Ask any Texan to define the most prominent characteristic of the capital city and you’re likely to hear a chorus of answers as diverse and varied as Austin itself. The many faces of Austin-the academic, the business-smart, the nature-loving, the arts-supporting and the governmental:-stand alone marvelously but work together harmoniously to create a city that is ranked as one of Money magazine’s Top 10 places to live In the United States.
Austin also has gained national recognition for its burgeoning business climate. According to the Oct. 21, 1996, issue of Forbes magazine, Austin has a “dynamic combination of reasonable costs and a highly educated workforce” that have catapulted it onto the laundry list of hot places to do business in the United States. The University of Texas provides many of the qualified workers. In years past, UT students became quite enamored with Austin but found they could not establish permanent residency there after graduation because of lack of employment opportunities. Austin’s low business costs have recently, however, put Austin in a position ’to spark the entrepreneurial spirit that is very often stifled in other cities. UT grads who remain in Austin thereby perpetuate the city’s reputation as one of the most educated in the country.
The most drastic change in Austin’s business scene over the past few years involves the number of high-tech firms that have started up in, or relocated to, the city. Austin now is home to 260 manufacturers of personal computers or PC suppliers, 400 software firms and 200 semi-conductor manufacturers. Big names include Dell Computer, Semateeh and Advanced Micro-Devices. These companies, hired by the workforce,’ subsequently draw many of their business contemporaries to the area. Regional Financial Associates predicts thai Austin will provide one of the most lucrative job markets in the country for the next five years,
Despite increased development and the influx of new, international businesses to Austin, the city retains its local, small-town charm. Both Pete Wall, a financial consultant with Smith Barney, and his wife. Mar-jorie, a lobbyist for the Texas State Teachers’ Association, agree that Austin’s slower pace of life reduces the daily stress in their lives. “Austin is’a smaller city than other places I’ve lived. It’s not as crowded, and it’s easier to do things,” says Pete. “Crime is low, and 1 feel secure. Lite is easier.”
A graphic example of this “easier life” can be displayed by the local dining scene. “Austin in more laid back. There’s no coat and tie policy. You can catch people ’in shorts and blue jeans at the most expensive restaurants in Austin,” says Jeff Blank, owner of local eatery Hudson’s on the Bend. Blank explains .that this relaxed atmosphere mirrors the cuisine of the area. “Austin restaurants feature a lot of Stephan Pyles’ Star Canyon-type dishes with Southwestern flavor and sauces, more so percentage-wise than do restaurants in other Texas cities,”
Hudson’s on the Bend .uses the Southwestern flavor but adds a local flair by taking full advantage of the unique ingredients available in Ausrin Says Blank. “We feel it’s important tor our cuisine to reflect the area.” Hudson’s serves wild game such as quail, venison and even rattlesnake, all indigenous to the “Texas Hill Country. Blank also explains that the two local influences on Hudson’s cuisine are those of German and Mexican immigrants.
This interest in displaying ethnic cuisine illustrates Marjorie Wall’s sentiment that “people here are more tolerant than in other places in Texas.” Central Market, an HEB food store and Epicurean’s paradise, capitalizes on this tolerance. “The open-mindedness and diversity of the population make this an ideal place for us to do business,” says Nona Evans, public relations manager of the colossal store that offers gourmet products as well as common grocery items of extremely high quality, therefore appealing to a broad group of customers. “The university ’ and legislative communities, as well as the many ethnic groups here, have very strong cultural and culinary interests and knowledge.” Evans also notes that many people who now live in Austin are originally from somewhere else; Central Market is able to provide them with products that they remember from their hometowns.
The type of diversity in” the city population that Marjorie Wall appreciates, and Central Market thrives on, is a celebrated boost to the at)’s uniqueness. The significant Hispanic population in Austin has created a number of notable Mexican restaurants such as Chuy’s, Mali’s El Rancho and Guero’s, which gained national recognition when it served lunch to President Clinton during his visit to the city in the fall of 1995.
Another stop on the President’s tour was Austin’s most distinctive landmark, the massive State Capital, which overlooks downtown. As if to echo Texans’ attitudes about the sovereignty of statehood, the 309-foot pink granite masterpiece stands 7 feet taller than our nation’s capitol. State agencies of all types make their headquarters in Austin; it is impossible to do business in the state without having some tie to the capital. Not only does the Legislature’s convening ensure that business people of all walks of life flock to Austin to lobby their cases, but the capital building itself is a huge draw for visitors from all over the United States and the world.
