Is Charlotte the Austin of the East Coast?
Both southern cities are home to big universities and have up-and-coming economies—fueled by banking and tech, respectively—that share a love of barbecue, a penchant for live music and rapidly growing millennial populations.
But the two cities present different benefits—and growing pains—to their residents and prospective transplants. Similar to how many Austinites look to San Francisco as an example of what lies ahead for the Capital City, at least one Charlottean is looking to "Austin as a guide (and in some cases a warning) for what's to come in Charlotte."
Here's how Austin and Charlotte compare across 15 highly specific, occasionally scientific categories.
1. Top workplaces
Charlotte's largest employers include Atrium Health, Wells Fargo, Walmart and Bank of America, according to the Charlotte Business Journal. Austin's largest employers include the State of Texas, the University of Texas at Austin and Dell.
2. Origin stories
Charlotte was settled around 1750 and is named for Princess Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, queen of England and wife of King George III, which is why it's sometimes called the Queen City.
Austin, previously known as Waterloo, was purchased to serve as the capital of the Republic of Texas in 1839 and renamed in honor of "Father of Texas" Stephen F. Austin, who colonized the region and introduced slavery, despite attempts by the Mexican government to ban it. Texas was annexed into the U.S. in 1845, and Austin became the state's official capital the following year.
3. Beloved food
Although there are many, the top contender in Austin might just be migas, where in Charlotte it is arguably shredded pork barbecue, eaten with a plastic fork.
4. Median home price
The median home sales price in the city of Austin hit an all-time high of $550,562 in April, exacerbating the challenges of first-time and prospective homebuyers, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.
The Charlotte housing market is similarly outperforming the national average, posting double-digit gains in home prices and contending with a housing shortage and population growth. But it remains relatively affordable compared to the Austin market. The median home sales price in April was $315,000, according to the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association.
5. College towns
Austin and Charlotte are both home to state universities. The University of Texas at Austin is the 14th best public school in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report; has an enrollment of more than 50,000 students; and counts the second largest endowment at $31 billion. The University of North Carolina-Charlotte is second to flagship campus Chapel Hill but still enrolls more than 30,000 students.
6. Population growth
Austin beats Charlotte both in terms of population and growth, but only barely. The capital city had a population of 978,908, according to 2019 census estimates, and had grown 22.1% since 2010. Charlotte had a population of 885,708 and had grown 20.4% over the same period.
7. Fitness freaks
(The Trail Foundation)
According to the 2020 American College of Sports Medicine's community fitness index, Austin ranks 31st and Charlotte 67th among the country's largest cities. Austin's score reflects better bike friendliness and more farmer's markets per capita, among other metrics.
8. Craft brewery density
(Zilker Brewing Co./Facebook)
Charlotte narrowly beats Austin in terms of ranking and number of breweries, according to the Real Estate Witch's 2021 list of best beer cities in America. Charlotte came in 17th, with 76 breweries, and Austin ranked 25th, with 71.
9. Natural disaster risk
The Willie Nelson statue downtown got a dusting of snow during the February winter storm. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, received a score of 16.89 on the national risk index, which is compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This places it in the 88th percentile nationally, at risk of such natural hazards as drought, hurricanes and tornadoes.
Travis County scored worse—24.91—which landed it in the 96th percentile nationally. Its most prevalent natural hazards include drought, lightning and tornadoes.
10. Local politics
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, a Democrat in her second term, is the first Black woman to hold the office. She has championed against anti-LGBT legislation, investment in affordable housing and light rail.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, also a Democrat in his second term, is the first mayor to serve as part of the 10-1 council system. He has tackled contentious issues, from zoning reform and homelessness to the city's affordability crisis and recent protests over police violence, with varying degrees of success.
Both cities are liberal strongholds in more conservative states. Nearly two-thirds of Charlotteans voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, compared to 49% of North Carolinians. Nearly 72% of Austinites went for Biden, compared to 47% of Texans.
11. Sports culture
Both Austin and Charlotte recently gained soccer franchises, but the North Carolina city also has a stable of other beloved professional sports teams, including the Panthers (NFL) and Hornets (NBA).
Until recently, Austin was alone among the country's 15 populous cities that lacked a major league team. Now it has Austin FC, which has won two games and lost four so far in its inaugural season.
12. Millennial appeal
(Michael Anthony Orona)
Austin and Charlotte are among the most attractive cities among millennials. According to SmartAsset's 2020 report, Austin ranked third and Charlotte fifth in terms of net millennial migration. Similarly, RentCafe included both among its top 15 hottest cities for millennials renters over the last five years, with millennials making up 48% of Austin rental applicants and 43% of Charlotte rental applicants.
Austin and Charlotte rank 23rd and 24th, respectively, among large U.S. cities in terms of ethnic diversity, according to a recent WalletHub study. Austin is a majority-minority city, with a rapidly growing Asian population and decreasing shares of families-with-children in the urban core and Black residents overall. Charlotte is also a majority-minority city, with increasing Asian and Hispanic populations, according to Mecklenburg County's 2020 pulse report.
