Austin: Jobs for Gamers, Techies, and Geeks of All Stripes

Last Updated Apr 21, 2010 7:33 PM EDT

Job growth (2008-2018): 19.35%
Population: 783,000
College educated: 42.6%
High/low average temperatures: 95/40
Median household income: $51,372
Median home price: $210,600
Art galleries and museums: 35
Large parks: 4
Live music venues: 200
Taco shacks: 8

Austin seems to have found the sweet spot in future employment growth. The city’s economy continued to add jobs right up until 2008, when the growth numbers went flat — but didn’t crash. How? By building on a solid foundation provided by state government, the University of Texas — one of the leading research institutions in medicine, tech, and engineering — and a technology sector anchored by some major players: Dell Inc., Electronic Arts, IBM Corp., and Advanced Micro Devices. “Even as we lost jobs in manufacturing and construction, we’ve seen growth in digital media and the clean economy,” says Tony Schum, director of economic development at the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Both of which provide an abundance of high-skill, high-paying jobs. For example, Austin has become a major center for video game developers. “The Chamber did a survey in 2009 that put the number of video game shops here at 80 with about 3,000 employees,” Schum says. And it just keeps on growing. “Our company was adding people throughout 2009,” says Michael Wilford, CEO of video game developer TwistedPixel in Austin. “And we’re hiring right now.”

The popular Xbox game Splosion Man was developed by an Austin-based company called TwistedPixel, which kept growing through the recession.

As for the green economy, “Austin is going to be the place where you can take an R&D concept all the way through to manufactured product in the same place,” Schum says. “You can’t do that in Silicon Valley.” The city already has two clean energy manufacturing plants — Teco-Westinghouse, the only wind turbine manufacturer in Texas, and HelioVolt, which has just begun making solar panels — and about 2,000 people employed in first-stage development companies. DOES “FIRST-STAGE DEVELOPMENT COMPANY” MEAN STARTUPS? OR SOMETHING ELSE MORE VERNACULAR?

Last but not least, Austin sells its laid-back, Western-cool lifestyle shamelessly. “Keep Austin Weird” isn’t a marketing slogan that would work for just any city. But it keeps the hip, young entrepreneurs who need to attract other hip, young knowledge workers coming. Not to mention the retirees and the tourists, and they in turn will keep the healthcare and hospitality industries hiring, with 2009 growth rates of 4.9 percent and 3.3 percent respectively.