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Leigh Christie, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce

Episode 26 | November 19, 2018

After stints as a lawyer, an entrepreneur, and a nonprofit leader, Austin native Leigh Christie now helps to grow Austin businesses at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. As the Senior Vice President of Global Technology and Innovation, Leigh says, “my main goal is to attract capital into the Austin region” to ensure sustainable and healthy economic growth. “I’m born and raised in Austin, so I have this vested interest in making sure that our economy continues to grow and continues to be healthy.”

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Building Austin Business Investment

The Chamber is a privately funded organization that exists to spotlight and support Austin companies. In addition to supporting existing programs, Leigh works it identify gaps in the funding ladder for our companies. She says a big part of her job is to ask, “How can we bring in more investors to help the companies that are not getting funding locally? What does that look like?” That includes working with high net worth individuals and asset managers in places as far-flung as Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen who are looking for a way to deploy capital outside their country, and introducing them to Austin.

“Everyone’s heard of Texas, right? But really the question is why Austin?” To the many people who are only deploying capital into the coasts, Leigh’s job is to answer that question. She says, “Austin is truly a gem in the state of Texas. We are a business friendly state and a business friendly city. What we do, we do really well, and we do a lot really well. People are really shocked to see how much we have as an innovation eco-system, everything from Dell Medical School to Capital Factory to MassChallenge – the list goes on and on and on. People are floored with the companies that we have here. They don’t realize how many headquartered companies we have. They don’t realize that we have so many plants in the Austin region.” One of the biggest selling points for Austin is South by Southwest because of how well known it is even internationally.

That does not mean, however, that Austin is competing against other Texas cities for investment. Leigh points out as a successful model the way that Josh Baer of Capital Factory of “leading with Texas.” Leigh says highlighting Texas first and Austin second doesn’t diminish the city. “Austin is unlike Dallas, San Antonio, Houston. There are benefits to each city. When we lead with Texas and collaborate with other cities, we all win. Choose Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, San Marcos, Austin, but stay in Texas. You don’t need to go outside of Texas to find an investment or an opportunity. We’ve got it all right here.”

Bringing Businesses to Austin

Much of the work that the Chamber does with companies looking to locate here is done behind closed doors. “If a company or an organization or a program looks at coming to Austin, they do so quietly to make sure Austin is where they want to be. There’s so much manpower that goes on behind putting together a pitch or a proposal and really showing what Austin has to offer. All that is done by the chamber on a daily basis with hundreds of companies.” Even when a company ultimately passes, as Amazon recently did, that work can still pay off down the road. “With HQ2 we were fortunate to make that top 20 list, which I have to say internationally speaks volumes for Austin.”

Because of our proximity to the legislature, the Austin Chamber also has an advocacy team and notes the decision to bring the Army Futures Command is an example of the close connection between business and the government. “You really can’t show up at any tech or innovation event in Austin anymore without having a government official there,” says Leigh, “and I think that bodes well for tech and innovation.”

Leigh is pleased to see that the companies coming here want to be part of the community and are immediately embedding themselves into Austin, as Google did spearheaded by Gerardo Interiano.

Keeping Businesses in Austin

Another key part of Leigh’s role is seeking out more representation and diversity in our companies. "I really want to make sure the Chamber is putting a spotlight on what Austin does really well in innovation and tech," she says. An example of the opportunity to do that is through the annual A-List event that showcases the best and brightest tech companies. Leigh looks for bootstrapped, women-led, diversity-led, high-tech, representation of all industries. That includes consumer packaged goods (CPG) and software as a service (SAAS) in addition to high-tech. “We need to make sure that we’re highlighting all of our companies that are doing well, not just one specific industry.”

Retaining companies, especially those with a local headquarters, is important when the economy is growing but perhaps even more beneficial during a downturn. “It’s so important that we support more headquartered companies being in Austin, and that we work with our startups and small and midsize companies as well as our big companies to stay in Austin and grow in Austin, and that’s because headquartered companies are usually recession proof.”

Looking Forward to the Future

So what does the future look like? The Austin Chamber is in the midst of an Opportunity Austin fundraising effort that will support their next five year cycle. Leigh says, “We already have a very healthy economy today, but what we’re making sure of is that our tomorrow and the future is just as solid as today.”

The Chamber’s programming going forward will addresses broad topics including:

  • Transportation – Austin Bergstrom airport, light rail, and vehicles
  • Advocacy – informing our community on civic issues
  • Education – educating and preparing students for the jobs that are available and that companies are looking to fill, including more collaboration between colleges and corporations
  • Economic development – ensuring that headquartered companies are moving to Austin, hiring our local talent pool, and giving back to our communities

Learn more about how to get involved at AustinChamber.org and by reaching out to Leigh.

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