Could You Imagine Austin Without SXSW?

Posted on 11/29/2015 by Austin Chamber of Commerce

SXSW: A brand heard round the world

Beginning 29 years ago, our team has been connected to South by Southwest (SXSW). That original music event has now become a 13-day Music, Film, Interactive, Edu and Eco Conference and Festival. In 2015, it was reported to be worth about $317 million of economic impact to our economy.

Just like working to leverage SXSW at the start, we have a long history of shaping Austin and the region. That includes creating several significant initiatives to drive economic impact, boost local tourism and maintain a great quality of life. For example, we founded Leadership Austin in 1979. It’s a program to cultivate leaders to build business for our economy and support our local community. To this day, the expanded program, now a standalone non-profit, develops and connects community leaders to build a better region.

In 1989, after 20 years of hard work, we formed a partnership with civic and community leaders to drive the passage of bonds to build a new convention center downtown. Our volunteer leaders were excited to be on hand to see the first earth being plowed on on Dec. 29, 1989, the same day Austin became the 28th state in 1845. The convention center has since expanded. It has grown to over six city blocks in the heart of Austin’s downtown business district.

The Business Music Committee

In 1985, a committee was created to focus on developing business infrastructure to help music become a major economic sector for Austin. So the next year, we were pleased to support a small group of passionate people who had met in the offices of the Austin Chronicle to develop an idea: bring more national exposure to the highly talented local creative and music communities. Through a division of the Chamber, that group was provided with some funding. They went on to create the first music festival in 1987 which had about 700 registrants on opening day.

Awesome advertising for Austin

SXSW – “South by” if you’re local – has become a highly regarded brand and wonderful commercial for our live, work and play culture – not to mention comparatively lower costs to doing business – in Austin and the entire region:

  • According to an independent analysis the value of media coverage from SXSW in 2015 was more than $90 million. This included over 80 billion broadcast print and online impressions.
  • SXSW was named one of the top 3 brands representative of Austin’s identity according to the 2015 Zandan Voices of the Community Poll. The other brands: University of Texas and Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival.

SXSW Leaders: 2011 Austinites of the Year

The Chamber has long been involved with the organizers of SXSW, a place where Foursquare was launched and a little known online social media service that featured tweets of a 140 characters or less took off.

In 2011, the Chamber recognized four key figures behind SXSW as Austinites of the Year – Co-founders Nick Barbaro, Louis Black and Roland Swenson, as well as Hugh Forrest, director of the SXSW Interactive Conference and Festival.

Then Chamber Board Chair Bobby Jenkins, President, ABC Home & Commercial Services, commented that SXSW encapsulates the uniqueness of Austin.

“So much of the heart and soul of the festival has taken root in the community – welcoming musicians, filmmakers, tech gurus and a new hub in education software," said Jenkins. "Honoring the founders of SXSW brings much deserved attention not only to those roots, but also to the celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit that is the hallmark of Austin.”

During SXSW, Chamber team members provide thought leadership by speaking on several interactive panels. We market Austin and the region as the best place to start and grow a technology-based business. We connect with executives who might want to move their company and bring new jobs to the region, as well as venture capitalists who might want to invest in our growing startup community. We also provide a variety of programming; most recently:

  • Teamed with organizers to help drive the growth of SXSW EDU
  • Connected with 150 of the most promising growth stage companies – data, ecommerce, health and science – to meet and network with business leaders and equity investment representatives.
  • Hosted Governor’s Welcome Reception for SXSW

For 138 years, members of the Austin Chamber have had a passion for shaping our region into a great place to live, work and play. We have been engaged and involved with the founding of UT, SXSW, technology and innovation, the international airport, Barton Springs, and many other defining characteristics that make Austin’s culture unique. We are a community that is authentic, creative, caring, and diverse. These are some of the traits that have attracted more than 370 companies — and 270,000 new jobs—to our region in the last 11 years.

Related Categories: Chamber, Innovate Austin