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The Silicon Hills Of Texas

In laid-back Austin, a college dropout can become a billionaire from a business begun in his dorm room.

In 1984, University of Texas student Michael Dell began selling personal computers. In 1998, a stock market upturn gave him a 33rd birthday present: the chairman's personal holdings in Dell Computer hit $7.22 billion.

The company even coined a local term, Dellionaires: employee-stockholders worth $1 million or more.

But Dell is not alone. Texas' capital city includes major facilities for IBM, Advanced Micro Devices, Motorola and other programming, software and gaming companies. Throw in 100,000 college students, long on engineering and programming smarts, at the University of Texas and nearby Texas A&M and you have "a critical mass of intellectual technology knowledge," said Chris Engle, research director for Angelou Economic Advisors Inc.

All this was sparked by Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp.'s 1983 decision to locate here. Sematech, the semiconductor industry's research consortium, followed.

Today, about 1,750 companies employ 110,000 people in high-tech jobs in Austin, Engle said. That's about one-fifth of the city's total employment, according to state figures. High-tech Texans earn an average $50,000, the American Electronics Association says, compared with $28,000 on average for other Texans.

Besides Michael Dell, digital Austin-dwellers include:

  • Joe Liemandt, who founded software maker Trilogy Development Group and, at 28, became the youngest member of the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest people.

  • Laura Groppe, who created Girl Games to fill the void created by male-oriented computer software.

  • Richard Garriott, whose Origin Systems developed the Ultima game and who said: "I'm never going to have to get a real job."

Digital Planet Destinations
Silicon Valley, Calif.Seattle, Washington
Boston, MassachusettsAustin, Texas
New York, New YorkDublin, Ireland
Cambridge, EnglandSophia Antipolis, France
Oulu Technopolis, FinlandHaifa, Israel
Bangalore, IndiaZhongguancun, China
Kyushu Island, JapanTaipei, Taiwan
SingaporeKuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Written By Michael Holmes