Why other cities want to copy Austin's innovative spirit

General view of downtown Austin, Texas from the balcony of the Austin Convention Center on Thursday March 7, 2012 on the eve of the opening of the 27th South By Southwest (SXSW) interactive, film and music festival.

Today, President Obama visits Austin, Texas to talk about jobs, and new ways spur the economy. Last year, Austin signed incentive agreements with Apple and Facebook worth millions of dollars. And Samsung recently added $4 billion in investments to the city.

It's no wonder cities around the world are trying to get a piece of Austin magic, especially as a tech hub. But it wasn't always that way. Even as companies like Dell and IBM were getting started in the 1980's, Austin had its doubters.

"They really didn't think we had the know-how, the networks, the venture capital," says David Gibson, associate director of IC2, an Austin entrepreneurial think tank.

One reason companies have thrived is the city's relaxed vibe, something Gibson says places like Silicon Valley and Boston lack. He says people as far away as Japan and Korea want to know Austin's secret. Gibson says it's simple.

"People are just friendly," he says. "You know, it sounds a little soft, but it's true."

The city knows a lot of creative people want to be in Austin. So its deals with companies have to offer something back to the city, things like tax revenue and jobs for minorities.

Kevin Johns, Austin's director of economic growth, says the city takes a unique approach to economic incentives packages.

"Ours is performance-based so that we never pay anybody until after they've generated the items that are negotiated," Johns says.

One example? This year the city got one company, National Instruments, to agree to train a thousand children there in robotics.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...