Why Austin, Texas is a Booming Economy for College Students
Did you know that Austin, Texas boasts the highest percentage of residents aged 20-34 in the entire country, according to census data? Thanks to the city's growing economy, strong quality of life factors, and a hip and trendy social vibe, Austin is successfully encouraging graduates to put down career roots in Austin and make the city their home. (See online colleges in Texas.)
"The city, community, and region has come a long way from the once sleepy college and government town, being the Capital of Texas," says Stephen Kreher, senior director of economic development for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. He explains that in years past, students came to Austin, fell in love with the area, but were forced to look elsewhere for career opportunities after finishing their degree.
Today, however, the Austin region is home to many diverse career opportunities and jobs for college students looking to stay and work in Central Texas. "From high tech, to clean energy, bio/life sciences, digital media, and more, the region offers something that it hasn't been able to provide in the past - jobs!" says Kreher.
"From high tech, to clean energy, bio/life sciences, digital media, and more, the region offers something that it hasn't been able to provide in the past - jobs!"
- Stephen Kreher, Senior Director of Economic Development, Austin Chamber of Commerce
Of course, there's more to Austin's appeal than just job security. After all, college students today care about bigger issues that impact their futures, including work life balance, access to cultural venues and events, leading active and healthy lifestyles, and making a positive impact on the world around them.
A comprehensive study, "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next" by the Pew Research Center in 2010 found that Millennials place a higher priority on being a good parent (52%), having a successful marriage (31%), and helping people in need (21%), than having a high-paying career (15%).
As such, Millennials are looking for that unique combination of economic stability, quality of life factors, and a sizzling social scene when choosing a place to live. That's why Austin, has become a hot bed of college student and Millennial activity. Take a look at some of the reasons why young students and professionals are drawn to life in Austin:
Tech Giants Are Happily Established in Austin
There's no disputing that young people like living in Austin, as evidenced by U.S. Census Bureau data that shows that 17 percent of its residents are aged 20-34. That concentration of Millennials is almost 1.2 times higher than the national average.
Jobs, especially ones in the tech industry, are some of the top reasons that Austin is attracting young professionals. The top technology employers that have operations in Austin include 3M, Apple Inc., Hewlett-Packard, Google, Facebook, Cisco Systems, eBay/PayPal, Intel Corporation, Samsung Group, and Oracle Corporation.
"As a composite, we like to say that Austin is the youngest, safest, smartest, and fastest growing region, and much of this is due to the number of folks who move to Austin," says Kreher.
Census data also indicates that Austin is a well-educated city, with 45.6 of its citizens holding Bachelor's degree holders, compared to the national percentage of 28.8.
There Is No Shortage of Arts and Culture
Data shows that Millennials, though career-minded, care about more than jobs when choosing a place to live. "In sum, quality of life appears to be a focus of this generation: Millennials value staying close to family and friends, having free time for recreation, and working in creative jobs," according to the White House Report "15 Economic Facts About Millennials."
"In Austin, there's a growing arts and culture scene with many cross-medium events including art, food, music and other vibrant trends," says Shilpa Bakre, spokesperson for the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau. Whether you're a foodie who loves delicious barbeque and food truck fare or a live music aficionado, Austin has an abundance of resources for you.
Much of Austin's social scene is spotlighted during the world-renowned SXSW festival, which takes place every March and attracts the biggest names in music, technology, and film. In addition to SXSW, Austin also hosts Formula 1, ESPN X Games, and other live events. "We're also the 'Live Music Capital of the World' with over 300 live music venues and live music seven nights a week," says Kreher.
In short, Austin is a creative arts hotspot, which can be a big draw for those interested in that culture, as well as for those who wish to work in such fields. As per The Austin Creative Sector Economic Impact UPDATE report, arts, entertainment, and design occupations comprise 1.78 percent of total employment in Austin. While that figure might not seem impressive, the only city to top Austin in that regard is San Francisco. And get this: The creative sector accounted for just over $4.35 billion in economic activity in 2010.
At the heart of its smarts is a town that knows how to have fun, as reflected in its motto, "Keep Austin Weird."
