Austin has been growing at breakneck speed. Over the past year, we were #1 in percentage population growth and #3 in employment growth. This doesn't event tell the whole story. The entire metro from Bastrop to Dripping Springs and San Marco to Temple is maturing and changing. We are establishing numerous innovation hubs that operate independently from each other and come together into mesh network that is our region. We talk today with John Garrett, Founder and CEO of Community Impact Newspaper about this hyper-local phenomena and what is means for media, innovation, and the future of Austin.
You can also check out their wonderful podcast The Austin Breakdown to get unique insights into the region.
Austin is more than just Austin and that is the foundation for What's Next Austin?
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Our music is “Tech Talk” by Kevin MacLeod. Licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 License
Michael Scharf: Austin is the new innovation powerhouse, not the next Silicon valley, but the first Austin, we are adapting to the future in real time.
Jason Scharf: I'm Jason Scharf, a biotech executive, and early stage investor.
Michael Scharf: And I'm Michael Scharf advisor and board member for multiple private companies.
Jason Scharf: You can call us optimists, abundance minded up wing, and even solutionist.
We see a bright future ahead that can be achieved through innovation and
Michael Scharf: In this podcast, we explore Austin superpowers, the people and companies driving our growth. And the macro and micro trends that come together to create Austin today.
Jason Scharf: This is Austin next.
No one can really argue that Austin has been growing in a fantastic pace. The bureau of labor statistics reported that through February the Austin, Metro ranked third in employment growth, we added about 101,000 jobs year over year.. And increased our total base by 140,000, looking back through the pandemic, but this growth encompasses not just the city of Austin, but our entire region.
We're growing at ludicrous speed to go to an analyst from civic analytics. This region encompasses an area from Bastrop to dripping Springs from San Marcos to temple with hubs and round rock Cedar park, Buddha, as well as downtown will becoming a multi hub region with all the benefits and pitfalls of that term. One key element of making it work is local information delivered to local consumers.
And that's where our guest is making his mark. John Garrett started community impact newspaper from the game room of his home and with his wife and best friend, Jennifer, their belief that everyone not just the insiders should know what is happening in their own backyard. John has been named best CEO by the Austin business journal and a distinguished young alumnus from Sam Houston state University.
He also won the KPMG executive leadership award from the Austin chamber of commerce among many other accolades. The Garretts launched their first edition of CI in 2005 with a round rock Pflugerville paper. Today community impact news publishes more than 40 additions serving over 60 communities, including 11 additions in the Austin, Metro as well as Dallas Fort worth Houston, San Antonio, Nashville and Phoenix.
John, welcome to Austin next.
John Garrett: Thanks so much for having me guys.
Jason Scharf: So a bit of background started off. What made you embark on this journey of hyper-local publishing?
John Garrett: Well, I always joke that we were hyper-local before hyper-local hyper-local was cool, you know, 2005 was when we started community impact.
My whole career has been in the newspaper business. So I started at the Houston Chronicle in the late nineties, mid to late nineties. So the glory years, I mean, we were killing it, print and money only game in town, really. I mean, everybody followed the newspapers back. But it gave me a great opportunity.
I was always on the business side, but it gave me unbelievable opportunity. I learned so much about technology there at the Chronicle. I learned about people. I learned about circulation and quality, but my wife and I are from Austin. So we just like everybody else, even now back then everyone wanted to be in Austin.
That was in Texas for sure. And so we wanted to move back. I took a job with the Austin business journals. My first management job was the advertising director of the Austin business journal. And it's just 26 years old. And my first management gig, I learned so much, I learned about, you know, how to build a great team.
We were one of the worst performing business journals on chain of 41. And when, when I left there, we were one of the top two. So, wow. That's really up there. Yeah, that was great. I had a great team and learned a lot is a great, a great experience for me because I learned so much about kind of the tone of CI.
Right. It's kind of a business journal tone. But the reason why we went at hyper-local is because, you know, my wife and I lived up in round rock and I was just driving into the business journal every morning. And at the time that what's now called 45, it was called Louis henna Boulevard. They were billing it, tearing it down, building it, tearing it down.
And we're like, what, what is, what are they doing? We don't even understand what they're doing with these roads. And you know, of course they were building the toll roads and no one knew no one knew where they were going or how much they were gonna cost and since I worked downtown, I was really interested in, you know, people that are new don't understand how 45 connects to MoPac was like a miracle because before then it was like driving down Burnet road every single morning, but like multiply by like 10 just to get to downtown.
Austin was very difficult back then to get to downtown Austin. So it was like the curiosity that is really what got us. And of course at the time, The only real local publications were, you know, kind of the traditional community newspapers, which I think were a lot better back then, but still they wrote about, you know, Johnny kicking, the winning field goal, that kind of thing.
And my wife, I didn't have any kids, we just wanted it. We didn't have a Starbucks back then, are they going to build a Starbucks near us? Like, that's all we cared about. So it was curiosity and my experience at the Houston Chronicle and the Austin Business Journal that kind of brought it all together. And I got, I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I had all these really bad ideas.
