AUSTIN – These hot, summer days find our capital city quiet if not dead. The Legislature has gone home, along with the lobbyists, journalists and camp followers. UT is on summer break, East 6th Street is dormant and it’s too hot for tourists. Who would think sleepy old Austin is the best place to live in America? Well, the locals do. So does U.S. News & World Report. Each year it releases a list of the 125 best places to live in America. The magazine looked at five metrics: job market, value, quality of life, desirability, and net migration. The survey reported: “For the third year in a row Austin tops the list based on the area’s value for the money, strong job market, high quality of life and being a desirable place to live. (It’s also considered one of the top U.S. cities in which to start a small business.)”
Another survey, this one by something called CompTIA, of IT professionals and students found that 78 percent of those surveyed said they would move to another city for a better lifestyle and, of course, more money. Their Number 1 choice? Austin. On the other hand, some don’t think Austin is so great. Merck walked away from a tentative agreement giving the pharmaceutical giant almost $7 million in local and state money to set up a big operation in Austin. It was just as well. As usual with such deals, Merck kept cutting back on its promised hiring and investment.
Even though Austin is closer to Houston than to Dallas, this town is Big D-centric. My local monster grocery store has a sports shop (along with a bank, florist and pharmacy) that is divided into Longhorn orange-and-white paraphernalia and Dallas Cowboy junk. I can get the Dallas Morning News but not the Houston Chronicle. The Austin newspapers and local TV news cover the Dallas sports scene, but the Astros have to win the Super Bowl to get a mention.
Getting back to the U.S. News survey: “The Austin metro area has always performed well across the board,” real estate editor Devon Thorsby told CNBC, “but the details that keep it at the top are its population growth due to net migration and desirability. Not only do U.S. residents say they’d like to live in Austin through our annual desirability surveys, but many appear to be acting on it as well.” Indeed, the locals keep complaining that too many people want to move here – the city gains about 50 new residents daily. The city places Number 11 among the nation’s population, but may soon rank in the Top 10, giving Texas the only state with three in the Top 10.
Derisively called the Peoples Republic of Austin because of its liberal politics, Austin has a lot going for it. Centrally located in the middle of Texas, it has the constant and predictable money coming in for the state government. The UT athletic program has more money to spend than any school in the nation — $170 million a year last I heard. Speaking of the Longhorns, each fall Austin brings in the best and the brightest young people from East Jesus who spend four years and a lot of their parents’ money to blow on parties, South By Southwest and boating on Lake Travis. Do you really think that, after those four years, they really want to go back to work at their father’s shoe shop? It’s an artificial skimming of top talent. (College Station doesn’t have that problem.) One more plus: Austin has fine local TV news (except for their focus on Dallas), with few stories on car wreaks, shootings and apartment fires. Apparently there aren’t any. No wonder the city ranks first.
But what about the rest of Texas? In U.S News’ rankings, San Antonio comes in at 34: “It offers big-city amenities and world-renowned attractions coupled with a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. Most famously known as the home of the Alamo, the spirit of the region expands beyond its tourist labels, offering a community rich in Spanish and Old West heritage.” Dallas-Fort Worth is Number 21: “Offering both big-city excitement and quiet, suburban living, the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area offers an interesting mix of Texas pride and cosmopolitan offerings. The cowboy life still exists in Fort Worth, while Dallasites love the trendy local bars and numerous retail shops.”
Houston is Numero 30: “The Houston metro area attracts people with an entrepreneurial spirit and those who want to work at some of the country’s largest companies. Not only is Houston the hub of the oil and gas industries, but it’s also a major center of manufacturing and health care. The region has weathered the economic downturn better than similarly sized metro areas in terms of bouncing back from lost jobs. As the country recouped, Houston was able to gain all of its lost jobs back, and has gone on to add two jobs for every one lost.”
We might take umbrage with this survey. Remember when some magazine rated Houston as the nation’s fattest city? I never bought that insult, although you can see a whole lot of Houstonians who occupy their own ZIP code. If U.S. News had compared our January morning with that of, say, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota (Number 6), the Bayou City might do better, if they overlook the fact that some of our bayous occasionally cover the city. Would you really rather live in Fayetteville, Arkansas, (Number 4) than River Oaks? What about San Antonio’s rating? They have let the sacred Alamo Plaza turn into a carnival midway. Dallas? Do you really want to compare the Cowboys to the Oilers? Houston was named for a president of Texas who was elected in 1836. Austin was named for the guy who got beat. What other city has not one but two domed stadiums, OK, maybe one and a half? And finally, you never heard, “Austin, the Eagle has landed.”
Ashby is rated at firstname.lastname@example.org