, Visitors and locals alike also enjoy firsthand what makes Austin the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World.” On any given night, one can stroll down Sixth Street and hear the next Stevie Ray Vaughan or Willie Nelson. Music lovers can choose from an array of styles to listen to; folk singers line up next to jazz groups and honky-tonk crooners. Visitors can catch some of die finest blues in the world at Antone’s, an Austin landmark where legends like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy have played throughout the years. PBS television chronicles much of the mystique of the Austin scene on its program, “Austin City Limits.”
In order to recover from a night on the town, many Austinites escape to the great outdoors. Activities include swimming in Barton Springs, hiking and biking around Lake Travis, and sculling on Town Lake.
More pampered types can combine nature with nurture in the luxurious confines of the Lake Austin Spa Resort. Nestled in die glorious Texas Hill Country, the spa offers relaxation and luxury for the body and soul. Unlike many of its com-petitors. the spa allows its guests to stay for as long or as short a visit as they like. The spa offers packages of up to seven nights, but is available to the day visitor as well.
Guests can either relax and unwind, or challenge their minds and bodies. Fitness, tai chi, yoga and height-lifting classes are offered. A one-mile path near the lake, guide-led hiking and biking expeditions, and sculling on the lake allow guests to enjoy the natural beauty of the Austin area.
Luxurious accommodations greet visitors at the spa. Individual cabanas for as many as three people provide privacy and plush surroundings. Meals are an example of natural cooking and fresh ingredients prepared in a healthful manner. An organic garden on the spas premises provides the herbs and vegetables that garnish the gourmet dishes the guests can expect.
The organic garden also provides the ingredients for relaxation massage tools including a honey-mango scrub; Botanical Glow, which uses , fresh herbs to cleanse and detoxify the body; and Moor Mud Mask, which aids in nourishment and exfoliation. The spa also specializes in therapeutic treatments to ease arthritis and skin disorders and relies on Eastern healing techniques, including reflexology and Shiatsu.
The global influence on the spa also can be felt in its guest population. Visitors from all over Texas, the United States and the world arrive dairy to partake in the pampering that draws upon the most basic element of Austin’s appeal-the beauty of nature.
The Walls, 10-year residents of Austin, find the most rewarding thing about Austin is the “beautiful hills,” Their house in North Austin overlooks a wodded canyon where deer are regularly spotted. Austin’s surrounding lakes provide respite from the city traffic and a place to relax, sail, swim and ski. The Walls keep a 35-foot sailboat on Lake Travis; docking facilities are only a 15-minute drive from their home; weekend trips on Lake Travis and up the Pedernales River allow them to connect with the beautiful natural surroundings.
For some folks, enjoying Lake Travis only on weekends is simply not sufficient. Recent economic prosperity in Austin in the past few years has boosted residential development around the lake. One example of this growth is the Renaissance Villas at Lake Travis, a multi-family luxury development that allows residents from all over the country to enjoy the natural beauty of the lake on a daily basis. Situated on 13 acres of cliffs high above the lake, it has one of the most unique locations around. The three-tiered property, separated by rock retaining walls, maximizes residents’ views of the lake from all locations, and because of strategic placement overlooking two channels, some villas afford residents a panoramic view.
The villas project is a development of quality unsurpassed in the Austin area, and can be likened to developments on Turtle Creek in Dallas or River Oaks in Houston.
Amenities abound. ’The community is gated and features a fitness center, children’s play area, spa and a heated pool that also overlooks the lake. According to Rob Rickard, developer of the project, no expense has been spared in providing buyers with rite utmost in luxury. The villas arc highly insulated and soundproofed, giving residents a single-family feel. The development is also prewired for the high-tech future. Data-grade wiring will support video teleconferencing and all computer functions, and residents will have their choice of either local cable or satellite television.
One unique feature of the development is a motorized tram that will transport residents to private docks on the lake. The development’s private cove provides day-docking facilities for boats. Says Rickard. “Our cove is pristine, and we therefore didn’t want to jeopardize its cleanliness with a permanent marina. There are five marinas within driving distance that our residents can utilize.”
The Villas’ concern for the beauty of the lake echoes the environmental awareness that other Austin residents express as well, This is yet another example of Austin’s ability to retain it’s small-town, laid-back feel while welcoming development, big business and prosperity. The arrival of new companies and residents has had little impact on a style of living that draws folks to Austin and keeps them happy.