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Does Austin's Tech-Friendly Reputation Still Resonate Among SXSW Attendees?

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Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT
As throngs of tech-minded SXSW Interactive attendees descend upon Austin, some wonder what they might think of the city's recent spat with transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

Some Austin tech leaders have said that the Austin City Council’s recent regulations of companies like Uber, Lyft and AirBnB are driving investment and innovation out of the city. So, South by Southwest Interactive seemed like the best time to test this perception on folks outside of Austin.

“Austin has spent decades building a reputation as an innovative city, but our new City Council’s confusion about issue is destroying our reputation and driving away investment capital,” starts a piece by Capital Factory’s Executive Director Joshua Baer. In the Medium post, Baer is reacting to recent action by the council placing occupancy limits on short-term rentals, voting to phase out non-owner occupied rentals and deciding on a phased-in approach to getting more Uber and Lyft drivers fingerprinted. 
Certainly, some who work in local tech disagree with Baer’s reading of the Council’s action.  
"I am super duper worried that we so eagerly worship at the altar of disruption that we have altogether stopped actually trying to understand why some people don’t agree with us,” wrote tech consultant Josh Jones-Dilworth on his blog last month in response to Baer's take on the controversy. 

Jones-Dilworth collaborated with Mayor Steve Adler late last year to come up with "Thumbs Up!" — a badge program that would ideally delineate drivers who have gotten fingerprint-based background checks from those who have not. 

But what's the outside perspective on the regulation, and how does it bode for Austin's reputation as a tech-minded city? 

Mike Moorhead moved from Austin to southern California roughly four months ago. He now works for Cylance, a cyber security company. He said he sees the council regulations as an attempt to ebb growth.

Does Austin's Tech-Friendly Reputation Still Resonate Among SXSW Attendees?

Roeland Stekelenburg is from Amsterdam, and is in Austin for his tenth South by Southwest. When asked to weigh-in on the idea that the Council’s actions are hurting Austin’s tech growth, Stekelenburg disagreed.

Does Austin's Tech-Friendly Reputation Still Resonate Among SXSW Attendees?

Adena Lewis is the director of tourism and economic development for neighboring Bastrop County. While she did not take a stand on the council’s action, she said she is always watching the growth of tech industries in Austin – hoping that some of that will soon spread to Bastrop County.

Does Austin's Tech-Friendly Reputation Still Resonate Among SXSW Attendees?
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Credit Audrey McGlinchy/KUT
Yuval Yarden works for Philly Startup Leaders. She said in working with entrepreneurs, talk of local government regulations is last on people's minds.

Yuval Yarden works for Philly Startup Leaders, where she consults with founders on how to make real their startup ideas.

She said some businesspeople she works with end up moving to Austin. So, in her mind, the city’s image outside of Austin has not suffered. But, she said, government regulations (taxes, laws or incentives) are never on the first menu of topics her consultancy covers.

Does Austin's Tech-Friendly Reputation Still Resonate Among SXSW Attendees?

  This story was produced as part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.

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