The Bottom Five Reasons Austin is a Top Spot for Business

Enough already! Gosh, you are embarrassing us. In case you missed the latest flattery directed at Texas, watch CNBC’s Scott Cohn from the campus of UT Austin announcing the winner of their Top States for Business 2010. This comes hot on the heels of Kiplinger’s announcement that Austin is the Best City for the Next Decade. Not to be left out, I’ve decided to jump in with:

The BOTTOM five reasons Austin is such a fantabulous spot for launching, running and prospering a business.

(Note, these aren’t unimportant reasons, just ones that don’t often make it to the top of the Chamber of Commerce list.)

1) Hundreds of thousands of Californians.

The Golden State has been sending us their best and brightest in waves for decades. Nearly 100,000 tax filers moved from California to Texas in 2008 according to the IRS, but this has been going on since I arrived in Austin in 1985 and discovered that most of my co-workers and clients had moved here in the previous five years, many from the west coast.

It was Californians who drove the growth of all of the really envy-inspiring Austin neighborhoods, as they discovered they could sell their two-bedroom bungalows in Oakland and afford a lake-side mansion below the wooded hills of West Austin. Today, I’m told Californians can’t sell their houses, but they keep coming anyway, dragging their expertise, their creativity and their companies along with them. And they’re being joined by thousands more Americans Swooping Down on Little Travis County, Texas.

Which leads to my next reason…

2) We’ll pull up an extra chair at the table.

Austin wants to like you. Really, let’s meet for lunch, eat some enchiladas and do some business. “There is a diversity and openness here most people outside Texas don’t picture, and it creates a welcoming atmosphere for innovation,” observes John Egan, creator of the AustInnovation blog. Business professor James Nolen, who seems to know every entrepreneur in town, says Austin’s lack of pretentiousness encourages risk taking and collaboration.

Kerry Tate, who has spent her career helping companies find their social footing in Austin, claims this is one of the rare business communities where a CEO who has just arrived in town can build a professional network without wading through generations of entrenched power. “If you live up to your promises and want to contribute, this crowd will open up and welcome you in,” she says.

3) Austin never wanted to be a hot spot.

Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s Austin economic development envoys had a unique pitch to the nation’s business leaders. “Please stay away. Thank you.”

You can trace that to our college student/hippy/cowboy roots or whatever. Austin just wasn’t all that excited about growing, and the results turned out to be endearing rather than off-putting.

Austin has never had a theme park, a professional sports stadium, or a big city skyline like Dallas or Houston. With nearly 2-million people in our metropolitan area, the city still feels like a collection of neighbors who just want to get together for disc golf after work.

Herman Dyal brings design clients to Austin from London, Lisbon and all over the world. “They love the casual get-it-done-and-then-have-some-fun attitude, Mexican food and margaritas, nightcrawling at the Continental Club, and the overall cool vibe,” he says.

4) The Red Headed Stranger

Just so you know, Willie Nelson is idolized in Austin. Not for his celebrity status (this is a pretend-not-to-notice town) but for his iconic expression of the Austin psyche.

Nelson wasn’t born here and he began his music career in Nashville, but it was in Austin he gave legitimacy and credibility to a burgeoning music scene that embraced rock and roll, jazz, western swing, and folk influences.

In other words, Willie Nelson took the diversity and openness of Austin culture, and wrapped it into a movement and a music scene that was identifiable and unique.

Executives don’t move their companies here because of music, but if they understand Willie Nelson they know everything they need to know about the town’s creative juices, heart and work ethic. When Willie Nelson and friends took the stage on July 4th at The Backyard, you probably couldn’t have thrown your ticket stub without hitting someone who has launched, funded or sold a venture in the last year. Classify these as good times.

5) George Kozmetsky

And as long as we’re classifying, let’s call George Kozmetsky the least-well-known gigantic reason why Austin is a top spot for business.

Kozmetsky was an intellectual force of nature credited with creating employment for tens of thousands and enabling billions of dollar of exports. He co-founded Teledyne Inc. in 1960, and was dean of the business school at UT Austin for sixteen years. During that time he turned the school into an incubator for launching new technologies and businesses, while founding the IC2 Institute as a knowledge incubator that produces half the research on technology transfer and wealth creation out there.

“George saw the potential of Austin long before others jumped on the bandwagon,” says John Butler, current director of IC2. “His vision of Austin as a technopolis was a driving influence that helped attract MCC, AMD, Motorola, Samsung and a host of other technology firms who were willing to bet we could deliver the goods.”

Kozmetsky died in 2003, but he is survived by a generation of technology entrepreneurs including Michael Dell (Dell Corp.) and James Truchard (National Instruments) who have kept the spark of his mentorship burning bright.

So now you know…

Please take a pause before you load your belongings and loved ones into a U-Haul Van Bound for Texas. Traffic is already big-time crazy, and many of us have family members and neighbors who are looking for work just like others around the country. Don’t come with over-exaggerated visions of the business climate or the jobs picture.

But if you do come, let’s get together, crank some ideas and make some money while we’re at it. That’s how we roll here.

Flickr Images: Moving Van by ASurroca. Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop by Nikkorsnapper. Continental Club by Librarygroover. Willie Nelson by Whittiz.

Want More? 25 Reasons Why ATX is the Utopia Inside the Utopia of Texas

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5 thoughts on “The Bottom Five Reasons Austin is a Top Spot for Business”

  1. My sister worked for George Kozmetsky’s wife Rilda a long time ago. She attested they were very good people.

    I do hope Austin finds its next big thing, as the semiconductor industry has long passed to Asia. It helps to have big companies around that spurn innovation and ecosystems around them.

  2. As the oldest granddaughter of Ronya and George Kozmetsky, I would like to thank you so much for this honor in George’s memory. George loved Austin very much, and even though I grew up in S.California, I consider Austin my second home.

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