My wife would just reject. And then I came up with this idea and she's like, you nailed it. And so I quit and I took $40,000 credit card loan out from Southwest airlines. And we started CI from the game room of our house. And and, and the rest is still being written, I guess. I don't want to say history cause we're still, we're still writing our story.
Jason Scharf: No, but I love it. And I love the value prop that you guys are bringing in. I think. It was in a speech, I guess you said he was like, as you said, the Johnny kicking the winning field goal, which didn't always provide, unless you're Johnny's parents. Of course then you, you were very interested in that, but you know, I kind of joked that like every time we get community impact, There's at least one story that provides a, you know, leads to a discussion in my house, whether it be something about the school district or the, you know, housing prices or whatever.
So I've always really enjoyed getting it and going through it then obviously, you know, the same, you know, obviously if the advertising model and we're going to go through it twice, once for the stories and ones for the, okay, what is right near us that has some sort of interesting deal coming up. So at at works, And you guys have expanding a lot and choose, you know, you've got 10 different, you know, communities in, in Austin.
How do you choose. What creates these little, you know, hubs that you're going to cover.
John Garrett: Yeah. Great question. I mean, well, we've always just thought through, like, how does commerce work? How does transportation work? You know, how do we regionalize that? Obviously our model is also ad driven. So we're sensitive to total circulation numbers.
We've got to, we've got to have a, a model that will support. Our, our circulation through local advertising. So, you know, like Northwest Austin, when we started that publication, that was the first one in Austin, proper. We were in round rock, of course, in Cedar park and those areas. But we, we went to Northwest Austin, you know, I grew up in kind of Gracie woods area, which is kind of Parmer metric is where I grew up.
And I always knew, I always felt like Northwest Austin was really like that. The local papers didn't really give it enough coverage. The local business community in particular. And at that time, you know, the domain was just getting started. The red line was just happening. And so we, so we were kind of looking okay, are there news events that are happening to this area?
How, how does Northwest Austin actually have a voice to city hall? This was actually before they had the district. So, you know, it was the, the council members were very central Austin, you know, Geared. And they focus most of their policies and even, even funding on those areas. And so we wanted to say, Hey, Northwest Austin deserves a voice.
We went and met with mayor. Well, when, at the time we were launching Northwest Austin and they agreed, they, they really wanted to engage the Austin citizenry and the Northwest Austin area. If you can imagine that they didn't have representation in city hall. And so we wanted to be kind of the representation.
And so when that city was doing their budget, we wanted to hold the city accountable in terms of like how many park dollars were going to Northwest Austin Parks. Those kinds of things. So that's kind of how we, how we decide the areas it's it's editorial need it's is there enough business there to help support the, the advertising driven model and kind of like where do people go and live, work, and play and try to keep it within that area.
Jason Scharf: How has that changed? Right. And we said 10, you started with Northwest Austin. Where are you? See, you know, obviously when you decide, Hey, we're going to put a, you know, a, a community newspaper in this region that is a point of saying we've hit a certain level of maturity for that region.
John Garrett: Right. And I think, you know, we're already seeing it, like we're, we're we're doing some really cool things like central Austin, for example, was, was one edition DW who runs our central Austin papers, amazing leader.
She she said, Hey, we got to split some of this up. So we added some additional circulation on the east side which has been a lot of people have asked for a long time. And we're, we're kind of creating these new zones around our fleet liberals and other great examples. So we used to go to round rock fleet of on Hedo now where we split those additions to.
By itself and now Pflugerville and Huttoe have their own edition. So we're getting more hyper-local as the area grows. And that helps a lot. It really helps our focus on editorial to be more meaningful to the people and what they, what they care about, but it also helps us on the business. Because it helps our local businesses be able to afford, you know, advertising in a, in a, in a kind of a smaller, more focused
Jason Scharf: And how do you see the connective tissue of these? You said it was round rock now it's Pflugerville and huddle. I'm curious, like, as we see with Samsung coming into Taylor, how Taylor may be part of that group or getting its own, what defines that connective tissue to be? This is its own committee.
John Garrett: Yeah, I think it happens really organically.
Like even though Samsung is going out to tailor it, it's still, if you've ever driven a hundred a tailor, there's still a big, pretty big gap. Now that gap is closing. And so to me, it's about, it's about transportation. You know, so if you, right, if we do a tailor and we combine it with Hutto Then we have to really make sure editorially that the people in Hutto feel like where their paper and the people in tailored for like what were their papers.
So if they're not connected enough, then it, and we've learned this over time, it creates some, you know, editorial relevant. Yeah. Issues. And so it's kind of like, you know, the daily papers problem, right? Like how does a daily paper cover round rock and San Marcus and Austin is very difficult. So every day the paper comes out, you know, how do you make sure that somebody who lives in, in Buda feels like that's, that's their paper?
So that's what we think about. And our model allows us to do that a little it's a little bit more effective than, than kind of a big daily or Metro focused. Publication.
