Businesses along historic 6th Street in downtown Austin, Texas

Bars, restaurants and other businesses in the Sixth Street Historic District of Austin are a major tourist destination that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


These hot, summer days find our capital city quiet if not dead. The Legislature has gone home, along with the lobbyists, journalists and camp followers. UT is on summer break, East Sixth Street is dormant and it’s too hot for tourists.

Who would think sleepy old Austin is the best place to live in America? Well, the locals do. So does U.S. News & World Report.

Each year it releases a list of the 125 best places to live in America. The magazine looked at five metrics: job market, value, quality of life, desirability and net migration. The survey reported: “For the third year in a row, Austin tops the list based on the area’s value for the money, strong job market, high quality of life and being a desirable place to live. (It’s also considered one of the top U.S. cities in which to start a small business.)”

Another survey — this one by something called CompTIA — of IT pros and students found 78 percent of those surveyed said they would move to another city for a better lifestyle and, of course, more money. Their No. 1 choice? Austin.

On the other hand, some don’t think Austin is so great. Merck walked away from a tentative agreement giving the pharmaceutical giant almost $7 million in local and state money to set up a big operation in Austin. It was just as well. As usual with such deals, Merck kept cutting back on its promised hiring and investment.

Even though Austin is closer to Houston than to Dallas, this town is Big D-centric. My local monster grocery store has a sports shop (along with a bank, florist and pharmacy) that is divided into Longhorn orange-and-white paraphernalia and Dallas Cowboy junk. I can get the Dallas Morning News but not the Houston Chronicle. The Austin newspapers and local TV news cover the Dallas sports scene, but the Astros have to win the Super Bowl to get a mention.

Getting back to the survey: “The Austin metro area has always performed well across the board,” U.S. News real estate editor Devon Thorsby told CNBC, “but the details that keep it at the top are its population growth due to net migration and desirability. Not only do U.S. residents say they’d like to live in Austin through our annual desirability surveys, but many appear to be acting on it as well.”

Indeed, the locals keep complaining that too many people want to move here — the city gains about 50 new residents daily.

Derisively called the Peoples Republic of Austin because of its liberal politics, Austin has the constant and predictable money coming in for the state government. The UT athletic program has more money to spend than any school in the nation — $170 million a year, last I heard. Speaking of UT, each fall Austin brings in the best and the brightest young people from East Jesus who spend four years and a lot of their parents’ money on parties. And they don’t want to leave. It’s an artificial skimming of top talent. (College Station doesn’t have that problem.)

But what about the rest of Texas?

In U.S News’ rankings, San Antonio comes in at 34. Dallas-Fort Worth is No. 21. Houston is Numero 30: “The Houston metro area attracts people with an entrepreneurial spirit and those who want to work at some of the country’s largest companies. Not only is Houston the hub of the oil and gas industries, but it’s also a major center of manufacturing and health care. The region has weathered the economic downturn better than similarly sized metro areas in terms of bouncing back from lost jobs. As the country recouped, Houston was able to gain all of its lost jobs back, and has gone on to add two jobs for every one lost.”

We might take umbrage with this rating. If U.S. News had compared our January mornings with that of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota (No. 6), the Bayou City might do better, if they overlook the fact that some of our bayous occasionally cover the city.

Do you want to compare the Cowboys to the Oilers? Houston was named for a president of Texas who was elected in 1836. Austin was named for the guy who got beat. What other city has not one but two domed stadiums? OK, maybe one and a half.

And finally, you never heard, “Austin, the Eagle has landed.”

Lynn Ashby is a Houston-based columnist. Contact him at

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Just wait until all the homeless tents start popping up all over the town.

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