Austin’s Festival Economy

By Andres Cantu

The term niche could apply to a variety of things, especially in Austin – the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” Austinites are fortunate to experience niche dining at spots like Ramen Tatsu-ya, East Side Showroom or Wink, but we rarely think about how our city’s world-wide cool factor is a self-sustaining niche of its own.

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Angelou Economics recently released Austin’s 30th Annual Economic Forecast for 2015-16. While the increase in population, traffic and venture capital were impressive, the emergence of the city’s Festival Economy took center stage (for us anyway).

“Festivals have been creating economic impact for years, but their importance to the Austin economy has recently increased,” says William Mellor, Angelou Economics’ Director of Project Operations.

Mellor, an import from Illinois and graduate of the University of Houston, focuses on economic impact studies for Angelou Economics. He says that each of the city’s festivals are beneficial to the local economy – through the jobs they produce, the visitors they attract, or the businesses that benefit from out of town patrons, etc. Combined, they produce an enormous impact on the Austin economy.

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Thirty years ago, our economy was driven by population growth, fueled by government jobs, and the education and emerging high-tech industries. In the 90’s, there were a little over 50,000 high tech jobs employing Austinites(1); compare that with today’s figures of close to 125,000 jobs in that no-longer-emerging industry. In 1985, there were 750-thousand Austinites living in what they knew to be one of the best cities in the state of Texas. Today, we have a little over 2-million people in the Austin city limits, and our growth is a trend that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.

photo from Stereogum

photo from Stereogum

Austin’s Festival Economy, while a relatively new niche of economic support, is not a foreign concept for a thriving metropolis such as ours. In fact, one can find similar types of support in cites around the country. New Orleans thrives on the income of its Mardi Gras celebration, as well as festivals like Jazz Fest. New York City hosts the generations-old Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and features music festivals like The Governors Ball; while Chicago features another top-billed festival, Lollapalooza – produced, in part, by Austin’s own C3 Presents – among others.

While our city thrives because of these festivals, these events can create some negative effects, such as traffic congestion, elevated costs, along with longer waits at local businesses and eateries during fest times. This increase could affect other events also taking place during these timeframes. Mellor says that while this has happened before, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and other major event planners are working together to make all times of year cohesive for all events.

One final nod, and a personal one at that, Mellor says that the Frank Erwin Center continues to be a major contributor to the Austin Economy, due to its ability to host festivals (and related events) year-round. The return of iHeartMedia’s iHeartRadio Country Festival, which brought top-tier talent to the Live Music Capitol of the World, is one such example of our economic contribution. The night featured performances from Country music superstars Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts, among others. Darius Rucker pulled double-duty as an iHeartCountry performer and co-host alongside Jennifer Nettles. So pat yourself on the back if you spent your hard-earned money on a ticket to iHeartCountry; you supported much more than your love of good music – you also helped to Keep Austin Thriving.

(1): http://www.angeloueconomics.com/aeu/event/2015-2016-forecast-event

Visit the Frank Erwin Center website to see who's coming, and subscribe to Be the First to Know to get a jump on upcoming pre-sales and ticket giveaways.

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