Austin’s Technology History Stretches Back to the 1950s — Boomed in the 1990s — And Still Has Room to Grow
I wish I’d had a time capsule back in 1993 to capture the day I attended a trade show at the Austin Convention Center.
If I could replicate my experience, it would illustrate just how far Austin’s technology business sector has grown in the past 20 years.
The event was held to support Austin businesses. One of the Chamber of Commerce booths promoted Austin’s high-tech sector. There wasn’t much there. Just some photos and articles, mostly about IC² Institute, the Sematech semi-conductor consortium, and Dell.
I was new in town and seeing this meager display, I suspected I’d have better luck focusing my freelance writing career on the local healthcare industry.
I had gained writing experience in both healthcare and high-tech while living in Atlanta in the 1980s, where my first freelance client was Peachtree Software.
I leveraged by healthcare expertise to write for organizations like Seton.
Then everything changed.
Technology began booming — dramatically so.
By 1996, I course corrected my career — aiming full force on technology.
Work was plentiful — with both small start-ups and large mega-companies. It was exciting to be on the inside of so much growth.
It didn’t take long for the business landscape to change — dramatically.
Austin’s Technology Sector History
Although the Austin technology industry has come a long way since the early 1990s, many say it’s only going to get bigger — including Jack McDonnell, former CEO of Perficient.
In February, I attended a meeting at the Metropolitan Breakfast Club where McDonnell presented an overview of Austin’s technology growth trajectory, its influences, and its future.
He started with a bit of history.
Since the 1950s, the Austin Chamber of Commerce has fostered technology growth as a way to expand the city’s narrow economic base (formerly government and education).
The technology sector picked up steam in 1967 when IBM moved to Austin, followed by Texas Instruments in 1969, and Motorola in 1974.
Two major research consortiums of high-technology companies followed during the 1980s — Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation and Sematech.
By the early 1990s, the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area was home to almost 400 high-technology companies.
It’s even bigger now. Today technology comprises 13 percent of the jobs in Austin and 27 percent of the payroll. “It’s a key driver of our prosperity,” notes McDonnell.
Austin’s Tech Scene Has “Room to Grow”
One thing that helped the surge of tech growth was the number of companies that spun off from these early adopters.
McDonnell pointed out that 40 start-ups spun off from one company alone, Tivoli, which opened in 1989, including Waveset, Iconixx Software, and Motive.
McDonnell sees no slow down in Austin’s technology growth.
“Austin has the ability to become the country’s third largest tech region, after Silicon Valley and New York City,” he said.
Austin has everything going for it to expand, said McDonnell — including entrepreneurial spirit, a world-class university, hardware and software prowess, a young and educated workforce, a strong ecosystem of supporting talent, and a diverse community.
“I can’t think of a better city than Austin in which to build a company.”
In partnership with other business leaders, McDonnell said they’ve created a four-point growth plan. “We have plenty of room to grow, but first we have to do some work.”
That work includes the following:
1. Looking for new companies to woo here.
2. Helping current companies expand with office space and mentorships.
3. Marketing Austin as the place companies need to be.
4. Growing the business sector’s relationship with UT.
Why is it important for Austin’s tech sector to grow? Especially since some people think Austin has grown too much and is losing what made it great.
“As Austin’s mayor, Lee Leffingwell said, ‘the growth is coming whether we want it or not.’
“It’s much smarter to come together as a community and prepare for and manage the growth to lessen the growing pains, including our traffic, transportation, healthcare, education, and affordability,” noted McDonnell.
“Today everyone has the opportunity to participate in Austin’s future.”