Jun 27, 2023 - News

Austin chefs and artists head to Lockhart

Class of 2023 graduates honk and wave as they drive through Lockhart's historic downtown square. Photo: Nicole Cobler/Axios

Lockhart, the once-sleepy town 35 miles south of Austin, is poised for explosive growth.

Catch up quick: Any good Texan knows that it's the barbecue capital of Texas and it's on the painful stretch of U.S. 183, where you're sure to hit every traffic light as you head from Austin to South Texas.

  • In other words: For many, it has long been a pit stop for lunch while heading out of town.
  • But now, Lockhart is growing at a rapid clip as musicians, creatives, retirees and others leave Austin in search of a lower cost of living and small-town life.

Driving the news: In recent years, Austin-area restaurateurs have begun setting up shop in the town, making the city a destination for a day trip or weekend getaway.

  • In another sign of that expansion, Austin Regional Clinic founding CEO Norman Chenven tells Axios the company will open a location in the town next year.
  • "We're trying to follow the growth of Central Texas," he says. "We are committed to our population here. People are being pushed out to the periphery by real estate costs and the busyness of downtown ... and we're just going where our patients go. We're literally following them."

Catch up quick: Lockhart owes its grand, 19th-century courthouse and old-West brick facades to its early preeminence as the starting point of the Chisholm Trail, and then as an important regional cotton processing center.

What they're saying: Kim Clifton, the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce's director of operations, attributes the city's recent growth to the lower cost of living, the feeling of a small-town community and its proximity to larger cities like Austin and San Antonio.

  • "There's a large tourism market here, so I do think it's possible to be able to open a business and sustain that business," Clifton told Axios.

By the numbers: As in the rest of Austin's suburbs, our new work-from-home world accelerated Lockhart's population.

  • Lockhart's Caldwell County gained 800 residents from July 2020 to July 2021, a 1.8% increase.
  • To be clear, Lockhart is still tiny, with a population of nearly 15,000 people — a number that grew 4.2% from April 2020 to July 2022, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
  • But Lockhart's office of economic development found that over the past 10 years, employment in Caldwell County grew 32%. Plus, 5,000 new homes are set to be built in or near Lockhart in the next three years, per the economic development office.

The bottom line: Clifton said she hopes lifelong Lockhart residents and newcomers will work together to shape the town's future.

  • "We need to have people from both sides of things heavily involved in leadership positions in town so that we can find a good balance between what's new and what's old," she said. "There's a younger generation of people like myself who are coming into leadership positions — who are from here and grew up here and are more open-minded and open to change but still have the emotional connection."

Go deeper: Where to eat and things to do in Lockhart

Axios Austin reporter Asher Price contributed to this report.

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