Who's Moving to Austin? Hint: It's Not Californians

Californians are loathed by “original” Austinites. They move here, flooding the bars and buying the houses, making everything more expensive and turning the cool less cool. Lock up your daughters and hide the silver, because these West Coast jerks are here to take over. Or not.

As much as Austinites like to think our city is being ruined by people from the East and West Coasts destroying everything that used to make the city “weird," the reality is that other Texans are moving to Austin in the largest numbers.

“What?” you ask, as the wooden “Bust Some Cali Ass”-engraved paddle falls from your hands and your unbelieving eyes bug out. Yep, it’s true. In fact, according to our very own U.S. Census, it’s Williamson County, our cousin to the north – home to Round Rock and Georgetown – that’s providing the most transplants to Austin.

The most recent comprehensive U.S. Census data available is from 2006 to 2010, but City of Austin Demographer Ryan Robinson asserts that present trends are probably in step. Between 2006 and 2010, an average of 1,500 people moved here from Los Angeles County every year. That’s a large number, but it pales in comparison to the average 10,500 people from Williamson County who moved to Austin each year.

In fact, not only is LA County not the leading supplier of transplants to Austin, it’s not even in the Top 5.

“We think of Austin’s in-migration stream as coming to us exclusively from places like California when, in fact, most of it is indeed coming from other parts of the state,” Robinson said. “My sense has always been that Austin gets a lot of two-step migrants. First, they move from New York to Houston or California to Dallas; then realize that where they really want to be is in Austin.”

From Where, Exactly?

The counties providing the most transplants to Austin are as follows, in descending order (a big thanks to Brian Kelsey of Civic Analytics for compiling the following info):

  • Williamson (TX)
  • Harris (TX) (Houston)
  • Hays (TX) (just south of us)
  • Dallas (TX)
  • Bexar (TX) (San Antonio)
  • Bastrop (TX)
  • Los Angeles (CA)
  • Tarrant (TX) (Fort Worth)
  • Fort Bend (TX) (Houston area)
  • Bell (TX) (Temple/Belton/Killeen)

After LA County, other out-of-Texas counties frontrunners include Cook County (Chicago), IL, in 11th; Orleans Parish (New Orleans), LA in 17th; Maricopa County (Phoenix), AZ in 18th; and Santa Clara County (San Jose), CA in 25th. What? Where’s that East Coast representation? Aren’t they also moving here and ruining the city? Apparently not so much.

While it’s obviously true that Austin is growing, not all of these folks stay put. Austin is actually a very fluid city, according to census data. Some of that is naturally due to the fluctuating student population of the University of Texas. However, for the most part, folks moving away from Austin aren’t going far. The Top 10 counties that people move to from Austin are as follows:

  • Williamson (TX)
  • Hays (TX)
  • Harris (TX)
  • Bexar (TX)
  • Dallas (TX)
  • Tarrant (TX)
  • Bastrop (TX)
  • Bell (TX)
  • Galveston (TX)
  • Nueces (TX)

Lower projection is from reproduction alone.
It’s not until you get to Los Angeles County, in 13th place, that you see where people are moving outside of Texas. El Paso County, CO, home to Colorado Springs, comes in at 18th; Santa Clara, CA, home to San Jose, is in 21st; San Diego County, CA, is in 23rd; and King County, WA, home to Seattle and Bellevue, comes in at 24th.

What does that mean? It tells us that if Austinites don’t want to stay in Texas, they either want to go to California or to one of America’s great pot-smoking capitals.

The yearly average from 2006 to 2010 was that 219 people moved here per day. During that same time period, an average of 183 people moved away. Although the numbers are steadily rising, that does represent, to some extent, a transient population.

Beyond the Numbers

I can’t help but think, based on my own experience, that at least some of the people who move here from outside Texas ultimately decide not to stay here (or in Texas). Based on my personal experience, I’ve known:

  • A couple who moved to Austin from Boston, then back a year later;
  • A couple who moved to Austin from Boston, then to Seattle two years later;
  • A friend who moved from Portland to Austin, then back to Portland about two years later; and
  • A friend who moved from California to Austin, then back to California a year later.

Some of those moves were based on job transfers (a very welcome change in at least one occasion), but half of those moves were simply people moving here, it not being what they expected and then moving away. The media hypes up Austin to no end; hell, even my 80-year-old grandparents talk about how they’d move here if they were just a few years younger. But the reality is that Austin isn’t for everyone.

Like so many folks (including myself), Portland-Austin-Portland friend Ryan Geise first experienced Austin during a free drinks-fueled SXSW party week. When he moved here and discovered that Austin wasn’t the “party en masse in the streets” festival that it is during SXSW, he admits it took him a while to “get” Austin. Over time, he grew to appreciate aspects of the city and of Texas that weren’t evident to him right from the get-go.

“I liked the southern cowboy way of thinking that was sort of slowed down, straight laced, and good natured, but I also liked the badass punk feel of it all,” he said, adding that coming from a city with a great transportation system and compact feel, Austin’s subpar transit system and sprawl was bothersome.

Although Geise moved back to Portland, he said he’s “enormously happy” he gave Austin a shot. In fact, he said he’d “totally move back there when I get sick and tired of [Portland] again.”

Now if that isn’t transient, I don’t know what is.

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