Case Study

From Tumbleweeds to Tech Hub

Austin, Texas

 

The Challenge

Until the last decade, Austin’s identity had little to do with technology or explosive growth. It was known to locals and the rest of the country as a sleepy college town — a laid-back place with more than its share of hippies and musicians. Despite the groundbreaking success in the 1980s and ’90s of companies like Dell and National Instruments and early technology consortia like the MCC and the University of Texas’ IC2 Institute, entrepreneurs and investors were still struggling.

Investors outside of the market stipulated that the deal flow wasn’t strong enough nor the entrepreneurs seasoned enough to warrant a deeper investment. Thankfully, the city possessed a positive business culture. Still, there remained a significant disconnect between tech leaders who lamented about the lack of technically-skilled talent, and the city’s institutional leaders who claimed that the tech sector couldn’t possibly have trouble recruiting — Austin was a university town after all.

It was clear that to lay the foundation for the next big boom, city leaders had a lot to do: connect the technical talent gaps and position the city to external audiences as a market ripe with investment and entrepreneurial activity.

Oct 12, 2018

Austin is a tech hot spot. It wasn’t always this way.

The Ask

The Austin Technology Council, an industry organization created in 1992 to accelerate tech growth, needed to evolve quickly and prove to the market that there was an existing technology ecosystem. In 2009, Julie Huls conducted the first economic impact study for technology and found the sector contributed $21 billion annually—a game-changer for a town that had been characterized by outsiders as “tumbleweeds in the streets.” With new bragging rights in hand, city stakeholders set out to dig deeper and invest more in positioning the City around this sector’s growth and success. No one in 2009 imagined that Austin was on its way in the coming decade to becoming recognized as one of the nation’s most competitive technology hubs.

The Approach

wmg icons assess market strengths

1. Assess market strengths.

Quantifying the economic impact of Austin’s existing technology and innovation occupations repositioned the market’s understanding of its worth. While it was historically accurate to only count the “IT Sector” for impact, in Austin, we used a cross-sector approach to give us a more comprehensive understanding.

2. Seek critical insight.

By gathering innovation and technology leaders we created the necessary industry connectivity that helped us validate how we were defining tech for Austin. The definition of tech varies from city to city and is dependent upon which and how many digital skills are required in those industries and occupations.

3. Develop a bold plan.

Julie’s strategic plan included measures to strengthen specific tech talent attraction efforts, forge partnerships with regional educational institutions and support local entrepreneurs through leadership events. With an aggressive external media strategy and greater industry engagement in regional economic development initiatives, Austin leveraged the creative industries to strengthen the Austin tech brand with external candidates.

4. Prioritize strategic partnerships.

Julie forged a first-ever partnership with the City of Austin that resulted in a deeper understanding of the industry’s accelerated demand for digital talent and expanded access to diverse, locally-trained talent. As companies came to understand timing challenges with pipeline development, their hiring prerequisites were relaxed, bolstering diversity and inclusion and helping to meet rigorous demand.

5. Reposition for talent.

South By Southwest, Austin City Limits and Formula One all played an integral role in branding Austin as an innovative city. Partnering with SXSW allowed local tech companies exposure to sought-after east and west Coast investors, and positioned Austin as a tech-centric market to global attendees.

The Impact

Far from the cries of tumbleweed, Austin has leveraged its forty-year head start, elbow grease and vision from dozens of regional leaders, and $50M (a little known fact) to solidify its place on the technology and innovation map. The question for the market now is: where to next?

Austin population, 2008

Austin population, 2018

From 2011-2016, the Austin Metro area saw an increase in GDP of 34.7 percent, the second largest in the nation and outpacing the national average by a multitude of 3x.

•••••

In 2013, technology was driving $21B into the Austin economy and supporting one-third of local jobs. By 2017, economic impact neared $30B.

Dec. 4, 2019

Report:  Austin No. 1 “Tech Town” — up from No. 3

Nov. 22, 2019

Austin’s unstoppable tech sector explodes with 10,000 new jobs in just 2 years.

July 6, 2019

Silicon Valley tech talent is flocking to Austin, Texas, trading sky-high rent costs for live music and a newer tech scene.

May 31, 2019

Is Austin, Texas, The Best City In America?

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“Every city needs somebody like Julie Huls. Julie has a unique talent to position stakeholders ahead of the curve while managing the fears and resistance typically associated with change. Her energy, vision, professionalism and attention to detail are unmatched.”

~Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer, SXSW

If your goal is to position your market for success, Waymaker is your fastest way forward. People value their ability to combine data with soulful insight and organically follow their lead.

~Larry Warnock, Investor

“ATC became nationally recognized as forward-thinking and Julie played a key role in that result. The workforce gap analysis Julie completed for Austin led to an increased focus on talent development and political engagement which led to a partnership with the City of Austin.”

~David Altounian, Associate Dean, St. Edwards University

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