Well, and then you split up, I'm gonna look at the website and the different areas. You split them up by the, you know, the different metros, Austin, Metro, Houston, Phoenix, and so forth.
Jason Scharf: So can I put you on the spot a little bit for a moment? I noticed that on the website, new Bronfields is in the Austin Metro, but at least from a census perspective, I think it's in the San Antonio Metro. So how was that decision driven?
John Garrett: Well,
Jason, there is no S in new, in the middle of all of new Bronfelds there's actually a really funny story.
You should Google that. Most people say new Braunfels and that the locals there will, will be able to tell you, we are not from, from there. If you say that, just to have a FYI there's a friendly little note to you.
Jason Scharf: I appreciate it. And I apologize to everybody, all our listeners in the area, I will get better.
John Garrett: So but it's a really great video. You've got to Google it it's really, really. So then so yeah, so new Braunfels has always in our market been in Austin because we kind of kept going south. So we're in San Marcus and really St. Marcus obviously geographically is close, but now we're in San Antonio.
So we're we're, we just have it moved it, you know, structurally on our website. But I think, you know, as we, as we talk a little bit about regionalism, I have some opinions on kind of what I'm seeing, you know, those are. Kind of TV markets, right? With new Braunfels being in the San Antonio TV market. It's real, like, it's very real, but there's also some interesting things that I'm, I'm wondering, I'm curious about how regionalism is going to play out.
Long-term that may be a little bit different than what we even thought, you know, five years ago.
Jason Scharf: I'd love to dive in a tiny bit now. I mean, at least to talking about like, you know, Austin, San Antonio, as you said, you're moving south and kind of that, how are you seeing the dynamic of those two metros? Are they really two metros at this point?
John Garrett: I mean 10 years ago, I'm sorry. Time flies. More than 15 years ago, we used to at the business journal do Austin San Antonio corridor summits. Hey, when is Austin and San Antonio going to connect? That was, that was over 15 years ago. And if you drive the area now, there's still a lot of gap between new Braunfels and the metro area of San Antonio shirts Selma that kind of.
And new Braunfels itself. There's really strong leadership at the city level all across that city. And I kind of, I'm curious as the time, as time goes on, how, how all those areas kind of combined? I don't think it's going to be like what we thought. Like, I think back, you know, 20 years ago we thought it was gonna be like a DFW metroplex.
I could be wrong. I get I'm curious, but what I see that's happening is more of a kind of San Marcus, new Braunfels Metro con combined in San Antonio and Austin kind of being on their own, like kind of like a Williamson county up north right. Hayes county. And Cabell county is like, how are they going to kind of form is it's going to be really fun to watch, but I don't think it's as simple as we thought it was, you know, 15 or 20 years ago.
Jason Scharf: Oh,
that's interesting. Yeah. They, I mean, when I've gone up to DFW, right? It's the, I dunno, 50 cities, they're all combined together, but having three distinct groups, right. Austin, San Antonio, and then the corridor in between makes for an interesting dynamic then.
John Garrett: Yes, for sure. It's, it's fun to think. So
Jason Scharf: you community impacts been around for 17 years at this point.
What do you feel is the most important changes you've seen over that time?
John Garrett: Well, you know, I think that foresight of many people, you know, if you think about 45 and one 130, for example, I mean, guys, it's been about 20 years. Something like that. Seven, 17, maybe 16, 17 years, since those things have been opened. And, you know, the, if you think about the foresight of the leadership at the county levels and the city levels of those areas to do those things, you know, what, 30 years ago buy the land, you know, plan it like, Ooh, now in today's world, we're like day to day, like, you know, I think part of this pandemic, like how do we survive?
Like, there's, I, I kind of think one of the biggest changes that I've seen. Is the ability for local leadership to plan far ahead. And I think that that's probably normal for a Metro Plex I don't, or, you know, in a Metro area that was our kind of growth. But I think that that's the biggest change that's happened in the last 25, 30 years.
And it's, it's it's gonna be really hard to navigate the future without time like that or without leadership, like that.
Michael Scharf: I want to drill down a little bit on that because we've seen most recently around the airport, the airport plan is about a 20 year old plan. For example, it called for additional jet fuel storage to be in a certain location.
Here we are. 20 years later, Austin Bergstrom airport is a much, much larger airport from a demand point of view. The new jet fuel storage has never been built and it may not be in the right place anymore because everything else around that storage Depot has changed. And we're still looking at now another plan for the airport.
Another plan for jet storage, same thing is true of Austin's master plan. Again, it's twenty-something years old, do we have, and I don't want to go deep into politics here, but is it possible for political leaders today with all the. Sturm UND Drang kind of thing. Is it possible for them to plan out more than 2, 3, 4 years in advance?
John Garrett: I think it's still possible. I mean, the good thing about planning 30 years out in advance. You know, you're going to be retired, but by the time it comes to fruition, you know? So to me, yes, you, you still can plan 30 years out. You're, you know, our kids are going to have to pay for whatever our decisions we make. But if you think about it in terms of city planning, I think it's vital.
