You may have noticed Austin’s economy is pretty awesome.
“You’re rock stars in the world of employment,” David Schein, a business school professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston told me, referring to our 2.8 percent unemployment rate.
“Chicago, Columbus, Cleveland, the rest of the center of the country would kill for these numbers,” Schein continued. “But it means when you get new jobs, you want professional jobs. You probably don’t need more hotel bellhops.”
What about soccer stadium workers?
Precourt Sports Ventures’ pitch to move the Columbus Crew SC to Austin, which is rolling toward a decision point before the City Council next week, includes the promise of new jobs among the list of benefits the franchise would bring the city.
About 800 of these jobs might be better described as gigs: They involve working four or five hours at a time at some or all of the 17 home soccer matches planned each season, plus any other concerts or events held at the stadium. These would be the people taking tickets, selling refreshments and cleaning up after the crowds clear out, among other things. On average, they’d make $12 an hour.
I’ve been speaking with sports economists about the Precourt proposal, trying to get a handle on what benefits it might bring our city, and none of them were particularly impressed with these jobs.
“What’s going to happen is, people who might have worked four hours a day as a short order cook or at low-end restaurant jobs will now work four hours a day in a stadium concession stand,” said Stanford University economist Roger Noll, who co-wrote the book “Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums.”
That’s part of the larger idea that unless you get a bunch of out-of-towners suddenly coming to Austin for soccer — and the economists I talked to are skeptical about the likelihood of that — the spending at the soccer stadium involves a lot of local dollars that residents otherwise would have spent at restaurants, movie theaters and other leisure activities. Simply moving those dollars (and the jobs they support) from one pocket of Austin’s economy to another doesn’t provide much gain to the city.
So, I was also skeptical about the value of the stadium’s part-time jobs until I spoke with Tiffany Daniels Wallace, a spokeswoman at Workforce Solutions Capital Area, an Austin nonprofit that works with employers and other agencies to help companies get good workers and help workers get good jobs.
Wallace noted the wages and sporadic hours are on par with other big-event employment at Circuit of the Americas, South by Southwest, Austin City Limits and the University of Texas stadium.
“There are a lot of leisure and hospitality jobs that are part-time, based on events,” Wallace said. And for some workers, the part-time arrangement is a plus: “There are people who pick up gig jobs for the short-term or for some extra cash that time of the year,” she said. Often that’s how those jobs are marketed to workers: Here’s a chance to pick up some extra money.
In short, the soccer stadium could provide extra gig opportunities to workers who want them.
Wallace acknowledged some people who have patched together part-time work would prefer the stability of full-time employment, and her agency is among those ready to help them.
Our editorial board has noted the soccer stadium’s part-time jobs could provide an added community benefit if Precourt made a concerted effort to hire those who are hard to employ, such as those with criminal records. Precourt lobbyist Richard Suttle told me they would.
“Most definitely we can help those folks that are having a little bit of trouble,” Suttle said. “Someone that gets a job like this, it goes on their resume and they’re able at their next job to say, ‘I held a job here at the soccer stadium for the season,’ and they’re up and running.”
Precourt’s proposal contains other jobs, too. Construction of the $200 million stadium, which Precourt says it would fully cover, would provide work to more than 900 people earning a combined $49 million in wages, according to an analysis by the city’s consultant, Brailsford & Dunlavey. Schein, the Houston business school professor, predicted some of those workers would be out-of-town specialists brought in for the work, but Brailsford & Dunlavey accounted for that, assuming in their calculations of city benefits that half of the construction workers would be local.
Schein also noted the out-of-town workers would need a place to stay, potentially putting more pressure on Austin’s tight rental market.
Wallace suggested an overlooked place where Precourt might shine: Front office jobs. Precourt’s plan calls for about 100 full-time jobs, with salaries averaging $50,000 — a shave under the $51,840 average salary in the greater metro area. These are the folks running the daily business of the franchise: marketing, IT, human resources, and other managers handling logistics for the stadium and the team.
“With any venue like that, there’s an entire team dedicated to making the machine run,” Wallace said.
And they could be good for Austin’s economic engine, too.
Coming Sunday: The editorial board weighs whether this is a good deal for taxpayers.