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AUSTIN-John Breier, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development, was speaking to an audience interested in biotechnology, but his words would be music to the ears of the real estate community. Talking about business recruiting trips the chamber has scheduled for 2002, Breier says East Coast companies are showing interest in Austin’s labor force and office space.

Workers without jobs and offices without tenants have grown throughout the year. The Austin area’s’ unemployment rate grew from 2.2% in January to 4.5% in October. The office vacancy rate was 16.1% at the end of September.

“The unemployment increase is a double-edged sword,” Breier says. “All of a sudden there are other areas that are now looking at us saying, ‘I can get quality intellectual capital in Austin now.’ Where, when you’re at 1.8% (unemployment rate), they wouldn’t even look at us.

“We also have the types of facilities that are on the market and that, when you compare the rental rate for those facilities with places like Portland and San Jose, we compare very, very favorably.”

Breier and other Austin representatives are sure to note those statistics when they travel to the San Jose, CA area in February and to Boston later in the year. Forty-five business leaders have signed up for the trip to California, where 55 meetings have been set up.

Breier spoke Wednesday at a chamber-sponsored meeting aimed at Austin’s biotechnology community. Called Biobash, the quarterly meetings provide an opportunity to hear biotech execs to talk about their companies and to network. Breier used this week’s forum to give an update on the chamber’s economic development activities.

One goal is to create 100,000 jobs in Central Texas from 2002-2006 in “sound, sustained growth” and increase gross domestic product per employee by 16% and 40% area wide.

“We’re not only interested in building jobs, but building the type of quality jobs that we all want and should expect in Austin,” Breier says.

Another goal, he adds, is continued diversification of the area’s economy. He says the chamber will keep working to help the area’s dominant industry, technology, “but at the same time we need to be working on things like biotechnology. Looking for ways we can help expand and grow that industry so that in five-plus years it turns into the same type of dynamo our high-tech industry has turned into.”

Digital entertainment also has potential for growth, Breier says. “We think there are reasons why, because of high-tech industry and research being done at the University of Texas that that should be another one of those types of industries that we should go after.”

Besides the recruiting trips to California and Massachusetts, the chamber will make trips outside the country, most notably to Mexico. It also will again attend the biotech’s big annual gathering, which will be in Toronto in 2002.

In Austin, the chamber will sponsor meeting and forums designed to foster networking and idea sharing.

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