In early February, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk told fellow Texas transplant Joe Rogan that Austin was the "biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."
Days later, thousands across the city had no access to running water or power as Winter Storm Uri devastated the region.
The jury's still out on whether or not the record-breaking storm will impact the city's recent "Texodus," where thousands of Californians and tech companies began setting their sights on Austin.
Regardless, Austin felt like anything but the nation's most up-and-coming city as residents were forced to endure the cold in their powerless homes and search for drinkable water.
Austin and all of Texas could face a push-and-pull situation as the state decides whether or not to keep some of the policies that may have led to the tech boom in the first place. On one hand, lax taxes, low utility costs and more bang-for-your-buck real estate brought in Californians looking for a cheaper cost of living; on the other, Texans learned the hard way that "you get what you pay for" as city infrastructures failed and the power grid shut down, paradoxically, in the nation's most energy-rich state.
Austinite and Tech Crunch Senior Writer Mary Ann Azevedo said that while she isn't sure where the funding will come from, she hopes to see leaders turn toward the future and invest in city and state infrastructures.
"One would hope but if the past is any indication, we are unlikely to see many changes," Azevedo said. "However, if enough noise is made and change is demanded, then perhaps we will see some changes in terms of investing in updating current infrastructure. Where those funds will come from remains to be seen as it's highly unlikely we'll get state income taxes."
On Friday, Azevedo saw for herself the devastating effects of the storm on an unprepared city. While in the process of rationing bottled water and hoping for her faucets to once again turn on, Azevedo wrote an article for Tech Crunch pondering the question: could this storm set back Austin's recent tech migration?
Azevedo asked the public in a tweet to which she received mixed responses.
Some agreed that the storm was a historic event that Texas could have never properly prepared for. Because of the community's resilience and teamwork, some saw the event as a story of coming together more than the failure of the city or state.
What I saw here in Austin was community coming together
Neighbors helping each other. Taking in friends and strangers. Local restaurants stepping up, even after a year of a pandemic crisis.
I've lived here my entire life, it's the community that makes it great, always will
— Mark Magnuson (@MarkMagnuson) February 19, 2021
Others saw it as a moment of reflection for city and state infrastructure as the economy looks to make up for lost time.
I hope businesses put pressure on politicians to ensure that the infrastructure of TX is sound. The lost productivity over the last several days and potentially into the future is huge, not to mention the lost of life and trauma. (Oh & our offices flooded due to a main break.)
— Kate Moon🇺🇸 (@Katemooooon) February 19, 2021
A few outsiders looking in agreed that they would or had avoided Austin because of its location in Texas in the first place.
I'm not a founder, but I chose to move from SF to Portland, OR rather than Austin precisely BECAUSE Austin (the great city that it is) is located in the state of Texas. 🤷🏽♀️
— Debra J. Farber (@privacyguru) February 18, 2021
Winter Storm Uri may have brought communities together, but it also brought questionable Texas leadership national attention, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's decision to travel to Mexico during the crisis. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also faced the spotlight after it was revealed that he traveled to Utah in the midst of the storm.
Some said the state's power failure could look costly for companies who may choose to be under different leadership after the storm.
Startups & Tech don't want to have to build out their own utilities in addition to the rest of their infrastructure. Until Texas solves this energy incompetence they will take a pass.
— Clayton Slaughter (@schmubba) February 19, 2021
Of all who answered, Azevedo said she found most thought the winter storm would make no difference on the "Texodus," but she's not so sure that's rooted in logic.
"Mixed reactions, but the majority of people here in Austin and Texas seem to think it will have little to no impact," Azevedo said. "And as many people pointed out, each region has natural disasters that impact them in one way or another. But I think it's a bit unrealistic to think this won't be a turnoff for some."
To Azevedo, the disaster may not take away all of Austin's current allure, but it's likely that some will see the city in a new light after Winter Storm Uri.
"It's tough to say but I do think it does make Austin a little less appealing," Azevedo said. "Here we are supposed to be the next 'boomtown,' yet last week so many of us were either out of power or water, or both—largely due to aging infrastructure on poor decision-making on the part of our leaders. It's not the best look."
Although the power and water failure may not be the greatest advertisement for prospective tech companies, some such as Tesla, Oracle and Samsung have already taken root in Austin. Azevedo said that these companies are undoubtedly unhappy with the situation but likely won't be leaving anytime soon.
"They chose to base their headquarters, build factories or large campuses here for reasons and they will likely stand by those decisions still," Azevedo said. "However, if any of those decision-makers had to endure what many of us did last week, I can imagine it was disappointing and a bit of a reality check."
