SXSW2020 May Have Been Cancelled — But Austin Is Still A Great Place To Be

We may not be allowed to take part in social gatherings. but at least we’re allowed to exercise outside amongst this beautiful setting. Here I am on the boardwalk that runs along Austin’s Town Lake.

When I was deciding where to expand my Australian business last year, Austin’s annual South By Southwest (SXSW) festival definitely played a part in my decision. It encapsulated all the things I love about what I do — creativity, making new connections, and being part of a lively atmosphere with a laid-back vibe. So when it was announced with one week’s notice that SXSW would be cancelled this year due to the Coronavirus, I was bummed to say the least.

But I was already in Austin. And for many reasons, including the the fact it wasn’t safe to fly home while COVID-19 was spreading, I decided to stay for the near short-term. While I was relying on SXSW for valuable networking, things weren’t all so bad. I had to remember why I chose Austin for my business’ US office in the first place. Below is an updated explanation based on an article I’ve shared in the past, along with some personal experiences of what I’ve found really helpful on the ground.

So why Texas?

That was the question on everyone’s lips when I was choosing where Avion’s next office location would be. My shortlist included LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle and New York, but Austin won at the end of the day. Here’s why.

Austin is the USA’s fastest growing city. Its population is currently just over 2 million. This is a 2.5% jump from 2017 and an astounding 26.3% jump since 2010. Approximately 170 people move there each day — eager, excited, and looking to build new connections. With open hearts and open minds, the potential to collaborate with (and learn from!) others is infinite. What’s even better is that many people in Austin are used to working remotely. That means they’re familiar with video conferencing tools, and not shy about getting involved in virtual networking events. While business opportunities currently feel like they’re on pause, the sense of community feels strong.

Funky vibes. My colleague Mel and I pose at The Capital Factory co-working space.

At Avion, we love digital — so Austin makes me feel right at home. Known as “Silicon Hills”, there’s Apple, Atlassian, Dell, Facebook and IBM — just to name a few. The city is also renowned for its fast-moving start-ups, venture capitalists and visionaries; this gives Austin a real buzz that’s comparable to bigger cities. The people I’ve met here are great lateral thinkers, and in the time of COVID-19, there are some amazing companies rising to the challenge. To find out more, check out this great post by Joshua Baer, CEO and Founder of the iconic Capital Factory.

Austin is famous for its annual festivals. In 2018, SXSW alone contributed $350.6 billion to Austin’s economy. Usually, there’s no shortage of opportunities for those who work in hospitality, events, music, theatre or visual arts. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the economy. But in saying that, I am confident that when social gatherings are safe again, Austin will rebuild. The community is always searching for ways to support each other and I often see locals participating in grassroots campaigns on social media.

I took this pic of local band “Hey Baby Baby” at famous live music venue Stubb’s on 12 March 2020, just one day before the City of Austin banned gatherings of more than 50 people.

Austin has been named America’s most liveable city for a third year in a row. You get all the benefits of wide-open spaces, parks, rivers, great weather, culture and tons of nightlife without the hefty price tag (the bar hopping will have to wait until social distancing is over, of course). Housing in trendy areas and within a 20-minute drive of downtown is actually affordable compared to other popular US cities.

Setting up in LA might sound glamorous, but that’s until you look at your pay cheque. California charges a whopping 12.3% income tax (the highest state income tax in the country), meaning there’ll be less profit in our pockets at the end of a project. In saying that, Avion is still interested in working with clients in other states — we’re just starting out in Texas as its more financially viable. Then we’ll grow from there.

Getting help growing in Austin

In my experience, the City of Austin has been incredibly helpful. In particular, I’ve been fortunate enough to snag one-on-one time with its Economic Development Department. It’s their mission to help local businesses grow, even if they’re run by foreigners like me. I’ve been able to use them as a sounding board, and they’ve introduced me to some fantastic contacts, too. I’m sure they’d be open to helping other founders on a similar journey.

If you happen to be founder that’s a US citizen, it’s worth exploring the below certifications. If you qualify, you’ll have an advantage over competitors for government-related projects. FYI, foreign nationals are not eligible to apply, even if your business is a US-registered entity.

On a more general note, another goldmine for help (no matter what city you’re in) is your own country’s consulate. For example, I’ve been able to access one-on-one advice from Austrade, the Australian Trade and Investments Commission. I have no hesitation in reaching out to representatives here in the US for support.

Austin is full of the warm and fuzzies. Here I am at the Kendra Scott flagship store on South Congress.

There are SO many industry groups and associations in Texas; it’s impossible to stay engaged with them all. But in case you were wondering, here’s a list of what I’ve found to be most relevant and interesting to me.

Quarantine during the Coronavirus isn’t fun for anyone, but I’m glad to be in a city with such a strong sense of community. For those that call Austin home, there’s a lot to look forward to when this is all over — and that makes long days of isolation much easier.

This article is an edited and updated version of what was originally published at https://www.avioncommunications.com.au in July 2019.

About the author: Natalie Khoo built her business in Australia off the back of the 2008 recession. Having made all the mistakes since day one, she’s passionate about sharing her learnings with other business owners on a similar journey. Natalie’s career highlights include taking a 3-month scuba diving vacation in 2019 and not checking her emails once. She travels between Melbourne, Australia, and Austin, Texas, with her partner James.

To find out more: Visit the Avion website or follow Natalie on Instagram.

How to do a stint on the other side of the world, build a business, cancel your wedding & not kill your partner during a global pandemic & more. 🇦🇺🇺🇸🇬🇧

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