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Think BR: Silicon Valley, move over. Austin is where it's at

Austin, Texas is where the digital industry will thrive over the coming years, writes Peter Veash, managing director, The BIO Agency.

Peter Veash, managing director, The BIO Agency

Peter Veash, managing director, The BIO Agency

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The prospect of US expansion for any British company is fairly daunting. Before you even begin considering the finer details, you need to decide where to go: Where is the business? Where is the talent? Where is the centre for innovation that sets the trends and pushes the industry forward?

For digital agencies, in my opinion, you can forget LA, New York, San Francisco; Austin is where our industry is going to thrive over the coming years.

The creative industries have a history of clustering together in communities of like-minded people. London, New York, Amsterdam, Stockholm: pockets of these cities are synonymous with their creative output.

In recent years, a new group has emerged alongside this traditional art set, forming similarly close-knit industry-specific districts. The digital revolution has become synonymous with areas such as Silicon Valley in San Francisco or the Silicon Roundabout in East London; these communities churn out digital innovation and nurture young talent.

As digital growth continues to accelerate, more of these crucial hubs are beginning to emerge across the world. Austin, Texas is the perfect example of this geographical expansion.

The southern city is not new to digital pioneers; the multinational technology company Dell has humble origins in the dorm room of University of Texas student, Michael Dell in 1984. The university is a crucial source for the city’s vast supply of talented digital experts.

Highlighting this, in 2010 the university appointed Dr Robert Metcalfe, inventor of the Ethernet, as a Professor of Innovation. One of the first initiatives he instigated in his role was to start a class specifically for undergraduates starting their own companies.

A big part of this course is connecting students with mentors in the Austin tech community. Drawing attention to the eco-system of tech companies and start-ups that exist within the city, it acts as a fantastic incentive for people to move there and become part of that community.

Austin’s has been for years famous for its annual South by South West festival (or SXSW). It is a city that thrives on creativity, with a notable leaning towards the Independent music and film industry.

In addition it prides itself on both its liberal and forward-thinking values. As the political capital of Texas and the home of the University of Texas (UT), it is also a city taken seriously for its high population of intellectuals and influencers.

It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that this city has had the foresight to try and position itself as a new central hub for the next generation of digital innovation. It possesses a talent pool that any digital agency should be willing to give their right arm for.

The low cost of living (according to Forbes, the 8th lowest in the country when taking into account average earnings), thriving arts scene and fantastic facilities the city offers means that often, the UT alumni are reluctant to leave. In terms of employing the right calibre of staff, digital brands could find it hard to find a better place to position themselves.

The giants of the technology industry are all too aware of the potential of this thriving community. Facebook recently opened up offices in the Texan city, creating the first major base for the social media mega-brand outside of California.

Furthermore, a recent report claims that Apple has bought three properties in Austin and plans to create around 3,600 new jobs and invest more than $300 million.

When considering global expansion, brands and agencies are often quick to set their sights on more familiar, established locations. The assumption is that the success of companies based somewhere like Silicon Valley is likely to be contagious, whereas the reality is far more complicated.

New creative hubs such as Austin offer something more unique; it lacks the fiercely competitive nature of the traditional hubs but is going through the same kind of cultural, ideological and educational values that gave rise to the success of Silicon Valley during the 1970’s.

For digital agencies, it seems like a no-brainer. Whether a small start-up or one of the world’s largest digital brands though, you need to be keeping an eye on Austin.

Peter Veash, managing director, The BIO Agency

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