U.S. Army officials said Friday that Austin, Texas, will be the home of the Army Futures Command research and development operation because it has the right mix of STEM workers and industries, quality of life, private-sector innovation and cost of living.
Austin beat out the Twin Cities and other finalists Philadelphia, Boston and Raleigh, N.C., for the command, the Army’s fourth and considered an important economic-development investment and the biggest reorganization of the Army since 1973.
The choice was “very difficult,” but ultimately Army officials ranked the criteria they felt were important, said Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy.
“We do not have time to build this ecosystem,” McCarthy said. “It needed to be ready immediately.”
The STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) factors, both in academics and in research and development, were key, as well as assessment of civic support and proximity to private sector innovation.
Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, who led a joint effort by Minnesota’s federal delegation to woo the project, congratulated Austin and said the Twin Cities being a top-five finalist means the region “is filled with brilliant innovators, tremendous research capacity, and that we are able to compete against anyone.”
Army officials made the official designation Friday, although the news leaked out on Thursday.
“What’s important is getting the right place,” Army Secretary Mark Esper said Friday.
The Army Futures Command is tasked with providing the technology needed to modernize and prepare the largest U.S. military branch for future conflicts. It is expected to bring about 500 personnel to Austin, as well as projected partnerships in the private sector that will likely lead to hundreds more high-tech jobs.
Other factors considered, McCarthy said, were mature entrepreneurial incubator hubs, access to a top-tier university system’s science and engineering department, expandability for other services and companies to join the Army’s efforts, a dense pool of industry and academic talent, as well as a reasonable cost of doing business to allow for startups and draw established tech firms.
“Establishing an Army headquarters outside a post with a diverse mission to interface with industry and academia is a radical cultural change for us,” McCarthy said. “Establishing this headquarters in the city of Austin, Texas, will force the Army to lean on American ingenuity and business entrepreneurs.”
Texas also provided the Army with an incentives package, but Army officials did not elaborate on the details. A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said the department made available up to $1 million through a business development and public infrastructure program that the local government could have applied for on behalf of the project.
Michael Langley, head of regional economic development group Greater MSP, said it would be pure speculation to comment on what ultimately gave Austin the edge.
But being one of the finalists was a big step, he said. “The way leaders came together to tell the story of our region was a new high-water mark for collaboration on major economic development projects.”
Army officials said staff was already en route Friday to Austin, near several existing Army bases, to begin the intensive work of establishing the new command.