And I think that that's what I think has changed the will, right? The will of leadership to follow the plan. I mean, even, even I grew up in Austin, so, you know, even in the, even the way I think Austin has changed a lot, but the way that the environmental groups really led, right. Regardless of you agreed with them or not, I mean, they got stuff done.
I mean, some of the fun things, if you look at the Arboretum retail center, I mean, all those trees and the parking lots and such like that, those were like really well thought out policies that annoy us as when we were trying to find a parking spot. But the, the point was is that they want to develop a, to have trees and, you know, make sure that there's still a beautiful area.
And a lot of that local will is very, I feel like it's a lot more short-sighted and that they're making decisions. And a lot of them, of all the cases, they have two that are like, Hey, what's in front of you. Next year, as opposed to really making sure that the decisions that were made 20 years ago at whatever increments, five years, 10 years, 15 years, that those plans are moving forward.
I think we've, we've lost that somehow. Not everywhere. There's still some really smart big picture, regional planning that's happening, but the will to actually keep those things moving forward. It seems to have gotten lost in the, in the urgency of the issues that face.
Michael Scharf: I would agree with you. And I think one of the biggest issues there is with project connect and the transportation needs real needs of Austin, because I think it was just last week or two weeks ago, I read that the rail line is now going to be twice as expensive as it was promised.
I would expect that to happen again a couple of times over the next 15, 20 years. So that's an issue. It's interesting. You talk about the trees and the Arboretum area. In a prior life in my corporate life, I did a lot of travel and I used to joke coming out of Southern California, that if you wanted to build in California, you'd find a plot of land you'd build.
And you'd plant trees everywhere that I went on the east coast and the Southeast, it was just the opposite. You'd cut the trees away that you needed to cut and then you'd build. So when you talk about a smart plan to keep trees in the Arboretum, area which is beautiful, And yes. Okay. It might be a little bit harder to get a parking spot, but at least you can breathe.
So it's just one of those things I wanted to dig in a little deeper also with regard to CI and your business model. Now, when I was in college, I was in the media in Chicago, but I was in the broadcast side and it was hard and I don't care what size organization you had to cover everything in a large Metro area with reporters.
You've taken what for local newspapers, especially the hyper-local 11, 12 different versions in the Austin area. And amazing. I want to say it's a risk by actually putting people on the ground to cover these areas, congratulations by the way, keep it up. We love it. How has that worked for you and in what was the thinking process before.
John Garrett: Yeah. Like, so our, our business, our business philosophy is everything starts with high quality, local journalism and high quality design. I mean, if you've noticed our paper, we're all about infographics. I think we lead the country in my view of, of quality of infographic that local journalism. You're really good at that.
And we put a lot of money and resources towards that.
Jason Scharf: Real quick. I just flat is there was at least it was one of your, I think housing ones that I literally took a picture and was texting it around thing. Oh, look, here's this increase, that increase. And here's our zip code. Okay. Yeah,
John Garrett: we value design and that's, that's a big difference.
And our first issue in 2005, if you go to one website, you can, it's a great archive. You can go look at all of our bad design from our first issue. But one of the first things we did this was before Google maps was, was available. We designed every entrance, ramp exit ramp through a satellite image of the toll roads, because if you had a business about 45, like you really cared about, you know, whether or not you had an exit ramp or entrance ramp.
And so we somehow we've always really had design, a nd I think if you have high quality design, then it goes to the people and the people will want to read it. And then you have, you know, revenue that you can get. And the key to that is, as you can continue to invest. So you add additional reporters. And so that's, what's happened.
That's how we built the model is we start with high-quality journalism and high-quality design and, and our circulation and strategy is really smart, right? It goes to everyone. And if you, if you deliver a high quality product to people, they'll read it, we've demonstrated that. And the data is really clear.
Like the idea that people won't read a printed newspaper is, is something that we have not experienced in the data, the data, not even our data, other people's. Really demonstrates that that you could still pull that off. So it starts with a commitment to quality journalism, and then a commitment to continuing to invest.
And that's what adding additional reporters. And what's really exciting for us now that I'm really I would have never have known is you know, we, during the pandemic, I studied a couple of really great local digital models. And we've learned a lot. And you know, now with our, our daily newsletter we have a whole new way to monetize and to add resources.
So we're adding what we call multi-platform journalists. And so we're writing even more journalists that are really focused on kind of our digital products. And so I think it's just going to get better. Like that's, that's been our approach and And we're committed to it. We're committed to, you know, we're, we're a values driven organization and one of our values is quality and we're going to have a high quality product.
And I think that that's a long perspective that a company that we're, you know, we're privately held. So my wife and I are the only shareholders, which that helps a lot, you know, and the return matters to Jennifer and I. And one of our greatest returns is when we walk into. And CI office. And we have reporters that, you know, are engaged and we have a team that loves their work.
So that's what we're, that's the real return that we're going after right now. And I'm very grateful for that.
