You've heard it from all over the web, from celebrities and the news—Austin is booming. From 2010-2019, Austin saw the largest percent growth out of all metro areas in the U.S., sharing the list with cities much bigger than The City of the Violet Crown.
Austin's growth has shown no sign of slowing, either. With major companies like Tesla and Google and influencers like devil's advocate podcaster Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, Austin is on the forefront of cities leading the boom.
There are mixed feelings about Austin's explosive growth across the city—between those who find the growth exciting and the famous "don't California my Texas" argument— but those who leave the city are not typically part of the conversation.
Chris Ramser, director of research and economic development for the Austin Chamber, said the flow into the city fluctuates on the long term but even when the U.S. faces its hardest times—COVID-19 and the Great Recession for example—Austin still continues to grow. Ramser is waiting for 2020 data, which will be available in May, to look at the full extent of the migration.
"During the first recession, there was a lot of migration around that time and a lot of people are starting to speculate that the same thing is happening right now with some of the stuff that's been going on with the coronavirus," Ramser said. "What those numbers will ultimately look like, we won't know for a little bit."
Sophia Alaniz, a lifelong Austinite, said she left the only home she had ever known in search of something a little less monotonous, a little more chaotic. The first place that came to mind: the Big Apple.
"I definitely got the chaos—I was just looking for more diversity in my life," Alaniz said. "I like the idea that every day that I leave my apartment, it's something completely, completely, completely different."
Alaniz followed a trend that many have, whether on purpose or inadvertently, in their exodus: a move to a more progressive state. Ramser said the cities people leave Austin for also tend to be emerging tech hubs.
"There is flow. I think those markets are ones that some of our tech workers could be going to (find) opportunities there as they go through their career phases," Ramser said. "They may be looking towards living in a progressive city since they've lived in Austin and they've kind of experienced the Texas side of progressivism."
Austin grows by around 168 people per day, with roughly 128 from net migration and 40 from natural increase. From 2014 to 2018, Austin lost an average of 51 people per day and only 14 states saw possible deficit flows. Of the areas that steal away more Austinites than come here, most only saw small differences. The biggest negative migration rates come from Colorado, Oregon and Connecticut.
Denver, Colorado, has a migration deficit of 589 people, and Portland, Oregon, has a deficit of 407. There are even a few Texas cities that ex-Austinites tend to favor: Killeen and College Station.
Cody Shelton, who lived in Austin until he went to study aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University, liked the small town charm Austin had. After returning to Austin during the summers in-between semesters, Shelton stopped feeling like he fit in after the city's immense growth.
"It's a little concerning, because Austin had this feel that it was a big city because of the Capitol but it felt so small and sort of tight knit," Shelton said. "It was weird going back each time for summer winter break. I felt like I didn't fit anymore because the feeling had changed; it was sort of like a little brother that grew up."
That doesn't mean Shelton thinks the growth is a bad thing—he said the expansion of space companies in Austin reminds him of bigger cities and now, he might even want to move back. Even with its growth, he's not worried about Austin losing its "weird" anytime soon.
"In terms of the overall growth of companies, I actually enjoy that because those are the type of companies, if I was to live in Austin, I would want to be around," Shelton said. "The weird is something you adopt. It doesn't matter where you came from, it's something you get to adopt once you get here."
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The Hustle, an Austin-based media company focused on business growth, has been acquired by software company HubSpot.
Starting out as a simple email newsletter in 2016, The Hustle, has grown to reach over 1.5 million readers and has incorporated a podcast, "My First Million" and a premium research platform, Trends, in order to give entrepreneurs insight and practices to help grow their businesses.
HubSpot The Hustle 🤝 High-quality content for scaling companies— HubSpot (@HubSpot)1612451668.0
The media company is being acquired for an undisclosed amount. Sam Parr, CEO and founder of The Hustle, said in a Twitter thread that he would be taking that number "to the grave."
In the acquisition by HubSpot, a customer relationship management platform for growing companies, The Hustle aims to give the company more ways to educate its community through more diverse media.
