Downtown Austin. Photo: Getty Images

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Austin: where weird works

The US’s third-fastest-growing city likes to do things a bit differently but, as local Brandon Watson, assistant news editor of the The Austin Chronicle reports, this quirky edge has made it the nation’s hub of business innovation.

Its unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”. But the Texan capital, which will be a new daily route for British Airways from 3 March, has discovered that weirdness is very good for business.

In Austin’s technology sector, “weirdness” has become code for creative problem solving. IBM, the 20-year leader in US patents, has been an Austin player since 1995. Its Austin research lab was granted a staggering 1,060 patents in 2012, far outpacing more established technology centres like Silicon Valley.

Call it weirdness or a maverick spirit, but Austinites have built a modern economy from scratch. What once was a sleepy college town has become a hub of innovation.

The University of Texas has been a key factor. While some major US cities suffer from a “brain drain”, Austin’s low cost of living and plentiful urban amenities ensures that many UT graduates settle in the area. It’s a boon for companies looking for fresh talent.

Austin has a brawny start-up culture too, attracting both incubators and venture capital firms. The Central Texas Angel Network is one of the top five most active angel investment groups in the US, while The Capital Factory has helped promising companies like Famigo and Keepstream get started. When Facebook acquired social media company Gowalla, it was primarily for the talent.

Earlier in the year, city officials announced the creation of the Innovation District Advisory Group to exploit the planned UT medical school site as a centre of start-up growth.

As more new aircraft join the BA fleet, more US destinations will be served by the A380 and 787 Dreamliner. Austin will have the 787. The Dreamliner will also bring new levels of quietness and comfort to the Philadelphia service from June, while the A380 will serve Washington from September.