by Brenda Hall
When I moved to Austin in January of 1985, I was working for IBM. I took for granted that everyone working in large corporations was focused on the world, how to work across countries and cultures, and traveling to collaborate with international team members. I was fortunate indeed to have traveled to London, Paris, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and many other international cities.
When I arrived in Austin, I’d already lived in cities from New York to Boulder, to Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale to name a few. Austin immediately made me feel welcome and at home. An initial surprise was how much Austin wasn’t on an international roadmap. There were either major corporations like IBM, 3M, Texas Instruments, or there were startup companies like Dell, Austin Ventures and Whole Foods. There didn’t seem to be a city-wide focus on building and branding Austin as an international player. I don’t believe our university system had yet branched out with a focus on global commercialization, and Austin Community College didn’t have a program focused on building a work force with global knowledge and skills. As a matter of fact, that didn’t happen until January 2000 when a few of us were corralled together for a few days to create the framework ACC would then fill in with courseware.
It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that a great deal of activity began to take place that would put Austin, Texas on the global map. There were pockets of activity taking place in individual companies like Tokyo Electron. Samsung was coming to town, and Dell had become a company to be reckoned with! And, a small group of volunteer leaders were building a movement to make Austin an International City.
I am proud to say I was part of that group that started the International Center of Austin, our city’s first official international effort. People like Mayors Kirk Watson, Gus Garcia and Will Wynn had the vision and experience to put this center together. People like Earl Maxwell, our first Chairman implemented that vision. And we expanded on this effort in 2004 when we won the bid in Athens, Greece to bring the 2006 World Congress for Information Technology to Austin. The collaboration needed for the success of such an effort brought international initiatives and private sector business together to focus on building an international footprint in Austin. It was the beginning of a foundation that has seen much success in the last five years.
I recently had the privilege and honor to present the International Business Export Awards hosted by the Austin Chamber and the City of Austin. Clearly this event was a ‘circle of light’ for me because I could welcome to the stage companies like National Instruments, but I also welcomed smaller companies like Emergo Group, Active Power, and Bioo Scientific that are taking advantage of the opportunities our international city has to offer.
So….all of this leads me to where Austin is today….a focused, energetic and contributing city that engages and welcomes the opportunities that come with being a global player. Austin is one of the strongest communities on every level; small business to corporate giants, with one of the most revered university systems in the world. Austin Community College has been supplying exceptional students for a number of years, who are entering the work force with excellent skills in a number of areas including global project management and localization industry knowledge. You need only to walk down any street, stop in at any number of great Austin eateries, or attend the many networking opportunities to see how far we’ve come.
We may see upturns and downturns in the future, but I’m completely convinced that Austin will continue to grow and eventually establish representative offices in countries like China, Brazil and others. Austin has benefited from extraordinary leadership, and our current leadership will continue to advance our wonderful, INTERNATIONAL city.
Change began with a conversation, so let’s keep the discussion going. Are you part of the movement to make Austin an international city? How can we fuel the global path?