Opportunity Is Abundant and Diverse
Many people view economic development as simply bringing companies to Austin or adding jobs, and while that is very much part of it, it's not the sole reason or purpose, says Kreher. In fact, the very goal of Opportunity Austin, a five-county regional economic development strategy, is to help diversify the local and regional economy, he explains. "Austin has always been a high tech town and likely will always be, but our goal is to help diversify this high tech industry with sectors like clean tech, bio/life sciences, digital media, space tech, and others."
Since 2004, an estimated 190,900 new jobs have been added to Austin's regional economy, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
It's More Affordable than its Peers
With a Cost of Living index score of 95.5, Austin is a more affordable place to live than other major cities like Phoenix (with a 100.7 score), Chapel Hill (113), Kansas City (97.8), or Philadelphia (126). It also has a super low unemployment rate of 3.4 percent compared to the national rate of 5.4, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it likely that students will be able to land a job after graduating. And, those jobs are usually ones that student-loan weary graduates can live with, as the annual salary for Austin's college graduates is a healthy $49,562, as per the latest US Census Bureau data.
When it comes to the area's overall economic health and where it's headed in the future, Austin's emergence doesn't seem to be short-lived. The city's Metro Product Growth had the biggest growth in the nation in 2013, with a 4.6 percent increase. Austin is also one of 33 cities to surpass the $100 billion mark in gross metropolitan product, according to findings by USMayors.org.
It's Rich with Parks and Sunshine
"Quality of life" is repeatedly cited in various top city lists on which Austin usually ranks high. So much of that is tied into whether a city provides ample outdoor and recreational opportunities. "We have over 300 days of sunshine and incredible outdoor recreation," says Kreher. "From running, to kayaking, hiking, golfing and more, there's always something to do in Central Texas."
It helps that there is an abundance of city parks in Austin. According to a Trust for Public Land report, Austin has 28,911 park acres that comprise 18 percent of its land area. That's 36.8 acres of park per resident! The city's Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park is the 25th largest city park in the nation; for perspective, New York's Central Park is 138th on the list.
And, for young people who are environmentally conscious and care about sustainability, Austin is making bold moves. "Austin is very socially-conscious, and as a city is aware of eco and social trends and concerns," says Bakre. In 2013, for example, Austin banned plastic bags from being used in the city. Austin is also listed among The Green Guide's top greenest cities for its green building initiatives, and its goal toward becoming a carbon-free city.
The key to growing a population of young professionals is not just about attracting college students to spend four years, but to keep them living and working there after they graduate. Austin has managed to do just that thanks to an affordable cost of living, awesome economic and cultural opportunities, a huge thumbs up in the coolness category, and the promise of a bright (and sunshine-filled!) future.
- "15 Economic Facts About Millennials", http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/millennials_report.pdf
- "The 25 Best Cities & Neighborhoods for Millennials," https://ink.niche.com/the-25-best-cities-and-neighborhoods-for-millennials/
- 2011 City Park Facts, https://www.tpl.org/sites/default/files/cloud.tpl.org/pubs/ccpe-city-park-facts-2011.pdf
- Austin Area Economic Summary, http://www.bls.gov/regions/southwest/summary/blssummary_austin.pdf
- Austin Chamber, Opportunity Austin, http://www.austinchamber.com/the-chamber/opportunity-austin/
- Cost of Living Index, https://www.coli.org/
- "The Economic Impact of the Creative Sector in Austin - 2012 Update", http://austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/creative_sector_impact2012.pdf
- Instagram, 365 Things Austin (@365thingsaustin), https://instagram.com/365thingsaustin/
- "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next," http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change.pdf
- "Millennials - Breaking the Myths", http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2014%20Reports/nielsen-millennial-report-feb-2014.pdf
- "The Top Ten Green Cities in the U.S.," http://www.thegreenguide.com/the-top-10-green-cities-in-the-u-s
- Shilpa Bakre, Senior Communications Manager, Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, interviewed by author, 2/20/2015
- Stephen Kreher, Senior Director, Economic Development, Austin Chamber of Commerce, interviewed by author, 2/23/2015
- U.S. Census Bureau, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/48/4805000.html
- U.S. Metro Economies, http://usmayors.org/metroeconomies/2014/06/report.pdf