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Before 'boomtown': For better or worse, Austin's nickname 'Silicon Hills' may be here to stay

Silicon Hills is a former nickname for Austin that soon fell out of favor. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

The Austin tech scene continues to explode— the city is a leader in crypto, Oracle and Tesla are relocating from California, and accelerators like Capital Factory continue to foster growth.

Before transplant Elon Musk dubbed the city a "boomtown," a nickname had already emerged: "Silicon Hills". But the name, a mesh of the Bay Area's "Silicon Valley" moniker and a reference to West Austin's Hill Country landscape—hasn't sat well with some.

Love or hate that Austin has been commonly coined "Silicon Hills," the phrase is likely here to stay. Half of the name, silicon, refers to the base material of semiconductors used in computer circuits, and it's key to Austin's reputation as a tech hub.

According to the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, 20,820 people in Central Texas are employed by semiconductors, computer and related manufacturers. A new Texas task force is aimed at attracting semiconductor investment into the state. And Samsung has been eying nearby Williamson County for a $17 billion semiconductor factory.

It's also worth looking at how the phrase Silicon Valley started to be used. Like Austin's, it's hard to pinpoint. But it's speculated that East Coast defense contractors first used the phrase when traveling to the Bay Area for business. Another clue on its origins is in the 1970s when technology reporter Dan Hoefler published pieces with the header "Silicon Valley USA" after hearing a marketer use the term.

Laura Lorek, founder of Silicon Hills News— a publication that reports on tech in Austin and San Antonio—is an obvious fan of the phrase. She says she knew she wanted to name the publication that as soon as she saw that the domain name was available.

"Silicon Hills means much more than a comparison to Silicon Valley," Lorek wrote in an email to Austonia. "Central Texas is about silicon. Austin has decades of expertise as a chip manufacturer."

She pointed to engineers at the University of Texas at Austin creating the world's smallest memory storage device and to how roughly 70% of the world's cars contain Infineon chips made in Austin.

"The phrase 'Silicon Hills' communicates sophistication to anyone who knows about the roots of the technology industry," Lorek said. "The influence of the semiconductor industry laid the foundation for all the tech that has followed."

The phrase may be a welcome sign for the influx of tech workers flooding in from Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

But protest of the term is perhaps just the scratching the surface on larger feelings of "techlash": rising housing costs, displacement, new tools that sometimes seem more troubling than they do innovative, and a serious lack of workforce diversity. And for decades of residents who want Austin to keep its "weird" instead of emulating the Bay Area, a term so similar to "Silicon Valley" may not be welcome.

"Some people here love the tech industry and some people don't," Lorek said. "Silicon Hills represents change, and a lot of people are uncomfortable with change."

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1923 Lake Austin mansion demolition request pitting preservationists and some neighbors against owner and city preservation office
Austin Monitor

By Jonathan Lee

The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.

The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'

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Freaky Floats and other Austin food & drink news
Austin Motel

What's new in Austin food & drink this week:

  • Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
  • Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
  • Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
  • Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
  • Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
  • Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
  • The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
  • Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
  • P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.