In a statement on The Hustle's latest newsletter, the media company said the acquisition will also allow them to produce more material, including podcasts, products and other original content while maintaining the free daily email subscription they were founded on.
According to Parr, this is not the first time a larger company has attempted an acquisition. He said most ad-first media companies are going out of business, and he didn't want to join forces with anyone who used that model.
HubSpot is a business-to-business software service company—one of the only kind of business models Parr wanted to be bought by.
What really sold Parr on the purchase though, was when, according to him, HubSpot's CEO, Brian Halligan said, "We want to keep you guys weird, keep your content cool—but put more resources behind it."
In terms of how Parr plans on celebrating the acquisition? He has one thing in mind for his wife: THE outfit.
THE OUTFIT— Sam Parr ⚪️ (@Sam Parr ⚪️)1612395844.0
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Gail Glass and her husband moved to Austin from the Bay Area in 2017 to be closer to their daughter, who is a professor at the University of Texas. Now in her 70s, she lives in the Mueller neighborhood, which she likes because it reminds her of California, with its transit-friendliness and liberal politics, but without the high prices.
Glass has found Austinites to be welcoming—but she also learned not to mention where she moved from.
While house-hunting, a buyer turned down the couple's offer because they were from California. "Texas is for Texans," she said. "I've heard that a number of times."
Although the majority of people moving to Austin come from other cities in Texas, Californians are often blamed for the city's challenges. It's easy to understand Austin's appeal: relative affordability compared to cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, liberal local politics and—as an added bonus—no state income tax. But many Austinites feel that these new arrivals are jeopardizing the very benefits that drew them to the city in the first place.
A cautionary tale
Californians accounted for about 8% of all migration to the five-county Austin metro between 2014 and 2018, according to an Austin Chamber analysis of U.S. Census survey data. Although 2020 numbers are not yet available, there are some indicators that this trend has only been turbocharged by the pandemic. Just last month, LinkedIn ranked Austin the most popular city for newcomers in 2020.
Podcasting's $10-million man Joe Rogan and former Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek recently relocated from Los Angeles to the Austin area. Individuals, however, aren't the only ones following this migration pattern.
Joe Rogan and James Van Der Beek moved to Austin in 2020, while Elon Musk has been house-hunting after bringing the next Tesla Gigafactory to the area.
Lured by the state's business-friendly climate, Austin's existing workforce and cushy tax incentives, Tesla announced it would build a new Gigafactory in Southeast Travis County last summer, and CEO Elon Musk began house-hunting locally not too long after. Oracle recently relocated its headquarters from the Bay Area, and Samsung, whose U.S. headquarters are in San Jose, is reportedly mulling a $10 billion microchip plant in Austin.
"There already were trends toward remote work," said Margaret O'Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington and the author of "The Code," a history of Silicon Valley. "This year, there was this giant experiment at scale, which showed big tech companies in particular that they could operate in a different way."
Austin offers companies a sizeable labor pool and lower operating costs than the Bay Area. But it also matches some of Silicon Valley's tech-friendly attributes.
Both regions developed nascent tech industries during the Cold War, spurred by federal investment in defense spending and research universities—Stanford in California, the University of Texas at Austin here—followed by the emergence of microchip and then hard- and software companies, O'Mara explained.
But what drew tech companies to California starting in the 1960s and '70s has now been compromised by the success of those companies. "The Valley used to be attractive because it was relatively affordable," she said. "Now that no longer holds."
Austin, on the other hand, remains relatively affordable for people and companies moving from more expensive cities and states.
"We live in an era where there is quite great demand for living in cities," said Jacob Anbinder, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard University where he is writing a dissertation on urban growth and the Democratic Party. "People often move to Austin because they are priced out of these wealthy, coastal cities."
This isn't necessarily good for Austin.
"It's always great to be on the high tech map, but there's challenges and costs," O'Mara said.
California may be a scapegoat for Austin's growing pains—Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the Los Angeles Times last year the "Californization of Texas is like a social media meme without a factual basis"—but there's no doubt that population growth has contributed to the city's affordability crisis and related issues.
