Austin, Reluctant Boomtown
Bloomberg Businessweek|April 12, 2021
Residents fear that the wave of tech workers arriving will turn the city into San Francisco
By Joshua Brustein

Matthew Congrove got the first offer on his house one month into the pandemic. Now, says Congrove, who lives in an eclectic neighborhood on Austin’s east side, he gets about a half-dozen all-cash offers every week. They come by phone, via text, in the mail, hanging on his doorknob, and slipped under his door. In the boldest attempt, a stranger simply showed up at his home unannounced and asked to buy it.

For years, Austin has attracted far-flung newcomers with its food and music scenes, along with low taxes and cost of living. The city grew 30% from 2010 to 2019, making it the fastest-growing major metro area in the country. It was adding about 170 people per day by the end of that period, according to the latest census count. So while rapid growth is nothing new for the city, the population shift associated with Covid-19 has intensified the struggle to, as the motto goes, “Keep Austin Weird.” Even Congrove—a software engineer who moved from Florida seven years ago—is most concerned about how the new wave of tech workers is affecting his adopted city’s culture. Lately, he’s seen more T-shirts bearing startup logos than band names. New condos have sprouted up where quirky bungalows once stood. And the commute time to his downtown office has tripled.

“They just keep coming,” Congrove says. “The fleece vests, the tech bros—that’s definitely imported from California.”

Since the pandemic started, a subset of the California-based tech industry has declared the need to relocate, citing the state’s high taxes and prices, ineffectual government, and endemic wildfires. A few investors and executives loudly decamped to Miami, but an analysis of LinkedIn user data shows that about six times as many tech workers went from the San Francisco Bay Area to Austin.

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