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Changing Gears:The Austin Migration

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 9:14 AM

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Over the last decade the Midwest has lost jobs by the hundreds of thousands and people have moved, but where to? Well, Texas for starters. The longhorn state's population has grown at 10 times the rate of Ohio. Young people in particular are attracted to Texas hot spots. While Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population over the last decade, Austin grew by 20 percent. Peter O'Dowd tells us more about the Austin migration in our latest installment of "Changing Gears."

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O’DOWD: John Livingston and his friends say Austin has a soul. And on this

gorgeous Friday night in March you can see why.

JOHN LIVINGSTON: You all ready? Here it is.

FRIENDS: Oie!! 

O’DOWD: That weird noise....

JOHN LIVINGSTON: You, know. It’s our beer cheers.

O’DOWD: It’s loud. It’s guttural. It’s what makes this group....a group.

Livingston is a lot like any other 24-year old. He and his friends still

like to party, and tonight, they’re doing it here on the north side of(

town. Not long ago, he and four others moved here from Bloomington,

Indiana.

PETER O’DOWD: Down it goes, oh, you’re spilling some.

FRIEND: It’s the new cologne. Inebriated for Men.

O’DOWD: It was January 2010, their final year at Indiana University. It was

another bar scene. The friends were drinking at thier favorite college hang

out, and wondering what to do next in life. It was pretty clear that

Bloomington—a city of 80-thousand—didn’t have what they wanted.

JOHN LIVINGSTON: We just started thinking of places to go. Something

different Something new. By the end of the night we were all just chanting

Austin, we wanted to go to Austin, we were all about Austin!

O’DOWD: A lot of people these days are all about Austin and it’s reputation

for constant cultural festivity. It’s home to Austin City Limits, and South

By Southwest Southwest. If you’re even remotely into music, you already

knew that. So Livingston and his buddies stumbled home that night with

visions of Central Texas in mind.

JOHN LIVINGSTON: … and then the next morning we woke up and really started

thinking about it and the logistics and it was a good idea. It still is a

good idea.

O’DOWD: They had no jobs lined up, or connections. The economy was still

lousy. But they found the cost of living in Austin was comparable to

Bloomington. And it didn’t actually take very long for Livingston to find a

job in tech support for a video game company called Blizzard Entertainment.

His buddy, Travis Carrico, got the same gig.

TRAVIS CARRICO: Those types of jobs don’t exist in Indiana.

O’DOWD: But they do here; and that’s just the type of work Carrico wanted.

TRAVIS CARRICO: It’s everywhere. There’s so many places like that down

here.

O’DOWD: It’s a pretty classic story. A few ambitious kids move to

Austin...and love it. So what’s the deal with this city?

RYAN ROBINSON: How can you engineer that and manufacture that?

O’DOWD: This is Ryan Robinson, the city of Austin’s demographer. He’s

carrying on my line of rhetorical questions on the street outside city hall.

RYAN ROBINSON: At the heart of our success is the fact we attract more

highly skilled college educated individuals than any other city in the

country. It’s our golden goose.

O’DOWD: Golden’s a good word for it. The last Census showed half-a-million

people moved here in the past decade. That growth spawned jobs in retail,

healthcare, real estate and technology. Austin’s job growth over the past

year ranked third in the country. The city’s unemployment rate is about 6

percent. And here’s the incredible thing about Austin’s success. Robinson

says 60 percent of its population growth came from Latinos. Another 25

percent from Asians.

RYAN ROBINSON: Cities that are not diversifying are not growing. But it

goes way beyond that. Socio-economic diversification, cultural

diversification, lifestyle diversification. Simply put we are a far less

homogenous place today than we were 30-40 years ago.

O’DOWD: Robinson says Austin’s diversity and vibrancy emerged over time.

The University of Texas is here, and had a lot to do with the burgeoning

culture. But Robinson says Austin’s boom has led to a worrisome

socio-economic divide—an underclass of under-educated minority workers.