Between 1990 and 2020, the median home price in the Austin-metro area increased more than five-fold from $71,000 to $370,000, according to the Texas Real Estate Research Center. Nationally, the median home price has increased less than three-fold, according to an analysis of Federal Housing Finance Agency data by the research firm DQYDJ.
State Republican leaders have weighed in.
When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ran for reelection in 2018, his campaign website featured a "Don't California My Texas!" petition.
More recently, U.S. House Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, wrote an op-ed for Fox News about the city's homeless crisis. "As droves of Californians move to Texas for jobs, it appears they and their values are turning parts of Austin from merely 'weird' to potentially dangerous mirror images of failed California cities," he wrote.
Some residents feel similarly—and are considering moving elsewhere.
Jill Klucher has lived in the Northwest Hills neighborhood since 1992. Over the last five years, she has felt the impact of Austin's growth: more chain stores where there used to be local businesses, less green space as land is redeveloped to build more housing and a more visible homeless population.
"I think Austin's great, and I do love living here," Klucher said. "But there's probably a time that I'll leave."
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Home to the Cathedral of Junk, Eeyore's Birthday Bash, Dirty Sixth and the Museum of the Weird, the Texas capital has earned its slogan, "Keep Austin Weird," which was coined by late native Red Wassenich in 2000.
The pandemic has temporarily closed some of these strange attractions, but the city's weirdness lives on. For new arrivals who are looking to understand Austin better, here is a field guide to some of the city's idiosyncrasies.
This week, you'll see stories useful for someone new to Austin in anticipation of Austonia's "How to Austin" event. To attend, sign up here.
Austin is the largest no-kill city in the country as well as second most pet-friendly, according to a recent study by WalletHub. Many Austinites are devoted supporters of local shelters such as the Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive, serving as volunteers, donors and adoptive families. It's also not uncommon to see well-behaved dogs lounging outside coffee shops, on restaurant patios or running around Lady Bird Lake—with their owners, of course.
Wilder animals also call Austin home. As many as 1.5 million Brazilian free-tailed bats live part of the year inside the crevices of the Congress Avenue bridge. Grackles congregate by the dozens on electric lines at dusk, calling to mind a scene out of a horror movie. Monk parakeets, migratory birds introduced to Austin by humans, have been spotted all over town. And peacocks roam at Mayfield Park.
Austin may be the capital of Texas, but cowboy hats are a rarity here. Trucker caps are more the norm.
And while there are more cowboy boots in Nashville, you can get yourself a pair down South Congress, where local boot sellers include Allen's Boots, Heritage Boot Co. and Tecovas. Women often wear them to Texas Longhorn football games and to jeans-and-cowboy-boots-themed events. And when men wear them, they usually wear "ropers, a shorter boot with a squared-off heel and a wider toe.
Jeans are acceptable anywhere, any time, even at church.
Food and drink
Desert Door distillery in Driftwood, Texas. (Emma Freer)
Austin staples include breakfast tacos from a local spot such as Tacodeli; kolaches, which nod to the Czech heritage of many Central Texans; queso, of which there are many varieties and favorites; and brisket, a Texas barbecue specialty that warrants long lines at places like Franklin, La Barbecue and Micklethwait.
When it comes to beverages, Austin is fortunately known for many, from craft beers brewed on-site to fresh smoothies whipped up at JuiceLand to perfectly roasted coffee to sotol distilled at Desert Door in nearby Driftwood. Pace yourself!
Frontage roads, sometimes called access roads, service roads or feeders, run parallel to Texas highways and allow access to cross-streets and businesses. They also double the number of times you need to merge, are expensive to build and maintain, and can be very confusing to people from other states, almost all of which don't have them.
The new Waterloo Park in downtown opened for light-up sneak peek in December.
