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Texas Triumphs Yet Towers Teeter, Urban Skyscrapers Vacant as Work-From-Home Roars On

Texas Triumphs Yet Towers Teeter, Urban Skyscrapers Vacant as Work-From-Home Roars OnSource: Ryan Friesen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Matt Mitchell
Published on November 29, 2023

While the State of Texas economy is on fire, with a workforce back to the grind like nowhere else in the country, its big city slickers in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Houston are staring down the eerie echoes of up to 25% office vacancy rates, The Texas Tribune reports. This conundrum could potentially rain on the post-pandemic parade for downtown areas that desperately need those desk jockeys to keep the local joints jumpin'.

With new constructions still hammering' away, experts like CBRE's Julie Whelan aren't crying yet. "Is it soft? Yes. Is it a challenge? Yes. Is there an crash coming? I would not say that that's the situation we are in," Whelan dispensed to CBS Austin. But some are squinting at the skyline and seeing "shadow vacancies"—empty desks playacting as busy beehives on paper—forecasting a possible lease renewal drought.

It's a new day for Texas' work culture, heralding a change that has left some traditional office rites in the dust. "The return to the heyday where everybody was in the office four or five days a week, that's just not happening ever again," Steven Pedigo, the head honcho of University of Texas' LBJ Urban Lab, told CBS Austin. Indeed, the siren call of remote work has been answered by more than 15% of the state's workers, up from a paltry 6% pre-COVID.

Austin, with its techie cred, is king of the hill for remote work, and still, 28% are calling it in from the couch, barely a nudge from the rates when the nation was knee-deep in COVID chaos. Before the virus ran wild, Austin boasted a sub-10% office vacancy rate. Now, it's ballooning up to near 22%, says CBS Austin.

Metaphorical storm clouds might be gathering over the cityscapes, but some thinkers remain hopeful. Texans with a sunny side are betting the farm that their stomping grounds can dodge the dreaded “doom loop” of office deserts leading to ghost towns, given the state’s robust economy and the worker bees already buzzing back to the cubicle colonies.

AustinTransportation & Infrastructure