14. The great outdoors
Austin beats Charlotte in terms of its 2021 ParkScore ranking, which is compiled by the Trust for Public Land and includes the 100 largest U.S. cities. In 45th place, Austin fell eight spots from last year and received its lower mark for equity. Charlotte, however, ranked near the bottom, at 91st place, and received its lowest mark for access. Fewer than 40% of Charlotteans live within a 10-minute walk of a park, compared to 62% of Austinites.
15. Celebrity sightings
(Gary Clark Jr./Facebook)
Charlotte lags behind Austin in terms of famous residents. The city counts former Tar Heel, Charlotte Bobcats majority owner and possible best basketball player of all time Michael Jordan as a part-time Charlottean.
Austin, on the other hand, saw more celebrities lay down roots in 2020 alone, including extremely successful podcast host and professional devil's advocate Joe Rogan, "Dawson's Creek" actor James Van Der Beek, enigmatic Tesla CEO Elon Musk and "Entourage" star Adrain Grenier. Other notable Austinites include possible gubernatorial candidate Matthew McConaughey, country music legend Willie Nelson, Grammy winner Gary Clark Jr. and Coach Taylor himself Kyle Chandler.
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Officials are asking certain residents in Bastrop State Park to evacuate as crews work to put out a “very active fire” that is currently 0% contained.
The Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to help local fire departments with the Rolling Pines Fire at 100 Park Road 1A, which is consuming 300 acres. Residents of Pine Hill Drive, Pine Tree Loop, Linda Lane and Lisa Lane are being asked to evacuate.
Today’s Bastrop Rolling Pines Fire is burning along Power Plant Road towards Lake Bastrop South Shore. pic.twitter.com/YCvJkIAg1u
— BastropCntyTexas OEM (@BastropCntyOEM) January 18, 2022
Aviation resources have been called to assist.
According to the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management, the wildfire sparked during a prescribed burn that took place today, despite wildfire warnings. Park Road 1C from Harmon Road to Park Road 1A had been closed for the prescribed burn.
The blaze is in the same location as the Bastrop Complex Fire of 2011, which burned for 55 days, killing two people, destroying 34,000 acres and around 1,700 homes and buildings. The fire, which started in 2011, became the most destructive wildfire in Texas at the time.
A hotbed for fires, the Hidden Pines Fire started at the same location in 2015, destroying 4,600 acres and 64 structures.
Some road closures have been put in place at State Highway 21 South Shore Lake Bastrop and East State Highway 21.
This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
After months of record-setting periods for Austin real estate, the Austin Board of Realtors announced Tuesday that the metro's housing market accounted for over $23 billion of economic activity in 2021, making it the biggest year yet for both home sales and median home prices in the metro.
The Austin-Round Rock MSA saw 41,316 homes sold in 2021, 2.5% more than a record-setting 2020. Median home prices skyrocketed as well, rising 30.8% from 2020 to $450,000. The housing market also saw unprecedented impact on Austin's economy, with sales dollar volume jumping to over $23.38 billion, and more homes hit the market in 2021 than any previous year, increasing by 5.9% to 46,449 total homes listed.
(Austin Board of Realtors)
As many recent Austin homebuyers have experienced firsthand, Austin Board of Realtors 2022 President Cord Shiflet said 2021 was the most "exciting, complicated, fast-paced and record-setting housing market" in Austin's history.
Shiflet dubbed the market as "complicated" for a reason—Austin became a case study on supply and demand in 2021, with demand far outpacing the number of active listings, which dropped by 48.2% to 2,348 homes in 2021.
The metro ended the year with 0.6 months of inventory, a far cry from a "healthy" six-month supply, and houses were snatched at breakneck speeds, spending 25 fewer days on the market when compared to 2020. The average home was on the market for 20 days.
But low inventory is more due to high demand than a stagnant homebuilding market, Mark Sprague, Independence Title's state director of information capital, said in the report.
“In 2021, the record number of homes sold were demand-driven transactions and that demand was influenced greatly by companies continuing to target the region for job creation and expansion," Sprague said. "Even though more homes are being built, listed and sold than ever before, our region is still nowhere close to having a comfortable amount of supply to meet the demand, which is why home prices continue to rise steadily.”
Over 23,000 jobs have been promised by companies across the metro as of December 2021, breaking the 2020 record, according to Opportunity Austin, the economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. With an influx of major factories and offices, including Tesla's Giga Texas, Samsung's Taylor plant and a planned 33-floor Facebook office, Sprague said the region's booming market paired with a struggling inventory and supply chain issues could be a double-edged sword in 2022.
"In short, 2022 will see a robust market for home sales and property values, but the region must do more to address inventory, ” Sprague said.
Shiflet recommended that potential homebuyers make a decision ahead of predicted increases in interest rates and home prices and said that he hopes local politicians will continue to prioritize affordable housing in the election year.
Still, Shiflet said a record-breaking housing market reflects Austin's growing reputation as a hub for talent, tech jobs and a good quality of life.
"With all the new jobs across the region from exciting companies like Tesla and Samsung, Austin was put on the world’s stage and captured the hearts and attention of so many," Shiflet said. "We are lucky to call Austin our home when it has so much to offer from a great quality of life to a wonderful destination for innovation and opportunity.”
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