Keep Austin Weird” has long been the unofficial slogan of Texas’ capital city. From a marketing perspective, it’s niche branding at its best. And true to its motto, the city draws an odd assortment of people—friendly, affable, bohemian sorts who just go with the flow. As the fourth largest city in Texas and 15th largest in the U.S., Austin’s population, currently at 750,000, continues its steady climb up the charts.

Texas State Capital Building

It could be argued that Austin’s meteoric rise to top-tier status has been an organic evolution, an unconscious reflection of a concept called the Blue Ocean Strategy after a popular book by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. This strategy espouses the belief that successful ventures occur through the nurturing of untapped new markets, creating a blue ocean where competition is essentially irrelevant because of uncontested market space. This value based, innovative mindset has propelled Austin into the ranks of the nations top metropolitan areas for commerce and livability.

It’s a compelling case study for others cities to examine for their own branding efforts. As cities compete for new residents, businesses and events in an effort to stimulate their economy, they must establish a clear identity that capitalizes on the strengths and idiosyncrasies unique to their metropolitan area. This is true for Indianapolis, a vibrant locale for spectator sports; Orlando and its theme park economy; Portland for its eclectic arts scene; Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for higher education and the Research Triangle. In Austin’s case its eclectic reputation as live music and high-tech hub have catalyzed its standing as a great place to work, live and play. These Blue Ocean cities hold great promise for the future of urban America and its vital role in the growth and sustainability of our nation.

So what has ensued from Austin’s weird brand?

Much of Austin’s success reflects its growth as a regional and national hub for technological innovation. As a major high-tech center that now rivals notorious Silicon Valley, the city is a boon for engineering and computer science grads. In recent years it has also built a sizable swath of pharmaceutical and biotech companies, adding to the robust job growth and economic vibrancy of the region. As a result, entrepreneurial aliveness resonates in the area, fueled by the success of Whole Foods market, which was founded in Austin as a grocery store with an organic, local, natural foods niche.

But unlike other U.S. state capitals, Austin’s downtown is the true spoke for the city’s economic engine. Known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” the central-city corridor is a magnet for music enthusiasts who keep the popular venues along 6th Street and adjacent areas teeming with business. Congress Street, the artery to downtown, offers impressive views of the state capitol building, featuring myriad eateries, coffee houses and eclectic boutiques that appeal to the area’s demographically rich millennial population. Complementing the music scene, Austin also has a nice bit of cred for its local arts scene, featuring the wildly popular annual Austin Film Festival in the fall and several museums, including the Blanton Museum of Art, that reflect a fervent community interest in diversifying Austin’s self-described bizarre image.

Downtown Austin

One unique advantage that the city has capitalized on in terms of its downtown core is its co-location with the University of Texas Austin. With a campus population of 51,000 students and 16,000 faculty, UT-Austin is currently the fifth largest single-student campus in the nation. All of this combined with state workers that that dot the landscape in and around the university and the central business district, allow for a robust set of factors fueling the local economy.

Perhaps most remarkable is Austin’s stubborn avoidance the same ole status quo ideas. Unlike like numerous other metropolitan areas, Austin refuses to depend on a downtown sports niche for economic development, thereby having the distinction as the largest U.S. city without a major professional sports league franchise. Instead, demonstrating the area’s forward momentum, several new initiatives take shape in the downtown metroplex: skyscrapers with office space and condominiums; a light-rail system that will enhance transportation accessibility; and the mayor champions the goal of adding 25,000 new residents to downtown by 2015.

This unique identity, Austin’s weird brand of the Blue Ocean Strategy, allows the city to prosper during tepid economic times.

Michael Scott is an urban writer and researcher based in Folsom, California. He can be reached at michael@vdowntownamerica.com



Advertisements