Austin and the high-powered Texas metropolises

by Ryan Streeter on October 15, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

When someone asks you what comes to mind when you think of dynamic American urban areas, you probably think of the usual suspects: New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Do you ever think of cities in Texas?

You should. Joel Kotkin’s latest Forbes column looks at the fast-growing urban economies in Texas – 4 of the fastest growing 10 large cities in America are in the Lone Star state – and concludes that urbanists should look at the Texas model rather than the usual suspects when theorizing about what makes a city dynamic.

Of Austin, where I presently live, Joel writes:

Comparisons with the other big metros are almost pathetic. Austin’s job growth has been roughly three times that of New York, more than four times that of San Francisco, five times Los Angeles’ and 10 times that of Chicago. Simply put, Austin is putting the rest of the big metro areas in the shade.

The type of job growth Austin experiences is based in productive sectors of the economy and – this is important – is disperse across the wider metro area, which creates many different hubs of economic and cultural activity. He’s kind enough to cite my work when he says:

Austin [cannot] be dismissed as a place where low-skilled workers flee, as was said about other former fast-growing stars, notably Las Vegas. Just look at employment in STEM (science-, technology-, engineering- and math-related fields). Since 2001, Austin’s STEM workforce has expanded 35%, compared to 10% for the country as a whole, 26% in San Francisco, a mere 2% in New York and zero in Los Angeles. And contrary to perceptions, the vast majority of this growth has taken place outside the entertainment-oriented core.

The biggest sources of in-migration, Joel notes, are from California, the Northeast, and Florida. Why would people leave such great places to come to Austin? When you try to answer that question, you’ll start to figure out what the new model of urban dynamism is, and isn’t.