What do a cosmetology student from Idaho, a DJ from Houston and a Virginian startup CEO have in common?
Like thousands of others, they're part of a swarm of young people who wound up soul-searching in Austin—and as Gen Zers, they're all part of a new generation known for its social media savviness, focus on diversity and social issues and a rejection of traditional workplace norms.
When 22-year-old cosmetology student Trina Peck moved from northern Idaho to north Austin early this year, she had to adjust to more than balmy Texas weather. Formerly a nursing student who spent five years working in the medical industry, Peck made a major lifestyle change when she moved to Austin in search of new opportunities.
22-year-old cosmetology student Trina Peck quit nursing school and moved to Austin after being burnt out in the medical industry. (Trina Peck)
Peck said she was tired of feeling taken advantage of while working for others and switched to cosmetology. She chose Austin for its reputation as a mecca for young people looking to make connections and create a new life.
"It just felt like no one really cared about you or had your best interest at all," Peck said. "It’s just always about making the people at the top more money regardless of how you work (or) what you make. It’s just an exhausting feeling and you never really feel appreciated."
She's not alone: many Gen Zers are coming of age during "The Great Resignation," a time when people are collectively quitting their jobs, packing their bags and pursuing their passions at an unprecedented pace. A record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in search of better opportunities in September.
Young people also tend to have a growing disdain for corporate hierarchies and the ultrarich, especially as wealth inequality ballooned even further during the pandemic.
Half of those under 30 across the political spectrum now say billionaires are detrimental to the U.S. economy. And a study by Knit, a Gen Z-led Austin startup that collects data on Zoomers, found that nearly half of those surveyed are looking to build their own business—around 10 percentage points higher than any other age group.
Like Peck, who wants to work for herself and open a hair studio of her own, 22-year-old James Ortiz scrapped his corporate future plans for his passion during the COVID pandemic. A graduate of Texas State University, he had just fine-tuned his resume for post-college life when an opportunity arose for him to continue his passion of DJing.
Austin DJ James Ortiz has built a life around his passion for DJing. (James Ortiz)
In college, he'd help popularize Latin Nights at a popular entertainment venue in downtown San Marcos. And now years later, he's getting paid for his Latin-infused mixes as a regular at popular Mexican food hangout Gabriela's.
So far, he's not regretting his decision.
"I would say the nine to five definitely is not for me, and I don't think it ever will be," Ortiz said. "I love music (so) I don't even consider them shifts because I'm just DJing."
Knit CEO Aneesh Dhawan may have the most insight of all into the Gen Z mindset: a Zoomer himself, he moved from Virginia to Austin in 2019 to help Gen Zers connect with social causes while helping companies align with the values of America's future.
At 23, Aneesh Dhawan is already the CEO of a startup based on Gen Z insights in Austin. (Aneesh Dhawan)
Dhawan said three key factors have shaped the youngest adult generation: growing up during the 2008 recession, being the first generation born in the age of the Internet and entering young adulthood during the COVID pandemic. As the world's first digital natives, Dhawan said it's also easier than ever to build yourself as a brand.
"I think it's a mix of major life events where you kind of see the power of being your own boss (and) having kind of more control over your destiny, especially when things happen that are very much out of your control, like a global pandemic or financial crisis," Dhawan said.
And according to Dhawan, Ortiz and Peck, there's no better place to find your destiny than Austin.
"Gen Z is really a generation of creators and entrepreneurs... we want to build things, we want to create things, whether that's the rise of creators on social media, or entrepreneurs as well," Dhawan said. "And Austin's such a great place to do that. So I think that's definitely one thing that attracts a lot of my generation to the city."
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- San Marcos favorite Industry Burger opens "mid-October" on E. 5th, featuring "low key healthy" Texas fare.
- Still Austin Whiskey Co. introduces "The Artist," its new rye whiskey.
- Domain NORTHSIDE favorites Bakery Lorraine, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, Jeni's Ice Cream and Sprinkles released their fall flavors.
- Cinnaholic at The Arboretum opens Friday, October 14, serving "create your own" cinnamon rolls and other sweet treats.
- San Francisco's Marufuku Ramen opens next Wednesday, October 12, in the Mueller District.
- Carpenter Hotel announces its popup food truck, Lil Carpenter, open Fri-Sun both ACL weekends, serving what you want, early to late, coffee to donuts, to dogs/burgers/fries/beer.
With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."