THINKING GLOBALLY: As Austin booms, so do its worldwide business ties

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Two years ago, Steve Raucher set out to disrupt the U.S. emergency response industry. But he needed the ideal location to start.

The 43-year-old chief executive of RapidDeploy, an emergency dispatch cloud company, had grown the brand in South Africa since its start in the early 2010s. But in order to market the product stateside, Raucher had to find a U.S. city with the right talent, partners, cost of business and culture to expand the company.

Austin fit the bill. After attending a national 9-1-1 policy convention in San Antonio in June 2017, a short trip to the capital convinced Raucher that Central Texas encompassed all of the necessary resources. In January, RapidDeploy completed its headquarters move here.

The bet appears to be paying off. This month, California’s office of emergency services awarded RapidDeploy a statewide contract for its 9-1-1 services. The company’s technology is also being tested in counties throughout the U.S., and in February, the startup announced a $12 million funding round led by GreatPoint Ventures and Samsung Next.

“When I got to Austin, I was blown away by the whole culture and the energy,” Raucher said. “The characteristics of a (software as a service) business — all the people you need — they are all here.”

RapidDeploy is just one example of a regional trend. A city rich in Texas history, Austin has also blossomed into a town brimming with international business activity. The area has attracted businesses from around the globe, created some of the nation’s biggest international events and opened gateways to global partners. All of the activity has added to the Austin’s economy and its identity.

In recent years, internationally based companies have increasingly placed resources in Austin. Since 2014, at least 38 foreign-based companies have either relocated their headquarters to Austin or opened offices in the region, according to the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. There are also more than 300 businesses in the metro area whose headquarters — or the headquarters of their parent company — are based in another country. At the University of Texas Dell Medical School, for example, a group of British health tech companies opened an office at the school in 2017 to enter U.S markets and work with the university toward health care solutions.

As more businesses from throughout the globe have landed in Austin, the city has also seen its homegrown brands expand. The Austin metro area is home to the corporate headquarters of Dell Technologies, Whole Foods Market, HomeAway, Indeed and other large companies — all of whom do business overseas. Other global companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple employ thousands of workers here.

International footprint

Austin is responsible for 11 percent of the state’s foreign direct investment, according to the chamber. The semiconductor and electronics industries account for the largest foreign investment, the chamber said, while computer equipment and semiconductor products make up Austin’s greatest exports.

The metro area ships more than $10 billion worth of goods each year to other countries, with its primary trading partners being Taiwan, South Korea, China, Japan and Mexico.

“Our international footprint both in Austin and externally continues to grow,” said Leigh Christie, who was hired by the chamber two years ago to oversee global technology and innovation partnerships. “Our goal is for (the international community) to understand all of the work — how Austin is growing out of the region.”

In 2017, the chamber published a list of global business goals. Included among those were: to define international target markets; recruit internationally; and host delegations from around the world. Austin officials operate a program that establishes business, cultural and educational relationships with foreign governments and companies.

The city now has 16 partnerships spread throughout various continents. City staff members, local businesses and volunteers travel to partner cities to network with the business and government community, host events and also invite delegations from each city to visit Austin. Christie and other Austin economic development leaders last year visited Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and other countries and are planning to return this year.

The initiative has helped market Austin around the globe, said Saurabh Majumdar, founder of local tech startup Tellofy, which participates in the program.

Majumdar, who is from India, immigrated to Florida in 2013 before relocating to Austin last year. Founded in 2015, Tellofy builds software platforms that businesses can use to collect customer feedback. Majumdar said the company now has 15 corporate customers and is close to securing its first significant investment.

When he speaks to company founders in India, Majumdar said, he tells them about his ease in building a network here. Startup hubs such as Capital Factory regularly hold educational and networking events for entrepreneurs, and the ecosystem is generally welcoming and ready to help, Majumdar said.

“Silicon Valley has the best perception on the outside. Yes, there is capital there, but it is not easy to get, and there’s the high cost of living,” he said. “If you want to start a business here, every coffee shop has entrepreneurs working and free WiFi and a culture that’s not work, work work.”

The SXSW factor

Austin’s economy has also been helped by the growth of the South by Southwest conference and other events that attract visitors from all over the world. Many international businesses use SXSW as a way to showcase their products and network with potential partners.

Some of those foreign business professionals return later in the year to participate in Austin’s Formula One race. As the only U.S. city to host a race on the Formula One circuit, the event has added to an already healthy zest for Austin by the international community. As Austin has played a greater role on the world stage, the number of direct flights offered to overseas destinations, including locations such as Amsterdam and Frankfurt, Germany, have increased at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

The foreign entrepreneurs and businesses moving into the area are interested in adding to Austin’s vibrant tech industry and becoming part of the city’s laid-back culture, said Ingrid Korcz, a founder of La French Connexion, which has worked with the city to establish business connections between French municipalities and Austin.

Korcz recently helped host a delegation from Marseille, France. Officials met with Austin government representatives and business leaders.

They discussed the cities’ synergies — Formula One, education, investment, music, culture and fashion — and made plans for a reunion at next year’s SXSW.

“There is so much in common on both sides,” Korcz said. “It’s a long way from France to here, so when people decide to come here, then that means there’s strong motivation to know more about Austin.”

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