Michael Scharf: Let's go up a level now and talk about how Austin develops as a Metro and what Jason and I have seen in other metros, especially coming out of where we did. One of one or two areas, one or two scenarios, sorry.
Seems to take place. You either have the single hub dominance kind of Metro, or you have this multipolar, multi hub kind of environment. Now, you know, it's. Easier. If you talk for example about sporting venues within a city. I was born and raised in LA. And if you look at LA now you've got the football stadium down the street from where the Lakers play at the staple center and a couple of blocks away is the sports arena and so on and so forth.
It's all very, very focused in the single area. And over time it's actually moved more towards the downtown. In other areas, you've got just the opposite where things seem to scatter. It looks like the greater Austin area, central, Texas, whatever term we're going to use today is becoming that multihub or hub and spoke kind of thing.
If you want to, you know, you've got to put a stick in the ground, we've got the state Capitol, we've got UT Austin, and then everything else is all over the place. What are you? I mean, obviously you've built your model the same way, so I'm going to guess you see that, but how do, do you agree with that and in what does, what do you think that means for all of us?
John Garrett: That's a, that's a great question. And something that, that, as long as I've been in Austin, it wasn't been wondering about, I, I, I viewed it more as like sun and the planets. You know, that Austin is the sun and everything around it revolves around the sun. And every once in awhile, you're going to get a beautiful glimpse of Mars and you see something that's happening out in Lander that you're just blown away by.
Wow, that's beautiful. But Lander really needs Austin. And so it revolves around the sun and the sun is Austin. And I think that that's just the way it's built. So, and I've seen a lot over the last 17 years of covering the region that have really. Impressed me. The regionalism is real. I know you had Laura from the chamber on recently.
And I was always like, this is just strange to me. So Emerson moves from Northwest Austin out of Austin up to round rock. And everyone's happy. Like that just seemed really strange, right? Like, and, but that's the way it, it truly is Opportunity austin in particular has always been around like the region winning.
Now I have seen some interesting battles between suburbs for projects, and that's a little, you know, the, the planets around the sun. Sometimes we'll, we'll battle a little bit more, but, but generally speaking, I think everyone would agree that the reason why cities around the area are, are a great place to do business is because they're very close in the proximity to the sun.
Jason Scharf: Let's take Samsung. There it was using your metaphor, the sun versus one of the smaller planets. Right. And in this case, Taylor won, and I think that's a very interesting dynamic and I think it's actually a strong, positive one that obviously it didn't go to Phoenix. But having that internal competition, you know, to say like, Hey, they want it to be an part of this region.
But didn't want to be in Austin proper when it was all said and done. And does that inter competition also help drive? Positive growth of, okay. So what is Austin going to change to be able to get micron or the next, you know, it's a swear to chip plant every day we keep hearing about,
John Garrett: yeah. I think that there was definitely real like competition between Austin and Taylor.
But there's so many things, so many dynamics there between, you know water and energy and and just things that even other things that we. That the three of us may not know they were happening behind the scenes. I think we'll make that kind of decision happen, but it doesn't happen. I don't think it happens in Taylor without Austin.
You know, I just don't think it does now. I could be wrong, but I don't think, and I think Taylor would, would, would agree with that. And I think that they're they're super proud that they were able to land that, that incredible project and. And I think that they're, they know that there enough different from Austin that they can, they can kind of boast about, about that.
And it is gonna be a little bit of a different feel for Samsung. So that's gonna be interesting to see how that plays out.
Michael Scharf: Yeah. Anytime I see dripping Springs in a bit of a conflict with Taylor and a bit of a conflict with Waco to the exclusion of Phoenix or Toledo or whatever, you've got a smile on my face.
That's from ear to ear. Yeah. It's interesting. If we look at the greater area. We've got some interesting dynamics in terms of the specific areas. I mean, obviously a lot of people are now talking about Austin being the EV automotive capital of the country, and that's Southwest Travis county, you know, the Gigafactory, the suppliers, and that's going to do nothing but grow. In Northwest Austin.
You know, you guys had a great story last week about the domain turning 15, and we've got. Apple, we've got national instruments. We've got visa, we've got Metta there as well as in the CBD. And then you've got, you know, the, the central business district as well. Obviously you've got the city government, the state government, and that whole retinue that surrounds them.
But we also see autonomous vehicles being tested around the streets in downtown Austin all the time with those little carts, you know, driving around for door dash or whatever. Th the issue seems to be, how do you place the right thing in the right location? Given what you need? You talked about water. We talk about land.
I mean, power rail. Yeah. Transportation. Yeah. In general. Not freight as well as as people it's hard and. Do you see that increasing? Are we going to see in that Northwest section, by the domain, are we going to see more and more of quote high-tech software development, kind of things in our factories are going to be whether they're on the Northeast side of, around the Samsung plant or around Tesla?
John Garrett: Yeah, I think I think naturally they're gonna be around each other, although, you know, tech to me. Yeah. You know, Austin is still going to be the driver of all that, the, the, the office and the, you know, The brain power that drives those tech companies. I think it's going to be really focused on Austin.
