Austin's reputation as a tech hub is attracting the attention of global financial services provider VISA.
City council members on Wednesday had their first look an incentive package designed to bring the company here. If the deal is accepted, VISA would repurpose an existing building near U.S. 183 and McNeil Drive and create nearly 800 jobs.
Laura Pressly, an Austinite and former city council candidate, questioned whether VISA needs the $1.5 million in grant money. If the company chooses Austin, it would pay its local employees an average salary of $113,000 per year.
"Our average home value is $210,000, and you are asking us to subsidize people who can buy a $340,000 home?” Pressly said. “That's insanity."
Austin resident Paul Robbins argues that since the new location is in the Round Rock Independent School District, the deal would not help a struggling Austin ISD.
"I want Austin to be renowned as a city that tries to make the world a better place,” Robbins said. “Credit transactions and race cars are not at the top of this pyramid."
Even though city council is currently considering changes to its economic incentives policies, including living wage requirements, those would not apply to this deal because VISA had applied for its incentives package before the changes were drafted.
Council Member Laura Morrison hinted, however, that the new requirements could be asked of VISA before voting on the incentive package.
"If we are true to our values, we need to be standing up and implementing those in all of our actions," Morrison said.
She initially expressed concern VISA could create a vacuum effect on the local tech sector, taking qualified workers from other Austin companies. One solution, she says, is creating focused programs at local colleges and universities.
"I know there are folks in town working on that, partnering with ACC,” Morrison said. “I think we need to ramp that up."
If the deal is approved Visa will have at least 185 people on the job by the end of next year. It must employ 841 people by the end of 2017 to receive all the proposed incentives.
Austinites can still weigh in on the matter. A public hearing is set for 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6 at Austin City Hall.
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