Final preparations underway as start of SXSW nears

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last minute preparations are underway at South by Southwest headquarters in downtown Austin. The employees here work year-round getting ready for Austin’s very own March madness.

The interactive festival director says it’s game time when his countdown clock gets to the single digits.

“On the one hand we’re exhausted from this last month of work,” said Hugh Forrest, SXSW Interactive director. “On the other hand, you get about your third or fourth or fifth wind with all this energy coming into town.”

This year marks 20 years at helm for Forrest. Could he ever imagine how big the festival would become?

“One, I did not imagine I would still be here,” he said, laughing. “Two, I had no concept that it would grow as big as it has grown.”

From a small regional tech event to one of the biggest in the world, 30,000 people are expected to attend this year.

And another record will be broken when it comes to the number of countries represented. Last year, there were 57. This year, 74.

“It’s fun to have so many creative people coming to Austin from all over the country, and all over the world, sharing their creativity, coming up with new ideas, new jobs, new partnerships,” Forrest added. “That’s a blast.”

Some of the hottest topics this year will be wearable technology such as watches and clothing that can track your speed and vitals.

Panelists will also tackle timely issues, like how to rebuild trust in online security after the massive data breach at Target.

A study last year found the SXSW festival and conferences had a more than $218 million impact on the local economy. That was up from $190 million the year before. Seven years ago, SXSW had a $95 million economic impact.

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