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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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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