A Victorian enclave in Texas: Georgetown (No. 2)
On the outskirts of Austin is an enclave of small-town living - and a close-knit business community.
GEORGETOWN, TEXAS (FORTUNE Small Business) -- "Ten years ago, there was almost nothing here," says Chris Damon of the view from his office window.
Now, the entrepreneur can see a bustling street full of shops in downtown Georgetown, Texas. This former agricultural trading post has become a city of more than 40,000 (according to local officials' latest count) - and the most attractive home for small businesses in the Austin area.
More than 2,300 businesses are active in Georgetown, including GX Creative Communications, the marketing firm Damon founded with his wife, Judith Manriquez, nine years ago. Though they compete with more established companies in Austin, 26 miles to the south, the couple has grown GX into a $2-million-a-year company with big-name regional and national clients, including Boar's Head Provisions and PBS.
Damon, 41, and Manriquez, 39, stayed in Georgetown after graduating from Southwestern University and commuted to Austin for jobs in journalism and PR. But after ten years, the couple realized that they had spent more time traveling to and from Austin than they had getting to know their neighbors. So they quit and headed south.
Like many growing areas, Georgetown set out to attract technology and healthcare businesses. A bioscience incubator was opened last year and is currently facilitating the growth of three local start-ups, and a new convention center is set to open in 2009.
But Georgetown's biggest asset turned out to be the historic Victorian-era buildings around the downtown square - including the building in which GX is headquartered. Their restoration has created a set of marquee locations now occupied by businesses as varied as artisan chocolate shops and law offices. The city issues façade improvement grants to help entrepreneurs remodel their spaces without damaging exteriors.
Georgetown nurtures its business community as much as its facades. Neighbors take care of each other - GX creates free marketing materials for nearby businesses, few of which could otherwise afford their services.
One surprising resource that can benefit local entrepreneurs: Sun City, an upscale retirement community built in Georgetown eight years ago.
"We have a hidden talent pool of retired captains of industry," Damon says.
When GX was gearing up to go after one of its biggest accounts to date, Boar's Head, Damon happened to meet a retired deli executive in a planning meeting for a local non-profit. It was his inside knowledge, says Damon, that helped GX land the deal.
That kind of community connection and small-town feel is what GX's founders love most about their town.
"I like how easy it is to make a difference," says Damon, who has sat on five different advisory boards for local organizations. "When I was working in Austin I led a transient experience. Now, this is a town that I can get my arms around."