The hard freeze is over, but Winter Storm Uri's rippling effects will likely be seen for weeks or months. It's hard to say whether that will make Austin, Texas a "boomtown" no more.
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Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three charges—second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter—in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose final moments were recorded by onlookers, sparking a global protest movement over police violence and racial injustice. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
Jurors deliberated for 10 hours over two days after an intense, three-week trial before reaching a verdict Tuesday afternoon, four days shy of the first anniversary of the Austin police killing of Mike Ramos, an unarmed, 42-year-old Black and Hispanic man whose name became a rallying cry—along with Floyd's—for Austin protestors, who marched en masse last summer, prompting some police reforms.
Austin Police Department Officer Christopher Taylor was charged with first-degree murder—an unprecedented charge in Travis County—in the case of Ramos' death on March 10. But Warren Burkley, community outreach director for the Austin Justice Coalition, was measured in his response to the Chauvin verdict. "It's highly visible accountability, so it will give people hope in the system," he told Austonia. "But it's just one innocent life taken. And even in this city, this happens regularly, and it doesn't make national news."
Local elected officials, community leaders and residents also responded to the news as APD officers spent their second day on tactical alert, prepared to respond to any protests or demonstrations, and City Council heard recommendations from a task force on how to reimagine public safety.
Chauvin guilty on three charges!!!!
— Chas Moore (@iGiveYouMoore) April 20, 2021
Full justice would mean that George Floyd was still with us. But today's guilty verdict represents a historic step toward justice and for his family. So important now for the Senate to approve the House George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.https://t.co/9zUOgZYg4L
— Lloyd Doggett (@RepLloydDoggett) April 20, 2021
For the first time we saw accountability in the courts for the murder of an innocent Black person.
Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on camera.
This prosecution is historic. People are feeling temporary relief. This is more than Justice, this is #AccountabilityforGeorgeFloyd. https://t.co/HlBqW7sScx
— Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (@EddieforTexas) April 20, 2021
Many of us have been afraid for days that Derek Chauvin would be found not guilty, despite what the video so clearly showed in broad daylight. The guilty verdict today provides important accountability, but it does not provide real justice. (1/5) ⬇️
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) April 20, 2021
George Floyd's murder led to national protests and calls for the enactment of policing and social justice reforms, including here in Austin. We have made a commitment here to holding police officers accountable and to implementing social justice and policing reforms.
— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@MayorAdler) April 20, 2021
Derek Chauvin's conviction is only one step towards providing healing/justice for George Floyd's family + for our nation as a whole. It's up to us to honor Mr. Floyd + the many others lost to police violence by transforming public safety and making our communities safe for all. https://t.co/RVgQmcAf6I pic.twitter.com/hCHLibYjoy
— Council Member Alison Alter (@ALTERforATX) April 20, 2021
No person should be above the law. If you transgress the law you should be held accountability.
Derek Chauvin- GUILTY
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) April 20, 2021
George Floyd's murder heightened the long-overdue national conversation on systemic racism. Derek Chauvin has been found guilty, but this is just one step on a long road towards racial equity. We must enact significant systemic changes in order to achieve justice.
— Every Texan (@EveryTxn) April 20, 2021
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Californians love Texas, and Austin—with its liberal politics, relatively affordable housing and job opportunities—is particularly adored. In fact, the Lone Star State was the main recipient of departing Californians in 2019, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau data.
But other states, including Florida, are seeing increased interest. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has made a name for himself on Twitter recruiting techies and hyping up his city, which has a lot in common with Austin—with the added benefit of a beach and sans the "Don't California my Texas" attitude.
California expats and industry experts say Austin remains the bigger draw for Californians, especially those in the tech sector, but warn that this advantage could shift to Miami if the city doesn't address the policy challenges that prompted the migration in the first place: housing affordability.
"If Austin doesn't accommodate this influx, I think all the talent will come to Miami," said Peter Yared, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Miami from San Francisco in September. "I think Miami's going to be the one that sucks it all up."
Both Texas and Florida promise business-friendly state tax policies, and their governors tout the relocations of companies such as Tesla and Oracle from California. But Darien Shanske, a law professor at the University of California Davis whose specialties include taxation, said this is a red herring because corporate taxes are based on where sales occur rather than headquarter locations.
This is not to say other state policies are irrelevant. "The area in which California regulatory policy has been, in my opinion, not a complete failure but problematic … is housing policy," Shanske said. Austin and Miami can offer "not cheap, just cheaper" housing than what is available in Silicon Valley. Plus, both cities are developing a critical mass of talent, which further draws Californians in. "If you're a software engineer, you want to live near other software engineers," he added.