He says it threatens to stall the city’s rise if not tended to.  Still, if

we look up, we can see a prominent sign of the city’s success—a brand

new W Hotel towers above us.

PETER O’DOWD: What can you possibly say to a city that’s losing its

educated, young creative class about what you’ve been able to do here?

RYAN ROBINSON:  I am not sure what I’d tell them. It’s all organic. It’s

the gifts that history gives you. There’s only so much you can do to make

that magic happen.

O’DOWD: Sometimes it can feel like everyone loves Austin’s magic. After

spending some time here, it gets kind of weird when the only complaint most

people have is about the terrible, terrible, terrible traffic. In some

ways, it’s the most tangible sign that Austin hasn’t been able to keep up

with its growth.

MATT SADLER: Driving in Austin, Texas, is an effing nightmare.

O’DOWD: Here’s Matt Sadler. He’s a comedian, who grew up a military kid and

lived everywhere. He’s settled in Austin, and he loves it. He’s proud of

it. But he can throw a stone or two.

MATT SADLER: Would I give another city advice about how to be more like

Austin? I’m not sure I would. Austin doesn’t necessarily have it figured

out.

O’DOWD: I asked Sadler to take me to an iconic Austin hangout. We ended up

here.

O’DOWD: … on 6th Street late Saturday night. Every weekend the city closes

this street to traffic, and the result is a mish-mash of chaotic social

dramas.

MATT SADLER: It’s kind of Bourbon Street light. There’s not a lot of vomit.

but there’s still vomit.

O’DOWD: As with most things, what’s charming and quirky can quickly become

tiresome. Before I came here I cast a poll on Facebook to see what my

network of 20- and 30- somethings knew about Austin. Of course, it was

mostly good. But I did find one person who complained that Austin is

obsessed with being cool. The city is full of hipsters drinking old-school

beers, and liberals protesting every injustice. And criticizing Austin’s

vibe—definitely not cool. I asked Matt Sadler about this. Here’s what he

told me.

MATT SADLER:  Ask anyone who has been here 10 years, and they’ll tell you

how cool it was 10 years ago, ask someone who lived here 20 years and

they’ll tell you how much cooler it was 20 years ago. With the population

boom we’ve got a lot of douchebags. We’re douchebag heavy right now.

O’DOWD: Really? Well, long-time residents of any growing city tend to be

skeptical of newcomers. At the end of the day, the gang from Bloomington

appreciate the energy of this place. John Livingston says Austin is just

more interesting than Indiana.

JOHN LIVINGSTON: This is the place where the fun is. This is where things

are changing. This is where people are coming up with new ideas and growing

those and everything.

O’DOWD: And that really is the bottom line. When you’re young, change is

what you want. Forward momentum. Good music. We’re at Travis Carrico’s

apartment and he says he loves this place for all those reasons. We’re

listening to an Australian band called Tame Impala. Carrirco saw them live

when they came to Austin.

TRAVIS CARRICO: That’s what I expected when we moved down here to see a

show that probably wouldn’t be playing back home. I was really impressed

with them.

O’DOWD: It hasn’t been all good. Carrico recently lost his job at Blizzard

Entertainment. Proof that Austin isn’t totally immune to recession. But

Carrico has no plans to come home to look for work.

TRAVIS CARRICO: I’ve never wanted to work a factory job. I never wanted to

work on an assembly line somewhere, because it just seemed like it was

dying.  It just seemed like an industry the state was losing. I don’t know

if I was afraid of that, or if i wanted to distance myself from it, because

that’s all I knew of manufacturing industry—the image today of the Rust

Belt, these empty factories turning to rust, just rusting away.

O’DOWD: Carrico didn’t finish college, but he’s confident he’s better off

looking for work in Austin than Indiana. Instead he’ll stake his future to

this quirky, rhythmic city a thousand miles from home. Reporting from

Austin, Texas, I’m Peter O’Dowd.

Additional Information

Changing Gears is a collaboration of public radio stations in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan that examines economic transformation in the Midwest.

Tags

Community/Human Interest, Immigration, Changing Gears

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