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How Austin is Coping with its High Tech Skills Gap

Like many other U.S. cities, Austin, Texas has spent the past decade or more aggressively recruiting high tech industry and turning itself into one of American's premier' centers of the Information Age. The city's Chamber of Commerce lured a couple of industry consortiums - MCC in softeware, Sematech in hardware, and a flock of big name computer chip companies followed. By 1995, Austin was home to 825 Information Age companies employing 85,000 people.

But today, as correspondent Hedrick Smith reports on the  NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Austin has become a victim of its own success. Lurking beneath the surface of its boom, a vital resource has been running dry - skilled labor. So Austin has a bevy of billion dollar chip fabs and not enough qualified local workers to operate them. Alarm bells went off after Austin proudly opened a new Samsung chip fabrication plant. Motorola, irked to see labor costs rising and skills running short, announced it was building its next big plant - not in Austin, but in Richmond, Virginia.

As Chamber of Commerce President Glenn West suggests, Austin's plight is America's plight. West tells Smith: "The dominant issue for Chambers of Commerce all across this country today is the ability to deliver to employers a trained work force. If we can do that, there is an economic future for our nation that is unlike anything we've ever seen. If we fail to do that, then these companies have no choice but to go elsewhere to find that labor - outside this country, and certainly outside of our individual communities."

Producer David Murdock and Associate Producer Jenny Smith show how Austin's Chamber set up career paths in five areas and helped establish a special high school course in "Principles of Technology". John Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Capital Areas Training Foundation, who overseas the job training effort, estimates it will cost the city and its businesses about $5 million over the next several years to fill up the workforce pipeline. Frank Holder , a veteran physics teacher at Johnston High, shares with correspondent smith about the ups and downs of getting high school students engaged in tech courses and confident they can handle the math and science.

To get the full story, read the transcript of this compelling report.

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