But not every Californian is motivated to move. "San Francisco is a fantastic place to live if you can afford it," said Brandy Aven, a professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business. As a result, it's more common for what she called the labor—engineers, programmers and even company founders—to relocate to cities such as Austin and Miami than the monied venture capitalists. Burgeoning tech cities may find that they need to develop homegrown investor networks to support local ventures in the absence of Californian transplants, but she believes this is doable.
Paul O'Brien, CEO of the Austin-based MediaTech Ventures and a startup veteran, moved to Austin from California in 2009, during the Great Recession. "I'm a firm believer that the world has been seeking an alternative to Silicon Valley for a long time," he said, pointing to Austin as the natural heir for myriad reasons.
Austin has regional appeal as the epicenter of three of the country's largest cities—Houston, Dallas and San Antonio—and their respective industry niches. Tech entrepreneurs could cater to the local consumer goods industry or Houston's oil and gas sector. Plus the city has cultural appeal, thanks to the Red River District and South by Southwest, which made it attractive to job seekers. "The whole reason everyone moved to Silicon Valley is opportunity," O'Brien said. "The whole reason people are now looking beyond Silicon Valley to somewhere else is opportunity."
It's less clear what Miami's key industries are, O'Brien said, but the city offers other selling points, including the mayor's buy-in and "a tremendous depth of wealth" to support a technology and startup ecosystem.
Although Yared didn't consider moving to Austin, he is aware of its appeal to engineers, especially now that their hero, Elon Musk, has moved there, shunning California. "Austin has a lock on tech," he said, but Miami draws a different crowd, including financiers from New York. This parallel migration, coupled with the city's more outwardly pro-growth building policies, gives him hope that Miami could supplant Austin in the coming years. "In the end, communities get to choose what they want," he said.
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In the days after Austin FC's inaugural match against LAFC on Saturday, Head Coach Josh Wolff says he's watched the game "a number of times, to say the least."
In the match, Wolff and over 500,000 other viewers looked on as Austin FC took to the pitch for the first time, held their own in the first half against LAFC and eventually fell 2-0 to a team that's sometimes regarded as the best in the league.
Austin FC had the largest television audience of any soccer match in the U.S. over the weekend, surpassing even the USWNT. In a showcase of the club's dedicated fan base, dozens of Los Verdes fans were spotted in green and black around the stadium—even with the match limited to 20% capacity.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
While the team lost their first-ever match, they didn't make it as easy as some expected.
Wolff said that the team did relatively well offensively, holding possession for 48% of the match and keeping a solid passing game. Once they got to the box, however, Wolff said they could use some work on creating scoring opportunities.
"We saw a lot of good connections, good spacing (and) good speed of passing," Wolff said. "I think we can obviously have more presence centrally to have more numbers in between lines. I just want us to create more chances. There's a lot on both sides of the ball that we still need to work on."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Later on, however, the team gave up some goals and seemed to struggle with endurance. Wolff said the backline did "okay" and that the club, including young center back Jhohan Romana, are still getting conditioned to play a full match.
"It's a lot of information for a young player," Wolff said. "I think as he fatigues then the decision making, as with most players, becomes a little bit more cloudy and then thus the execution becomes cloudy."
An honor to represent this city and y'all. We're just getting started. 💚🖤 pic.twitter.com/tmOqCfbXvs
— Austin FC (@AustinFC) April 18, 2021
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
Going into the match, Stuver and fellow goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell were neck-and-neck, with both labeled potential starters. However, it was Stuver, who many thought signed as a backup, that wore the goalkeeper's jersey on the field for the first time.
"I think both Andrew and Brad did relatively well in preseason, but we decided with Brad just based on how we felt preseason went," Wolff said. "I thought he performed pretty well to be honest. I think he and Andrew are similar in some aspects... it's being mindful of where their strengths and weaknesses are."
Five starters made their MLS debut in the match, including midfielder Daniel Pereira and forward Rodney Redes. While Wolff said Pereira held his own in the match, he saw a weak spot in the team's right side, making it difficult for Redes to make offensive plays.
"For Pereira, I think it was a solid day for a young kid coming in his first MLS game against that opponent," Wolff said. "Obviously there's there's a different physicality to MLS and I think those are things that all these guys are going to acclimatize to.
Now, the club looks to put the ball in the back of the net for the first time as they head to Colorado. Austin FC will face the Colorado Rapids at 8 p.m.on Saturday. The match will stream on the Austin FC app and be broadcast on the CW Austin. Austonia will keep an eye out for potential weekend watch parties.
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