April 17, 2024

You’re the Boss: Why Austin, Tex., Is a Good Place for Small Businesses


Recently, Austin was ranked No. 1 in “small-business vitality” for the second year in a row in a survey by the American City Business Journals.

Texas’s capital city scored high points for its quality of life, business environment and healthy residents. Last July, Kiplinger named Austin one of the “10 Best Cities for the Next Decade.” Yes, it’s true that most of the rest of Texas thinks of Austin as that place full of crazy liberals, but we’ll take that (we don’t understand why they insist on starching their jeans).

As a 25-year Austin resident who has also lived in Washington, Denver, Dallas and Corpus Christi, Tex., (the coastal city where I grew up), I have some theories on how Austin — a place where mandals and cowboy boots find common ground — has managed to do so well on the small-business front. I also canvassed a few of my fellow residents.

Austin, according to Dr. George Gau, former dean of the University of Texas’s McCombs School of Business, is a hotbed in large part because of urban economics. He apologized for the “nerdy” explanation, but said it boiled down to primary employers like Samsung and the university, which support service businesses like restaurants, dry cleaners, law offices, real estate agencies, etc. Depending on the salaries paid to workers in the primary sector, each primary worker generates two or three service workers. “EBay recently announced they plan to hire 1,000 workers in Austin over the next 10 years,” he said. “That will translate into 2,000 to 3,000 service jobs being added here. All of the factors that cause large firms to relocate to Austin — business climate, skilled work force, beauty, weather, etc. — lead to the creation of more small businesses.”

Sonia Gaillard who owns Nventia Ventures, a company that works with entrepreneurs to get their products into the market, said Austin was an incubator. “We have a vibrant funding community, which a lot of cities lack, even if they have the innovation,” she said. “And we have a plethora of successful entrepreneurs who are open to mentoring others along their entrepreneurial journey.” For example, Austin is home to RISE, a week-long, free “un-conference” for entrepreneurs that was started in 2007 by Roy and Bertrand Sosa, brothers and entrepreneurs. RISE is now an ongoing annual program that provides resources and experience to entrepreneurs worldwide.

If Austin were one big corporation, the organization chart would be flat. In the ’60s and ’70s, people came to school here and, because of the nature, outdoor lifestyle and music scene, decided to stay — preferring $1 long-neck nights listening to Jerry Jeff Walker at the Armadillo World Headquarters to earning a fat paycheck and merging into traffic and responsibility back in Dallas or Houston.

When I arrived in 1986, I knew two people — dorm mates from college years. One of them introduced me to someone in advertising and he graciously consented to give me a courtesy interview. I remember sitting on the couch in Karl Rove’s office and watching him swing a phantom golf club while he talked to me about Austin and where to look for gainful employment. Yes, Austin is known as a liberal city, but it has pockets of red.

Two years ago, ad executive, Nancy Giordano, moved to Austin from Los Angeles, and within 12 months she had organized and started TEDx Austin with Jen Spencer. The idea-sharing conference had a waiting list its first year, leaving me wondering how an outsider could come into another city and pull together such an amazing gathering of thinkers and leaders. Ms. Giordano had grown up in Atlanta, and her career took her to New York City for seven years, Chicago for three and Los Angeles for 13, where she worked for Chiat Day, the ad agency, before starting her own consulting firm, Play Big, Inc.

I asked her what about the Austin culture made this doable. “There is this circle and a current that runs between the community’s business pillars that helps people do their thing,” she said. “There’s a real desire here to help people manifest whatever success they want to create. I think that’s because people are really happy. There is no sense of, ‘you win, I lose.’ Here it’s, ‘you win, I win.’”

Of course, it’s important for the long-term success of any entity — city or small business — to not buy into its own public relations. Sure, enjoy the accolades, but continue to focus on the road ahead and planning for the future — or else you risk getting covered with the dust of those moving past you.

MP Mueller is the founder of Door Number 3, a boutique advertising agency in Austin, Tex. Follow Door Number 3 on Facebook.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7b9d808fd110d039059bd8645ac39292

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