none of the extremes pulling us in one direction or the other, as most communities have."
Pflugerville is one of just a handful of cities in central Texas with a triple freeport tax exemption. Freeport goods are those made for shipment outside of Texas. The measure exempts certain types of inventory from ad valorem, or property tax, if it is acquired into Texas to be forwarded out of state; detained in Texas for assembling, storing, manufacturing, processing by the person who acquired or imported it; and transported out of state within 175 days of being imported into the state.
"The benefit is the competitive advantage we create for businesses locating in Pflugerville," says the mayor. "This exemption means that none of the parties – the city, county or school district – will go after those taxable items. We are therefore a less expensive place in which to do business for companies assembling items and shipping them on."
Speaking of the school district, Pflugerville's school district has played a key role in supporting and enabling the city's growth. Central to that effort is its highly involved superintendent, Charles Dupre. Among other commitments, Dupre co-chairs the Technology and Education Executive Committee (TEEC), a regional partnership between public schools and Austin's substantial technology industry.
"Our objective is to make sure we're bridging the public education system, the higher education system and the workplace," he explains. "Our district is fully engaged in that kind of global thinking for our community. We want to produce quality employees who are prepared for the work force, whether as a professional engineer after college or someone coming right out of high school certified for a given job."
Life in the Fast Lanes
The significance of the new toll roads cannot be overstated, says Coleman, given the need for new roads to handle the Austin area's rapid growth. Interstate 35 and another north-south artery keep traffic moving along that axis.
However, "Prior to SH 45, there were no significant east-west connectors," he explains. "Between highways 45 and 130, Pflugerville is the only community in central Texas with immediate access both north-south and east-west. For businesses that need to put people on an airplane, people can live 20 or 25 miles from the airport and still make it there in about 25 minutes."
Coleman points to unlimited growth potential along the Highway 130 corridor with relatively inexpensive land (thanks in part to the dearth of trees) and a development-friendly topography.
"The toll roads allow access anywhere in central Texas and provide immediate access to north and south Texas, as well as east Texas, bypassing the gridlock on I-35."
The city's economic development arm, Pflugerville Community Development Corp. (PCDC), owns 130 acres on SH 130 and is looking at how best to develop that land or prepare it for development.
"All of the zoning is in place, so a business can find the site online and see how it is zoned – that's all in place and ready to go," says Coleman. "We have a very aggressive city council, so if the right business comes along that we want to court actively, we will convince them that Pflugerville is the place to go. We want one domino to fall, and once we get that one big investor, others will see that there's a good deal out here. So we will be very aggressive with that first big user."
The first domino to fall is likely to come from one of PCDC's five target industries – biomedical/healthcare & life sciences, semiconductors, distribution, clean energy or corporate headquarters. But other sectors are no less welcome.
"I'm looking for almost anyone looking to make a move away from an area in which they no longer feel comfortable or welcome to a new area," says Coleman. "If that happens to come from one of those five industries, great. Whatever opportunity we can find we will go after."
The Deep End of the Pool
City Council member Wayne Cooper, a landscape architect with Richardson, Texas-based Halff Associates and certified community planner, cites Pflugerville's "high-quality schools, high-quality housing and safe neighborhoods" as contributing to a sense that the city was a "good, wholesome place to live" when he and his family moved into the area in 2001. "Our realtor steered us toward Pflugerville and [adjacent] Round Rock," Cooper recalls.
Cooper's work brings him to communities throughout Texas, giving him a unique perspective in terms of seeing what works in community planning and what might not.
How To Be Near the Interstate But Not On the Interstate
Perhaps the most vivid example is Pflugerville's ability to manage its water supply at a time when Travis County and environs are in the midst of a severe drought.
City Council member Wayne Cooper
"We do not have to ration water, and some nearby communities are looking at doing that or are doing it," Cooper notes. "We have capacity at full use for another 50 years."
The city built a 200-acre lake and has water rights and a pumping system for bringing in water from the Colorado River to keep it replenished. And a water-treatment plant can be expanded to meet growth requirements as they emerge.
"We had the foresight to put all of that in place, so we are well-prepared to address any future development with infrastructure that can be expanded to accommodate it," says Cooper.
The right steps are being taken today to make sure Pflugerville remains open for business tomorrow, says Cooper. "Within five years, we will have put all the ordinances and regulations in place and fine tuned them as new developments come in, and we should be positioned to accommodate just about anybody. We're an innovative group on the Council," he adds, "with a lot of people that own businesses and have ideas about what we want to have happen. But we're not so locked into those things that we won't listen to someone with new ideas."
PCDC Board member and local banker Janice Heath says despite the area's growth, Pflugerville still has a small-town feel, making it easy to get to know people.
"Yet it's large enough to provide all the right amenities," she adds.
The Chamber of Commerce, PCDC, the School District and the city work as partners managing Pflugerville's growth, says Heath. "If you can get all the leaders in the community on the same page working for the same goals, it will really help attract new businesses and families to town."
Of interest to potential corporate headquarters investors, says Heath, is the nearby Austin Executive Airport near SH 130, which is expanding its runway to more than 6,000 feet to accommodate business jets.
Working with existing businesses in Pflugerville is just as important as attracting new ones, says Heath, and existing businesses work well with each other as needs arise. "It's a friendly business environment. We work well together and we work to the benefit of Pflugerville."
What 'Business-Friendly' Means
Progressive Manufacturing Technology is a recent transplant to Pflugerville from a nearby community. The company, which makes precision-machined components out of ceramic, metal and plastic materials for
companies in the semiconductor, energy, automotive, medical, metal-forming and advanced marking technologies sectors, could find no suitable location where it was when it came time to expand. But it found exactly the space it needed in the Verde Springbrook Corporate Center on SH 45 in Pflugerville, a development of Verde Corporate Realty Services.
"Pflugerville is very business-friendly," says Dan Christiano, vice president, manufacturing and engineering. "From beginning to end of our discussion was about two and a half weeks."
Given the specialized nature of the company's required skill set, it was important to retain as many workers as possible when it came time to change locations, says Christiano.
"We have invested a great deal of time in developing our employees and didn't want to move to an adverse location where we would lose that institutional knowledge we have worked so hard to cultivate and keep," he elaborates. The company employs 25 people.
Once Pflugerville officials understood the company's business and objectives, they moved quickly to facilitate relocation to the Verde project with build-out cost assistance and funds for the actual move. Discussions had taken place with several nearby cities and towns, but none came forward with incentives – or followed through with proposed offers of assistance.
"Sometimes, things happen for a reason, and I don't think it was a coincidence that [Economic Development Director] Charles Simon called us right when we needed some help," says Christiano.
"For a community with a small-town feel, Pflugerville has the conveniences one would expect to find in a larger place," he says. "But it's a very family-friendly place at the same time – they have not abandoned that concept. In fact, they seem very reticent to ideas that would force them to choose a path away from that concept."
Besides the new logistics advantages afforded by the new toll roads, Christiano points to Pflugerville's "infrastructure for supporting manufacturing" and "ready and able work force" as points not to miss when evaluating the city.
"You can bill yourself as being business-friendly or as family-friendly, but never take the time to listen to the people and pay attention to the folks you already have and continue to improve relationships with them," he says. "Pflugerville is in tune with the fact that even though you are already part of the fold, they will spend time with you. It's not like the cell-phone company where you get the plan upfront and the great deal to get in, and then they keep jacking the rates up because you're not new anymore. They do a very good job of reaching out to those who have invested their money in the city and taking care of them. I appreciate that, because it's often not done very well."
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