Jeremy Taylor finds a warm and friendly Texan welcome - and great nightlife!
When I speak of Texas, I’m invariably met by surprise as it’s not one of those destinations that is widely acknowledged as a business destination.
But it should be.
If Texas were a country it would be 10th in World Economies. It is HQ to hundreds of businesses, and Austin, the State Capital, attracts an eclectic mix of people and businesses including Amazon, Google and, most recently with a planned $1bn investment, Apple. It’s also got great nightlife with over 250 live music venues and, in one neighbourhood, the highest concentration of bars per capita anywhere in the US – one for every 67 people!
And that population is rising rapidly with around 120 people moving to Austin every day – that is a growing market.
Last year Norwegian Air launched a direct flight from Gatwick to Austin and this was the final piece that made it viable to connect the Coast to Capital region with Texas. The Coast to Capital LEP Strategic Economic Plan states building a ‘strong national and international identity’ for the region as one of eight priorities, and I can think of no better way of doing that than identifying several key destinations on the Gatwick Route Map and turning up!
There really is no substitute for meeting people that you want to do business with, and I’ve found that business people in most destinations are happy to meet up, if you’ve made the effort to get there. And Texas hospitality means that they are especially welcoming and open to discussions.
Having received a positive response from Norwegian to my request for some support, I set about finding contacts and gaining meetings.
My first call was to the Austin Chamber of Commerce as, having looked after Gatwick Diamond Business for 14 years, I really understand the value of business membership organisations. Walter Zaykowski responded positively and, as well as meeting to discuss the trip, we established the Chamber as a first port of call for any business looking to go to Austin. He will also think of me as and when any of his members look to explore the UK and beyond.
Through Walter’s introduction, I initially met with Austin FC, the MLS newest franchise, to discuss representation in the UK ahead of their entry to Major League Soccer in 2021. Chris Quinn is responsible for commercial developments at the Club and is keen to hear from any business looking to grow their awareness with the fastest growing spectator sport in the US.
Ahead of the trip I had conversations with some of our regions’ education establishments, as my previous experience of working with other destinations has shown these are well prepared for international working.
Chichester College Group is very engaged in this way and provided some financial support for the trip and I was able to position them in my meetings with the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Texas Austin and McCombs Business School. With facilities across the campuses, a range of highly regarded courses and links to business, I am sure we will soon see Texas students in the region.
The Vice Provost of the Centre for Global Academic Initiatives at UT Arlington, Daniel Himarios, agreed to meet me and we discussed ways to take forward opportunities for UK and US students to conduct exchanges as well as for businesses to work with the University.
Currently ranked 17th in the US, the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin, is very highly regarded and has an extensive Overseas exchange Programme as well as great opportunities for businesses looking to grow in Texas utilising local talent. The meeting included the Vice-Provost of Global Engagement at UT Austin, Sonia Faigenbaum, and we are exploring how to position UK Institutions and businesses with the University as well as support UT students on visits to the UK. They are particularly interested in finding project-based positions for their students.
Our time in Austin was all too brief but it gave me a real insight into doing business in the City. It’s well served by public transport, simple to navigate and, as explained earlier, packed with places to meet, eat drink. If you are brave enough you can get around easily on the Uber and Lime electric scooters that are left on every street corner.
Do pick your time carefully as there are many events and festivals taking place throughout the year. The biggest of these is South by South West (SxSW) in early March. It’s a huge arts and media festival with all the big corporates in town taking over bars, premises and open spaces, alongside a big education fair.
So, what next? I have built a great relationship with Team Texas, the investment arm of the Texas Economic Development Council, who are able to supply incentives, support and guidance for businesses looking to invest in Texas.
I’ll also be following up with BABC Houston and, more than likely joining so that I can provide an extra bridge to help with these trans-Atlantic opportunities.
I believe the model works and there is an opportunity to repeat this exercise with a number of key economic destinations, selecting those that are not in the economic spotlight but have a direct flight from Gatwick.
With Brexit approaching (at some point), there is a demand from non-EU destinations to build commercial links to the UK and, with Gatwick on the doorstep, we are ideally placed to do that.
It takes time and effort to find the right people and it takes time and money to go there but it is well worth it, and the returns are manifold.
Are you coming with me?
Jeremy Taylor is the MD of The Company Connector, which helps build commercial connections for business, education, government and charities.
Norwegian flies direct to Austin from Gatwick Airport www.norwegian.com/uk/destinations/austin/