Jobs, schools bring growing Asian population to Austin area


When Sujit Banerjee, CEO of Monolith Semiconductors, was scouting for a location for his New York business, he wanted to be in the Austin area and Round Rock seemed like the best fit, he said.

He was drawn by the strong school district, a culture he found friendly to startups, and nice parks and trails. Banerjee, who moved to the United States from India in 1997, relocated to Round Rock in 2014 and brought his business there last year.

By doing so, he joined a growing wave of Asians settling in the Austin metro area, particularly in Williamson County.

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Data the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday shows Williamson County’s Asian population has increased 52 percent in the last five years, including a 10 percent bump from 2014 to 2015. That outpaces the county’s total population growth of 19 percent in five years.

And it pushed Asians, population 31,406, past blacks, 31,377, as the second-largest minority group in Williamson County. Hispanics are still the county’s largest minority group, with 122,527.

Asians were also the fastest-growing ethnic group from 2010 to 2015 in Bastrop, Hays and Travis counties, as well as Texas as a whole.

Even so, Asians account for a relatively small slice of the overall population — just over 6 percent in Williamson and Travis, and almost 1.5 percent in Hays. Larger groups, such as Hispanics, are adding more people, even by growing at a slower rate.

The Census data does not distinguish between immigrant Asians and Asian-Americans, but observers said both are moving to the area.

“The Asian community is just growing, period,” said Marina Bhargava, executive director of the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce. “It comes from all different ways. Immigrants. People coming to school here and staying and people coming from other parts of the U.S.”

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The Round Rock school district has seen its percentage of Asian-American students rise from 12 percent in 2010 to 14 percent in 2015, said Corey Ryan, a district spokesman. The district has needed to increase its English language offerings for Asian students and added a Mandarin Chinese class to Canyon Vista Middle School.

The Round Rock public library added a once-monthly Chinese story time for preschoolers in November 2013 after assistant librarian Virginia Hadley noticed how many volunteer applications were coming from people who spoke Chinese. The storytime averages some 20 children a month, she said.

Tech jobs

Indians, Chinese and Vietnamese are the three fastest growing Asian groups in the area, Bhargava said. She called technology one major reason for the shift, noting that engineering programs tend to be full of foreign students.

Anu Nistala, a northwestern Austin resident who works at Dell, agreed.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m here,” she said. “All the large corporations: Dell, IBM, Apple. They’re all here. A lot of Asian people, they’re IT people.”

Another major component was Nistala’s decision to locate within the Round Rock school district, which she described as “very competitive.” Now, she enjoys the diversity of her company, where she recently met a new friend fasting in observance of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and decided to join her in skipping lunch.

“That’s the beauty of America, we all come from different places,” Nistala said. “I’m Hindu, but we celebrate Christmas and honor Ramadan.”

Suburban movement

Bhargava and Ryan Robinson, Austin’s city demographer, both said there’s been significant movement of Asians from Austin to farther-north suburbs like Round Rock and Pflugerville, similar to that of African-Americans. Affordability and school district choices are largely driving the flight, they said.

“I would say the Asian population is suburbanizing at even a faster rate,” Robinson said.

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Linh Tu, a Vietnamese-American from California, is part of that trend. Her family moved from Austin to Round Rock last year because of the needs of her daughter, who is paralyzed. In Round Rock it was easier to find a house to accommodate her daughter and Tu liked the school district better, she said.

She started a home healthcare business inspired by her daughter’s care, making her one member of what Bhargava called a particularly entrepreneurial Vietnamese community. Other Asian friends have come to Williamson County from elsewhere in Texas for the job opportunities, Tu said.

Derhsing Luu, president of environmental laboratory testing company DHL Analytical, moved his business from Austin to Round Rock in 1995 because he could buy more affordable space there.

A native of Taiwan, Luu came to the U.S. in 1989. He found a job quickly in Austin as a lab manager, and eventually opted to start his own business.

“People come to the U.S. with dreams, right?” he said. “The way I look at it, countries in Asia have dense populations, relatively speaking. To find a job nowadays over there is really difficult. To find a really good paying job is even more difficult. The U.S. is the land of opportunity.”



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