Austin brand faces some challenges, but experts optimistic

Local music and creative business experts said that despite some anticipated roadblocks, they are optimistic about the future of Austin and the city's entrepreneurial, creative and "one-of-a-kind" brand at a June 6 panel discussion hosted by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and local trade association Austin Music People at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Austin.

"This is a very dynamic community and city and it's going to want to grow, and we're going to come up against some natural barriers to that so we've got to sort of plan around it," said panelist Jack McDonald, who is the CEO and chairman of Silverback Enterprise Group, which acquires enterprise software companies.

Major challenges for the city include transportation and infrastructure, panelists agreed. McDonald said it is crucial for the city to make investments in its future now, because even if Austin had the funds to pay for significant transportation initiatives, it would take 30 years to complete some of them.

GSD&M Co-founder Judy Trabulsi added that while Austin is consistently ranked high on top 10 lists in terms of technology industry, creative atmosphere and strong economic development, it also has made the top four in lists of U.S. cities with the worst traffic.

"We've got to do some infrastructure planning," she said.

Austin continues to attract residents who appreciate the city's culture—including food trailers, theatre and music—and yearn for creativity and diversity, FourT Realty Co-founder Tom Terkel said. He added this presents the challenge of gentrification.

"It is an inevitable consequence of growth," he said, adding gentrification is something the community rarely discusses and that he would like to see Austin address it in the future.

Young families and recent college graduates are continuing to move to Austin to launch their careers, McDonald said.

Music has been a major part of attracting the younger crowd, said panelist James Moody, who helped launch Fun Fun Fun Fest, the Mohawk bar and Transmission Entertainment. In fact, he said he was among them—he moved to the city because of its status as "Live Music Capital of the World."

There are about 1,500 members in AMP, which launched in 2011 to strengthen the music sector and regional economy, according to AMP Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan. She noted the organization plans to launch its fundraising event, United We Jam, in August to support Austin-based musicians.

"We just want to make sure, as many people who live in Austin do, that as the city grows, it grows in a healthful way, it grows in a way that has integrity, and that the things that make Austin so exceptional—the live music scene, the clean energy, the commitment to green space—don't get lost."

Jenna Williams, director of public relations for the advertising agency Broken Records Austin, said Austin is a city like no other, and preserving the cultural brand and community is important to the local economy.

Chief Operating Officer Phyllis Snodgrass with the chamber said after hearing the "Brand Austin: Is It At Risk?" panel discussion, she thinks the city's brand will continue to be successful.

"There are some not-so-fun, but important things we have to work on as a community so we can take care of the people that are here and the ones that are coming, and that's a lot of [what] the Chamber works on," she said. "It's important that we all be engaged in it."