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Can Austin Manage the Boom Better?

Bloomberg Businessweek April 12, 2021|Technology|”Austin, Reluctant Boomtown” “Residents fear that the wave of tech workers arriving will turn the city into San Francisco” “THE BOTTOM LINE An influx of tech workers from San Francisco has some Austin residents worried, but the newcomers are confident they’ll solve the city’s problems, not cause new ones.”

Read the article for all detail.

View from South Congress shows the transition of recent years. Northbound side small local businesses like Docs are gone against a backdrop of high rise. On the Southbound side Austin Motel an iconic symbol of "Keep Austin Weird" still remains.

Summary of the article

At the top of this summary, it is most important to note that half of the influx of new residents actually come from other areas in Texas with only 8% from California and 3% from New York (2014-2018 based on information from the Austin Chamber of Commerce and USPS data). But as the article points out “Hating California is a tradition in Texas.” Part of the population growth, 30% between 2010 and 2019, stems from the thousands of students that graduate each year from the Austin-based University of Texas who are often compelled to take local technology jobs with the likes of Dell Technologies, Apple, Facebook and all the newcomer companies like Oracle, Tesla (Musk), Boring Co. (Musk), SpaceX (Musk), Dropbox, Splunk and others. Along with the growth, spurred by the “food and music scenes, ...low taxes and low cost of living, has come a massive change to the Austin skyline with still over thirty high rise towers in progress or on the drawing board (Source-Austin Business Journal). With every new tower down goes iconic eateries, music venues and shops that gave Austin that bohemian feel dubbed “Keep Austin Weird.” Add in the decimating effect of the pandemic on live music and there are real concerns about a core value of living in Austin falling by the wayside. According to Dax Williamson (Silicon Valley Bank-Tech Leader for Central Texas) “There is a fairly broad-based concern that some of the things that aren’t working in other areas are going to be brought here…If we price out the musicians, we’re going to find ourselves in a bad place.”

This influx of new residents, as high as 170 per day at one point, combined with effects of the pandemic have left Austin critically short of housing with inventories as low as three days near Apple’s existing campus (Source-Austin Business Journal). This has created bidding wars for the small inventory of homes coming onto the market and though most newcomers are from Texas those from California and elsewhere often arrive flushed with cash from selling highly-valued homes. Some call it "California Monopoly Money." Those out-of-state newcomers are pricing out local first-time and move-up buyers.

On April 4, Elon Musk (Tesla,Boring Co., SpaceX) “called out [by Tweet] the ‘urgent need to build more housing in greater Austin area!” “For its part, the city’s burgeoning tech industry sees itself as the solution.” “Local nonprofit Austin Technology Alliance, which aims to promote tech companies’ civic engagement…[with members that] now include Google, Facebook, Uber and Lyft…weighs in on issues such as electric car infrastructure and 5G coverage, areas where a tech industry partnership may be able to help the city.”

Joe Lonsdale (Palantir) and family have moved to Austin as well. With “his wife, Tayler, [they] run the Cicero Institute a public-policy think tank…with priorities that align with emerging issues in Austin. Wishing not to repeat mistakes of San Francisco etc. Cicero has objectives that include to maintain a strong police force, to get homeless people off the streets, to build more housing, and to decrease traffic congestion. Emil Davityan (Bluedot Innovation) after experiencing the rise and fall of San Francisco’s part of the tech boom such as the rising-cost of living, -traffic and -homelessness moved Bluedot to Austin in 2019 and now worries that the same will happen to Austin. He commented “’It’s definitely on that trajectory of Austin becoming like Silicon Valley.”

Building on Barton Springs and First Street South of Lake Austin. In total, according to Austin Business Journal, there are more than 30 towers either being planned or in progress mostly north of the Lake Austin.


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