Originally a small community near the confluence of the Colorado River and Shoal Creek, Austin used to be called Waterloo, which may be derived from the battle where the English defeated Napoleon, according to the Austin History Center.Waterloo was purchased by the Republic of Texas to serve as its capital in 1839 and renamed in honor of Stephen F. Austin, who colonized the Mexican-controlled region in the early 19th century and defended slavery in spite of Mexico's effort to ban it. The U.S. annexed Texas in 1845, and Austin became the state's capital the following year.
IconsWillie Nelson(Wikimedia Commons)
Austin is home to an increasing number of celebrities and other high-profile folks, from Matthew McConaughey and Elon Musk to Kendra Scott and James Van Der Beek. But some people are in a class of their own, including beloved country music star and local vaccine recipient Willie Nelson.
Some other late icons include:
- Civil Rights leader Barbara Jordan, who was the first Black person elected to the Texas Senate and the first Black woman from the South elected to the U.S. House of Representatives
- Texas blues rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan, who performed at local clubs such as an Antone's and whose memory is honored by a statue along Lady Bird Lake
- Richard Overton, who was the nation's oldest World War II veteran and a beloved Austin resident
- Darrell Royal, who coached football at the University of Texas from 1957 to 1976 and won more games than any other coach in Longhorns history
"Party Island" on Lady Bird Lake, seen from above on Aug, 8, 2020. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
Some people feel strongly about South Congress and consider it touristy at best—and sacrilege at worst—to call it by its marketing name SoCo.
Austin roads have a funny way of going by multiple names, which can be confusing even to drivers who are familiar with the city's streets. MoPac, named after the Missouri Pacific Railroad along which it runs, also goes by Texas Loop 1. The Capitol of Texas highway is more commonly known as 360. I-35 is called all sorts of things, many of them unprintable. Many smaller roads have both a name and a number, such as Bee Cave Road in West Austin, which is also called Ranch to Market 2244, RM 2244 and Bee Caves Road.
Similarly, many east-to-west downtown streets have both a name and a number. First Street is always known by its proper name, Cesar Chavez Street. Sixth Street will do, but it is also sometimes called Pecan Street. The portion between Congress Avenue and I-35 serves as an entertainment district and is mostly referred to as "Dirty Sixth," for obvious reasons. Locals over 25 years old are more often found on West Sixth—or west of Congress.
There's also the issue of Town Lake, as many long-time locals know it, which was renamed Lady Bird Lake, after former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, who helped beautify it.
Like most places, Austin has its idiosyncrasies. Some of the odd local pronunciations have to do with the Spanish origins of many street names. Central corridor Guadalupe, which sounds lovely in Spanish, becomes the pedestrian GWAD-ah-LOOP—or just GUAD—in the mouths of many Austinites.
You can try to show yourself as a local by using the older (and sometimes preferred) pronunciations of names that have since changed. After considerable research, and for reasons of equity, Manchaca Road—pronounced MAN-shack—is now Menchaca Road, or Men-CHAH-kah. But for many residents, old habits die hard.
Another tough name is the street and corresponding river just outside of Austin: Pedernales. Memorize how it should be said. Don't think about it, just do it: PUR-den-nal-ehz.
Don't worry about how to pronounce the name of the Mueller residential and commercial area in Northeast Austin. MULE-er, MEW-ller or MILL-er will all do. Nobody knows.
In addition to many recreational leagues, whose members play volleyball and flag football at public parks all over town, there are also some professional teams who represent Austin.
- Major League Soccer club Austin FC will start their inaugural season on April 3 at the newly named Q2 Stadium; it is the first major league sports team to represent Austin and has gained a substantial fan base in the community
- United Soccer League club Austin Bold FC, founded in 2018, plays at the Circuit of the Americas' Bold Stadium
- United Women's Soccer team FC Austin Elite plays at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex
- Minor League Baseball team the Round Rock Express plays at Dell Diamond
- NCAA team the Texas Longhorns play football at Texas Memorial Stadium, basketball at the Frank Erwin Center and baseball at UFCU Disch-Falk Field
- American Hockey League team the Texas Stars play at Cedar Park Center
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