If manufacturing and manufacturing think about it, it's land, right? Like there's land and it's inexpensive. It's easy, you know, and also good transportation. I mean, you do have some great transportation options around 130 that, that make it very attractive for, for Tesla. And for those kinds of companies, Yeah, I think that there, I think it's really more about land and the transportation than, than anything else than, than hubs.
I think, I think Tesla would love to build in downtown Austin, that factory, but just doesn't make financial sense. So if it, if it, if it goes like that, that's the reason why,
Michael Scharf: and I guess that ties in with recently Meta taking, what 33 35 floors of the new building at sixth Guadalupe, as well as their location in the domain, as well as their location.
A little Northwest of there. Is that the way that companies adapt and thrive?
John Garrett: You know, I don't, I don't know the specifics around what, what they're trying to do with those two different offices. I, I do know that there is a great bit of of workforce. In the north side, especially Williamson county.
So, so, you know, they talked about domain being the second downtown, also all that stuff. I've, I've heard that a lot. That's been talked about a lot, you know, the, the real advantage of the domain is Williamson county people. The people who are buying homes in Lander and senior park and round rock, and, and they want, you know, they don't want to drive to downtown Austin.
So I don't know what their strategy is. I don't know if there's having separate departments or like what they're thinking, but to me, I bet it's about talent. And I think that that's the biggest thing that th that every organization, regardless of your manufacturing or, or tech or whatever, you're in, it's all going to be about being around.
And it's gonna be an interesting, you know as the, as development that's happened with housing, right? Like if housing is happening and where the, where the land is in Williamson county or in Hayes county that that's going to be interesting to see how that plays out with, with, with those companies are trying to you know, attract talent plus the whole work from home thing.
Like it's just going to be interested in
Michael Scharf: oh yeah. Without a doubt. It's interesting. You talk about housing. We. Being the data nerds that Jason and I are spent a lot of time looking at housing numbers and statistics. Now where we come from to put a tract of homes on the ground, you had to go on the ballot and get the county's voters to agree.
Didn't matter where the tract was. It could've been in the farthest reaches of the county. Austin did about the same number of building permits with one 10th, the population of New York, Metro. So as hard as people might say it is to build here in Austin, as much as we need housing, we're not doing as bad as we could be.
I can't imagine what would happen if we were only permitting, you know, one 10th of what we permitted last year in terms of homes, but there's only so much filling you can do. There's only so much Greenfield left in the city limits of Austin. You're talking about, you know, Williamson county. Do we get to the point where in conjunction with transportation changes in conjunction with just value of land going up, we start taking out sections of homes and going up or going more dense.
Is that what what's in the future for Austin?
John Garrett: Well, right now there's a lot of land. It's still up in Williamson county and there's a lot of lands. You know, this being plotted. Yeah, I think it you know, somebody who studies demographics might be more it might be an interesting guest for you guys.
If you haven't already done that you know, to me, that's a great question and I think it's gonna, the whole work from home thing is kind of like the ingredient that I don't think any of us had saw that scene coming, like, because you would think like, you're thinking where in Williamson county they can continue to build single family homes and then maybe some businesses districts.
Right. But not as concentrated as like the domain or downtown. Well now, if, if people can work from home more or, you know, cause by the way, you know, just, just what we have now has been a huge reprieve. If you'd ask. Two years ago. Well, what's the biggest issue facing Austin? I would've said transportation, transportation, transportation, transportation, like that would have been it.
And now it has given us, I know traffic is still hard, but it's like the two, couple of days people working from home has been a game changer. So now it's more about affordable housing and talent, that kind of thing. There are the big issues. And so long story short is I think it's going to continue to build like it's building.
I don't think that Williamson county is going to fill the need to create another downtown. Because of traffic issues or because of land issues. And I think that the housing is going to continue to go to where it's the most affordable. And right now that's going to be an open area, land areas in Northeast Travis county.
You know, so, I mean Hayes county is getting kind of expensive and, but still there's a lot of Leander and and round rock, even that there's a lot of places to build build housing. So I agree with you, Michael. I think, I think that the housing has gone, you know, we're doing as best as we can, and this is a unique moment in our, in our region's history.
And it's hard for people to be able to afford housing right now. But I agree with you. I think that there are things in the works and I think. I think we'll catch up and we might even see a little bit of extra inventory that will really hopefully help some of that affordability issue. Well,
Jason Scharf: I think there's also the demand side.
I mean, you could see people going to Leander and those places because they want a house. They want the good schools, they want all of those, those things. And what is interesting is are we starting to see the point where it's all about the talent? Are the companies starting to move closer to the talent?
I mean when we saw recently, you know, Austin was one of the fastest growing metros. It was like 3% in one year, but then Williamson county was you know, which is obviously part of that was 20% growth. Right. So if everyone's moving up there and you're getting this question of, if I'm adding a new, a new building, if I'm adding a new, or if I'm moving to Austin, It becomes an interesting question of, do I go downtown?
Do I go up into Williamson county because people want to be, you know, 10 minutes from me?
