Economic excellence

Austin economy declared more 'dynamic' than San Francisco and Seattle in new report

Austin declared more 'dynamic' than San Francisco in new report

Austin skyline downtown at night
Austin was called a "modern version of Silicon Valley." Texas Wide Open for Business/Facebook

A new report hails Austin as one of the most economically dynamic metro areas in the country and — hold onto your hipster caps and 10-gallon hats — labels the region a “modern version” of Silicon Valley.

The report, published by the nonprofit Walton Family Foundation (yes, the Waltons of Walmart), ranks Austin as the seventh most dynamic metro area in the U.S. and puts it at No. 2 among major metro areas (behind the aforementioned Silicon Valley but ahead of huge economic hotspots like San Francisco and Seattle).

Researchers graded each U.S. metro area, large and small, based on performance-related metrics in categories such as job growth, economic growth, and income growth. In Austin’s case, the researchers were particularly struck by the region’s skyrocketing GDP, a measure of economic output.

“Austin has acquired well-deserved international recognition as an economic development model worthy of study and emulation; more international experts look to it for strategic planning advice than Silicon Valley,” the report proclaims. “In many respects, Austin is becoming a modern version of the IT-dominated Silicon Valley of old.”

While the Austin area continues to be a haven for California companies and residents fleeing ever-rising taxes, business costs, and home prices, local officials and business leaders have expressed no desire for Central Texas to evolve into the “new” Silicon Valley.

The Walton Family Foundation report cites several key pluses for the Austin area:

  • The talent pipeline supplied by the University of Texas.
  • UT’s “critical role” in the area’s “entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
  • The diversity of the high-tech sector.
  • A low-tax environment for businesses.
  • Low housing prices compared with places like San Francisco and San Jose, California (Silicon Valley).

The report points out that the Austin area’s economic engine runs on more than tech, mentioning examples such as medical research, healthcare, travel, recreation, and a “thriving music scene.” Mixed together, these create “a recipe for a diverse, stable long-term growth model for Austin,” the report says.

Overall, the report found that knowledge-based economies like Austin’s fare better than metro areas lacking much-needed investments in tech, education, entrepreneurship, and commercialization.

“The data show that a knowledge-based economy is key to unlocking economic potential in metropolitan areas across the United States,” Ross DeVol, the report’s lead researcher, says in a release. “Cities making investments in a knowledge-based economy have performed better economically than those that have not.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the oil-rich metro area of Midland, Texas, tops the ranking, largely thanks to the region’s explosive economic and population growth.

“Besides oil, ranching, agriculture, healthcare and transportation remain economic pillars; however, focused efforts on diversifying its economy are underway in Midland,” the report says.

Elsewhere in the Walton Family Foundation report, Dallas-Fort Worth ranks 27th overall and sixth among major metro areas.

The report highlights DFW’s “multifaceted economy” and eye-popping employment growth, with a nation-leading 116,400 jobs added in 2018. 

DFW’s “blended recipe for economic success leans heavily on company recruitment,” the report notes, “as it takes advantage of its attractive business climate with lower regulatory burdens and costs, along with its central location and excellent airline connections.”

Neither Houston nor San Antonio appears in the ranking.