400 years ago, refugees fleeing their home country’s hostile political environment bravely headed west over the Atlantic ocean in search of a better life. They arrived on a rock, unprepared for the challenges that come with moving to a new land: a shortage of food and inadequate shelter. A group of Americans called the Wampanoag took pity on these pilgrim refugees, shared their soil and helped them gain a foothold on it. In an act of goodwill and diplomacy, the grateful immigrants hosted the Americans for a large shared feast. Their meal has since become celebrated in the quintessential American tradition, Thanksgiving.
Migration, the core theme of this story, is one of the great forces of history. Not only internationally, but internally within the states. Texas itself has been a migration magnet throughout its history, which helps explain the record of growth that now makes it the second most populous state in America following California. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual Population Estimates program, regionally, the Austin MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) has shown a growth rate with consideration of births and deaths of over 55,000 people annually over the last decade - that’s over 150 people per day! Consequently, with so many people moving in large numbers, there is inevitable impact and influence on the current flavor of our local culture. How will all these new flavors meld into our sweet Central Texas? Let’s take a look at where and why migrants are joining our Thanksgiving table in Texas.
Growth in Texas: Texas in general is growing at a rate of 1,000 people per day, and roughly half of these new Texans are migrants, according to State Demographer Lloyd Potter. The other half are newborns, Potter added. The strong U.S. economy and low unemployment rates have caused net domestic migration to Texas from other states to slow since 2015. Instead, in 2018, the majority of migrants to Texas — 104,976 people — came from other countries. While historically, Latin countries have accounted for the majority of those migrating to Texas, recently, Texas has seen an increase in migration from Asian countries, particularly China and India, with those countries accounting for around 45% of international migration to Texas in 2016. “Over the 2000s, we saw a pretty significant opening of China and kind of increasing number of Indian students coming over to study”, Potter said, “and I think what happens frequently is once they finish studying, they are able to get sponsored by a company for a work visa... once they get a green card, then they can start sponsoring their family to come over as well.” With Central Texas hosting a university culture that welcomes a large international student population, it’s not surprising that Austin ends up drawing a chunk of this international student demographic within that Texan growth.
Growth in Austin: Despite the increasingly international migration numbers for Texas, net migration to Austin remains primarily domestic. This also differs from other comparatively fast growing cities such as Miami, San Jose, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., which experience mostly international migration.
- The greatest source of growth in Austin outside of local births is migration from other parts of Texas, followed by California, Florida, New York, and Colorado.
- The most significant metro areas making a net positive contribution to annual migration to Austin are Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, New York, and Los Angeles.
A large part of what’s behind this growth trend can be found in the city’s employment opportunity, prosperity, and its evolution into a tech hub. While Central Texas provides massive employment opportunities in the service industry and in government, in 2018, the Austin Chamber of Commerce recorded 46 tech company relocations to the Austin area (these numbers do not include companies opening second offices as expansions locally like Apple, Amazon, and Google). Those 46 relocations translated into 9,424 new jobs in the city last year. That compares to 51 relocations in 2017 leading to 3,050 jobs. The incoming companies have justified the move due to the region’s lower cost of doing business and a growing pool of tech talent, who in turn are drawn to Austin’s flouishing job market and attractive cost of living.
So what does this kind of migration without RSVP mean for the Austin area? Have we run out of room at the table? A common fear is overcrowding and changes to Austin’s beloved physical and cultural landscape. What it really boils down to is increased population diversity brings with it new ideas, business opportunity, and varied cultures. This has the potential to beautifully blend into our “you be you” or “keep it weird” city, making it thrive. Without question, with this growing population will come the usual suspects - a surplus of traffic and an increased need for affordable housing. But let’s pull up some extra chairs to our table since the diversity of incoming minds will be an invaluable resource in addressing these twists and turns that come on the road to growth. In closing, it’s important to remember the positive lessons embedded in the American Thanksgiving story - our country was founded and fostered by a combination of native and migrant people. We will continue to grow gracefully as long as we embrace our diversity, and work together to build an Austin that we’re proud to call our home.