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Austin and Denver are both top destinations for millennials and Bay Area tech companies in search of something new. (Shutterstock, Pexels)

Austin isn't the only city attracting millennials and Bay Area tech companies with its outdoorsy profile, local breweries, progressive politics and Major League Soccer team. Denver, Colorado, has seen significant population growth in recent years and lures a similar crowd, including some Austinites in search of a change of scenery.

The two capital cities, 920 miles apart, have seen their populations grow more than 20% since 2010, according to census data. Both are top destinations among millennials, a recent SmartAsset analysis found, as well as the companies hoping to hire them. Despite Austin's steady population growth, Denver is the top out-of-state metro with a deficit migration flow, meaning more Austinites are moving to Denver than Denverites are moving here.

Megan Ivy, a broker with Denver-based Usaj Realty who was born and raised in Austin, often hears from people who are moving from Austin to Denver or vice versa. Perhaps even more common, however, is the person who is moving from a larger coastal city—San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York City—and is torn between the two options. "I get the comment all the time," she said. "'It's between Denver and Austin.'"

Twin cities

After the Great Recession, Colorado saw an economic diversification that spanned many industries, including aerospace, bioscience and digital communications. Starting around 2013, Denver began attracting Bay Area tech companies, which often opened a customer service or sales office. These companies quickly discovered that their employees in other departments wanted to move to Denver, which promised a higher quality of life and a lower cost of living. This trend continued during the pandemic, with some companies such as Marqeta and Salesforce opening new offices or expanding existing ones.

If this sounds similar to Austin's trajectory, that's because it is. Although the two cities have invested in different industries, there is some overlap. "I would say that we compete with Austin on a regular basis, predominantly for technology and financial services companies," said Sam Bailey, vice president of economic development at the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. "And it makes sense."

In the last decade or so, Austin and Denver have proven their value to prominent tech companies in search of a diversely skilled, millennial workforce, which is, in turn, drawn to the two cities because of their relative affordability, big city amenities and natural beauty.

(Graphic by Emma Freer)

Growing pains

Now the question is: Can the two cities keep this up? "I think what both communities share is this responsibility to focus on the future," Bailey said, citing housing affordability, mobility and equity as issues Austin and Denver must confront.

Ivy moved to Denver around a decade ago, following her now-wife, and immediately felt a vibe similar to Austin's. Both cities are neighborly, with a strong food-and-drink culture and family-friendly amenities. Due to their popularity, they are also facing similar housing challenges. "Our markets are insane," she said. "It's just incredibly competitive, very challenging, low inventory, skyrocketing prices."

But there are some key differences. Ivy thinks Denver has better weather—temperate, yet seasonal—and a more robust transit system, where Austin wins on live music and diversity. "Denver is very white," she said.

Ariel Hernandez is moving to Denver work his new job. (Ariel Hernandez)

Ariel Hernandez, 28, will be making the move from Austin to Denver later this month, where he has a new job at the DISH Network headquarters. "I think there are a lot of similarities between the two cities," he told Austonia. The Houston-born resident will miss his family, friends and Whataburger. But he's excited about the change. "I feel like I've done everything I needed to do," he said.


(Austonia file photo)

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