John Garrett: Yeah. I mean, I think so. I just don't know how much of it is kind of old thinking right. With work from home. So like, I love being up here in Pflugerville because the talent, we had many people come work for us because.
Driving downtown. So the talent was being with the talent was a huge advantage for us as a business. And I, I, I still would plan that way. If I was a business owner, I would still look to where my talent is coming and try to build close to that talent because we still don't know the whole big impact of work from home.
But that's what I would do if, if that's what we're doing. So we're building a new building in Houston, for example and we're, we're building it out in Jersey village in Northwest Houston. And we're going where the talent is at that area. So in here in Austin, I, I would do the same thing and I would still, I would still build it out here now.
Let's listen. Also, there's some huge advantages to these towns. It's like I was in Georgetown for the red poppy fest. I mean, it's an unbelievable, it's unbelievable if you live in Georgetown, the downtown Square's great. I know down, down in dripping Springs, they had founder's weekend. And I mean, the ability for these towns to take advantage of the being proximity, know the close proximity to the sun of having the beautiful Austin everything about Austin, that we all love the great meals and all that kinda stuff.
And then having your own culture around that is a huge advantage. Not only for residents, but for business owners as well. So that's what I, that's what I would do. If I was a business owner, I would pay really close attention. And I love the idea of building around these communities. They're great.
The enters a great community, Cedar parks are great community. Pflugerville is a great community. So I think that that's an advantage that these cities have.
Jason Scharf: Yeah. And I think when we think about, you know, we bringing on remote work and I'm someone who lives in Austin, but I work remotely. So I worked for Maryland company.
You think about. If you'd asked me 2019, does geography matter? My answer would have been absolutely. If you asked me it end of 20, you know early 21, when we moved, I would have said not a chance. And you've asked me now the answer is yes. But it's harder to define how right. And when we think about, you know, the future of work and we think about it always drives me a little bit crazy, the lack of nuance in some of the discussions, when it's the spectrum, you're either where the remote hybrid, whatever that means or or in person.
Right. And it's at, let's take it down a level and think about it from an activity base. So we can do this podcast remotely, not a problem, an hour of our time together kind of situation. If we want to do a six hour strategy session. No, I don't want to do that via zoom. That's not something we want to do if you want to do.
I know the challenge for us is, you know, culture building and communication is much more intentional, right? Because we all are all over the country. And so it will be interesting is to your point about moving away from old thinking, but like, okay, if I'm going to put a location down and maybe it's closer to the town, But what are they doing there?
Are we working in collaboration spaces? How are we kind of engineering? Because if I'm working on PowerPoints and documents all day, I'm going to stay home and do that. So I have that. If we want to engage in, you know, group thinking, then that's great location.
John Garrett: Yeah, I agree. I think that that's the the future of all workforce, whether or not, you know, there's always this generational, like, it's hilarious.
Like if you study it, the generation below, below us has always they're the lazy ones and they don't know what they're doing and the generation above us for the, you know, we're smarter than them, right? Like it's the same thing, a history of mankind. But I will say this, that I think what's really clear is that any business that wants to be a successful in the next 10, 20 years, They're gonna have to be thinking like you're thinking Jason, and they're going to have to be curious about all of those things and it can't be, Hey, I want everybody to be in my office because this is how I, this is how I built culture with my generation.
That is, that is, that is not going to be successful. And I think past 10 years, if you really want to build a long-term business, you've gotta be thinking like your thinking. And that's, what's fun of though. Isn't that the funnest part, like we don't know the Jersey village building, for example, like we did exactly, like you said, we have these big workspaces.
We have a big meeting area. Cause we all want to come together. Then we also have offices and cubes for people to kind of have their own place. So, but we don't know, like we want to be flexible. We want to do the best that we can and we want to listen to our staff and em, but we need, we want to place.
Building a building, putting our sign up on 290 that says we're Houston's community, newspaper company, like that matters to us. And so I think that the businesses being seen in the communities I think is still a valuable piece of the puzzle, but how you build the work workplace is going to be something that we're all going to be learning.
If we're open. And we're curious, we're going to get real. I think, where you get really good at it, it's going to be better than it was for our generation.
Jason Scharf: I think that curiosity and flexibility is really important because. We're still, I mean, at the, at the beginning, right. It was like, I don't know, a five, 10% was working remote.
And then, you know, you had numbers coming out saying, we think 20% is going to work remote. Now we're hearing it's 55%. I think it was with people don't want to go back to the office. So, you know, not in some cases not being committal. So we kind of see how things go. All that being said, if we have remote work, people being in the house, we have this dispersion across the Metro.
Right? So one of the big things about ecosystems that make them work is this con you know, aggregation effect, right? There's lots of people they're running into each other. We have these wonderful creative collisions. It's like, oh, you're doing this, you're doing this. We put these things together. A unicorn is formed, right.
Well, if we're spreading out. And not going into the office as much with remote. How do we maintain the strength of that dynamism and be a interconnected region that is causing creative collision?
