Adelaide & Austin: ‘Sister’ cities achieving big things

Sister city partnerships can play a new role in the global economy.  Two ‘sisters’ Adelaide (South Australia) and Austin (Texas) are a perfect example of how collaboration can help develop both local economies – piggybacking off each other’s strengths.

Both cities have climate, geographical and economic similarities.  There’s a high quality of life, affordable housing, quality healthcare, a well-educated workforce, a strong music and arts scene, and many other mirroring attributes.

IMG_7687Currently, Adelaide and Austin are working on Smart City strategies, including hosting large events and festivals.  Both identify future jobs and 21st Century capabilities across education, entrepreneurship, events, film, innovation, music, and workforce.  There’s a strong startup and arts scene in both, such as the Adelaide Film Festival, Entrepreneurs Week, Fringe Festival, Open State and Austin’s SXSW.

The tangible benefits of sister-city relationships lie in trade and economic development, international education, cultural exchange, knowledge and information sharing, and tourism.

Adelaide’s Sister City Program is a blueprint to leverage these advantages and these cities are making great strides to mutually benefit from this partnership.

The South Australian capital has four additional sister cities – Christchurch, George Town, Himeji, and Qingdao. For Austin, they share 12 ‘sister’ alliances – Angers, Antalya, Gwangmyeong, Koblenz, Lima, Maseru, Oita, Old Orlu, Saltillo, Taichung, and Xishuangbanna.

These cross-continent partnerships offer new ways of thinking about collaborating and connecting. For example, Austin can be positioned as the gateway to the USA for Adelaide, and vice versa – serving as a soft landing pad for entrepreneurs and startups.

Tourism wise, the cities could attract visitors during major events like SXSW and Adelaide Fringe Festival, encouraging a house swap structure. Austin and Adelaide can collaborate on Smart City strategies and identify future jobs – across shared areas such as education, entrepreneurship, events, film, innovation, music and workforce.

Education & future workforce

More Texas college graduates are completing post graduate study to better prepare for the workforce.  And the student age is rising, too.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, nearly three-quarters of graduate students are over 25.  At community colleges, that number is one in four.  Interestingly, the biggest salary gap (up to $17,000 per year) is between the Bachelor’s degree and post-graduate.  Retraining and learning new techniques will be the ‘new wave of the future.’

Austin has a young, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural workforce; one that can help drive the economy if capitalised on.  The challenge, as always, is resources.

St. Pauls Creative Centre in Adelaide is home to a collective of new talent looking to break into innovative new sectors. Creative hubs are becoming the norm as advancements in technology continue with workers changing roles increasingly rapidly, as many in manufacturing and finance continue to lose roles to automation and outsourcing.

Projects such as the North Terrace Biomedical Precinct, the Future Submarines contract and Tonsley Innovation Hub are creating opportunities for future students, and the Government’s new science and technology strategy in schools aim to ensure they have the skills to take those jobs.

Entrepreneurship & innovation

The strength of Silicon Valley is in the mixes of a highly entrepreneurial culture and investors.  Regions around the world, such as sister cities, can encourage this entrepreneurial spirit.  Austin is being hailed as the ‘Silicon Hills’, for its emergence of tech companies and a young, creative workforce.

Austin came in number one in the CNBC America’s Best Places to Start a Business.  Like Adelaide, Austin works its small population to its strength – leading the pack in categories including: environment for small-business success, the cost of doing business, quality of life, labour force, and diversity.  Lifestyle matters, especially for young people looking for a lower cost of living.

Austin’s buzzing entrepreneurial ecosystem includes hubs such as Austin Technology Incubator, Capital Factory and the Techstars Austin Accelerator, with start-up density.

City officials and community leaders have long sought to stem the rise of economic disparity by providing equal access to technology. Funding and federal grants are also viewed by Austin as vital to driving entrepreneurial thinking, such as the Digital Inclusion Program.

In recent years, Adelaide has become ‘the best innovation hotspot in Australia.’ On the back end of declining manufacturing and mining sectors, the state has invested in the entrepreneurial community. In Adelaide’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, there’s 116 support programs, 18 coworking spaces, 13 incubators, and the new Tonsley ‘tech’ facility.

Smart & green

Austin’s Green Lane Project, a two-way protected bike lane, is overcoming major connections and re-energising its sleepy downtown area.  This initiative is helping to ease traffic to and from the university and music area. Sustainable buildings are also in the city’s vision, in particular at the University of Texas.

The University’s Sustainability Policy draws attention to the impact of construction projects, showing how to incorporate green design methods.  Austin leads the nation in its green building scene.  A community-owned, electric utility company, Austin Energy has established the Green Building Program, designed to promote green comfort.

Last month, delegates visited Adelaide to learn about the range of technology infrastructure projects – from smart parking and lighting, to the deployment of environmental sensors serving open data to the community.

One of the city’s current initiatives, the Smart Parking pilot project, will allow city drivers to locate, pay and top-up street car park cards via a mobile app. This reduces the need for parking machines and paper wastage.

Liveable & creative

Austin has over 200 music venues, living up to its name, ‘Home of the Blues.’  It’s a mecca for film buffs, foodies, wine lovers, and arts.  There’s a food and wine festival, dozens of music shows, and of course, the famous SXSW.  Austin has been rated ‘extremely liveable’, with a rating of 77, in comparison to the country’s score of 66.

Similarly, Adelaide has been ranked as the ‘World’s fifth most liveable city’, two years running. The city comes alive during the summer months with back-to-back festivals like the Adelaide Fringe, and Film Festivals, WOMADelaide, and Clipsal 500.

Now, there’s something on every month. Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June, SALA Festival in August, OzAsia Festival in October, Feast Festival in November, and dozens of smaller events.  Pick a region and there’s festivals peppered throughout the calendar, with McLaren Vale’s Sea and Vines, a shining example.

Festivals Adelaide is the first alliance of a city’s major arts and cultural festivals in the southern hemisphere. The city is known for its buzzing arts scene. Festivals and events are central to the personality of the state. And with the recent liquor license changes, there’s hole-in-the-wall bars and cafes popping up on almost every corner.

Economic value

Creativity is encouraged in Austin. In fact, it accounts for $4.3 billion in economic activity and attracts new businesses and people to the city.  In 2015, Austin had the second fastest growing economy in the United States, when their GDP grew at a 5% rate.

Local Economist Jon Hockenyos believes it’s due to continually attracting both skilled labour and in-demand jobs.  Quality of life and affordability is closely tied to Austin’s success.

A new report reiterates Austin’s strengths and shows that the city is one of only four areas to ‘have it all’ – economic growth, living standards, and inclusion.  As 2016 came to a close, Austin celebrated a 96.5% employment rate. Adelaide’s unemployment rate rose to 7.3% in April – a concerning trend that could be helped through the cross pollination of strategies, through the sister affiliation program.

Austin and Adelaide both are leaders when it comes to smart cities.  Both share a desire to improve the way people experience their city’s services and spaces. The sister-city relationship is important to help each other fast-track growth and thrive.

If you’d like to leverage the sister city relationships for economic and workforce development outcomes or head to SXSW 2018 then please contact Wendy via

June 2017

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