Big Hair, Boots, and Business

Trip Start Feb 22, 2013
Trip End Mar 16, 2013

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Where I stayed
Hampton Inn & Suites Austin Downtown
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of United States  , Texas
Friday, March 8, 2013

For my first time in Texas, my experiences this past week in Austin did not disappoint.

While our group only had three full days in this eclectic city, we could have easily spent another week taking in all the food, live music and quirky culture that Austin eagerly serves up.

As a girl growing up in Victoria, BC, the city of the "newly wed and nearly dead", I appreciated the youthfulness of Austin.  Approximately 60 percent of Austin's population of 710,000 are between the ages of 18 and 34!  This demography lends itself to a culture of exploration and experimentation, risk taking, and art supported by strong education.  The University of Texas, the largest University in the state, has an enrollment of 48,000 and this University is located in the heart of downtown Austin.  Bringing so much youth to the downtown core greatly affects the flavour of the city and it makes me wonder how different Prince George, BC, my hometown, would have been if UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia) had not been built up on the hill outside of town.

Austin is a blue city within a red state meaning that they stand alone as a Democratic and very liberal city within a conservative region.  What I admire about the people from Austin is that they have totally figured themselves out.  They know who and what they are and they celebrate their culture fully.  Austin's motto is "Keep Austin Weird" and indicates the importance they place on "collaborative fission of creative individualism".  This creative spirit of the city, supported by education and research, funded by innovative programs like the BiGAustin's Smart Loans and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, help make Austin the third highest patent producing city in the USA. 

As the home and headquarters for various successful big businesses such as Wholefoods, Dell Computers and Statoil, along with many other successful independent businesses, Austin has created an environment for business development and growth too.  Austin has experienced huge population growth, increasing by more than 40 percent in the last 10 years, as now more than ever, people from California are moving to Austin in droves to escape the cost of living and cultural shifts occurring in places like LA.  The estimate is that 150 people move to Austin every day. The problem is that, while Austin is very tolerant and respectful of people's differences, they are fiercely protective of their culture and from many conversations I had, they are beginning to resent the fact that others have discovered their magic.

Fortunately, as visitors who weren't relocating in Austin and competing for space, our group was able to make connections with a host of organizations that work to support businesses including groups specifically for women in business like Texas Women in Business, Round Rock Chamber of Commerce, Women's Chamber of Commerce of Texas, BiGAUSTIN (where we met with several prototype businesses and innovative service businesses owned by women), and the Economic Growth Business Incubator (EGBI) which serves the historically economically disadvantaged communities to help them with business development. 

Two additional appointments we had in Austin were particularly interesting to me for the example they set on what is possible in supporting entrepreneurship.  The first was a meeting with Mr. Trace Hight, VP of The Banks Group Inc. and Chair of the 31st Annual Camp Enterprise.  Camp Enterprise is such an innovative idea that I think would be totally doable in Prince George and would help grow the spirit of Entrepreneurship that we often reference.  The Camp, organized through the Rotary Club of Austin, takes place over three days on an annual basis. It brings together youth in order to experience the free enterprise system, build business plans, practice team building skills, and otherwise offer entrepreneurship as an alternative career option.  In was incredible to hear about the businesses, such as Falcon Containers, that have been created after the owner had experienced Camp Enterprise earlier in life. 

The second special appointment was with the Department of Small and Minority Business Resources.  Here we learned of the business supports for minority and women-owned business enterprises which have been passed as an ordinance established by the Austin City Council.  The ordinance encourages minorities and women to participate in City contracts by establishing special procurement goals for each group.  This department offered so much support for these historically disadvantaged business owners that helped create a foundation of experience and success for them to build on in the private sector.  The philosophy behind this ordinance is so foreign to the Canadian way of thinking where, although minority and women-owned businesses are gratefully considered for procurement, there is no law connected to our municipalities binding them to a certain percentage of procurement levels.  A very interesting difference between Canadian and American outlooks on affirmative action in business.

Although we had very little time for cultural events in Austin, I really enjoyed my Home Hospitality visit to a woman named Katrina's home (see photo), and also my afternoon cowgirl boot shopping at Allans Boot shop followed by lunch at one of Austin's many food trucks parked in empty lots.  I spent some time on 6th Avenue, made famous for its live music and boutique shops, which is where I purchased a "Keep Austin Weird" bumper sticker which you'll see on my laptop when I return home to Prince George.  The Capital building was beautiful both day and night and I ventured onto the property park several times to enjoy the green grass and cherry blossoms (yes folks, green grass!).  Proof that Texans always do it bigger and better is that the Texas state capital building was deliberately built a few feet taller than the nation's capital in DC. 

Next up, Denver Colorado, the mile-high city which is where I'll spend 6 days in total.  Thanks for following my journey!
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