John Garrett: I think, I think you're going to see it in more happy hours and events that are around. I think events. I mean, I mean, we were, I remember my first event during the Pandemic of coming to an event where people were like sitting around tables.
It's like, what? This is so weird, but now it's not like, I'm like, so looking forward to every of it. I wasn't going to, I mean, I'm an extrovert and, and I don't know about you guys, but like, there was always, like, I always had this kind of like, fought like kind of a head fog over, over like social interactions and such.
And even though we still got out, we were, we felt comfortable. It, my brain from a business networking standpoint was totally shut down for two. And I think that, that that's a muscle that we've got to rebuild, but I'm like so excited to do that. And so I think that that's the answer. I think there's going to be th we're we're we are physical human beings and we are, we do want to connect some, someone to connect less than others.
And I think that that's a beautiful thing that we're all created a little bit differently and we need to respect that the differences. But I think that the, you know, coming together is going to be really imperative. You know, we needed to be not, we need to be open-minded because there were great companies prior to the pandemic that were remote all the time that were successful.
So the, you know, I think we just all need to be curious and open-minded and flexible. Right. But I think our brains are going to start kind of reenergizing the parts of our brain or whatever that are like, I, I can't wait to actually go to an event again and, and network again and feel safe about it.
So that's, that's an exciting part of our next, I think a couple
Jason Scharf: And if it needs to be an evolution though, of, in stepping up the game, even in these, these networking events, because. Because we transitioned during the pandemic leaned in heavy into the I'll call it, the digital networking, whether through things like lunch club or a clubhouse when it was, had its moment or just, you know, people just zoom in general and meeting people.
And it's funny because I've many times went to the a hundred person happy hour event that was like, yeah, I'm supposed to go to this. And I'd say 99% of the time, the serendipity. We as envisioned was supposed to happen, kind of never did. And so for me, it's now been a, you know, and if we sit like, you know, with three small children, all these kinds of things, like the, the bar for me to go to an event is raised.
It needs to be, you know, have higher value. So that'll be, you've got people itching for it, but then these kind of like, okay, what is it that I'm looking for? How, how are we going to change and how are you going to bring even better conductivity at these types of things?
John Garrett: That's interesting
because for me, the bar is lower, you know, like you know, I'll tell you why.
I think that pre pandemic, like I was kind of, I was kind of a event snob.. Like I'm only going to go to that event if I can make sure that my peers or the people at the level that I need to do business with are going to be there. And let me tell you something. Now I go to these events and I'm like, I don't care.
Whoever's sitting at my table. I can't wait to, to to get to know their story. And I don't know if that's a long-term thing or if it's just a pandemic, like whatever, but for me it, the, the events have become richer because my snobbery has, has decreased. And I met a woman, for example. Briefly. I know, I know we're probably running out of time, but just real briefly, I met a woman at a at an event and she was, we're sitting around diversity and equity at a event.
And this woman, a black woman says, Hey, I need to talk to you because. I never really felt like Community Impact was my newspaper before I always loved the ads. Like you said earlier, I love the ads, but I never, I never felt like it served my community. It was really, my community is favorite, but I've noticed the last six months that people that look like me or you're in your stories and your it's something we've been really intentional about as an organization.
I was really proud of it. But to have that kind of dialogue with a reader that I probably at an event before may have only been around my peers and may have excluded that kind of conversation. Not, not intentionally, but I guess yeah. Intentionally to now be at this event and seeing all these you know, kind of just people that I would normally, I wouldn't really seek out really seeking them out has been very rich..
So, I don't know. I'm I feel like I've learned and when we've all learned a lot through the pandemic, but that's the one thing I really hope I can hold on to that. I'm not looking at a list and saying, okay, I need to like, hang out with these CEOs that instead I'm open to like whoever it is across the room that I get to have a conversation with.
I've found a real richness in that. And so I hope I can keep that,
Michael Scharf: Tom singer, who we had on our podcast towards the beginning, talked about in Austin in the 90's.. How you could have a three name tag day. And I think both you and I are looking forward to that kind of event. Forget the traffic for a minute.
The ability to go out and work with people and meet people that you don't know or that you do know is a great thing. This has been an amazing conversation. Appreciate it. We always end our podcasts with our signature question, John Garrett. What's next Austin.
John Garrett: What's next for Austin is a transformative time for all of us to learn more about our neighbors to learn more about the beauty that's around us and to appreciate people for who they are, it's going to be it ha we have the chance to have.
You know, the greatest decade in our city's history, if we're open to that kind of interaction and apart, apart for our fellow neighbor, I think that that's, that's the truth.
Michael Scharf: John Garrick community impact newspapers. Thank you so much for being on the Austin next podcast.
John Garrett: Thanks for having me guys. I really appreciate.
Jason Scharf: So what's next Austin. We're glad you've joined us on this journey. Please subscribe on your favorite podcast catcher, leave us a review and let your colleagues know about us. This will help us grow the podcast. We'll continue bringing you unique interviews and insights. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you soon.