September 11, 2019

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Key Points for Presidential Contenders Debating in Innovation-Friendly Texas

By
TechNet Southeast Executive Director David Edmonson

Ten Democratic presidential contenders will gather in Houston on Thursday night for the third primary debate — in a state so large, dynamic, and diverse that it embodies the opportunities and challenges we face as a nation in the 21st century.  

From the tech industry’s standpoint, the debate comes at a time of mounting trade tensions and increased scrutiny from policymakers and regulators, but also unprecedented innovative engineering feats and entrepreneurship that are creating new economic opportunities and improving lives.  This presents a golden opportunity to hear candidates’ visions for continuing U.S. global economic, technological, and innovation leadership.  After all, innovation and technological advancement are in Texas’ DNA.

Every day across the Lone Star State, a vibrant tech sector continues to flourish and expand.  The next generation of space exploration is being planned, engineers are reinventing the energy sector, top-notch research universities are carrying out pioneering work across various fields, and scientists are revolutionizing the fight against cancer.

Today, the Texas economy is as diverse as ever, and technology is a key reason for it. The tech sector in Texas was responsible for 983,000 jobs and $142 billion in economic activity last year.

Companies like Dell and National Instruments were born in Texas and continue to create jobs and new innovations here.  Plus, the future of homegrown innovation in Texas is also bright as communities across the state continue to embrace the startup economy.  In TechNet’s rankings of U.S. cities that are effectively promoting innovation and startup growth, Austin ranked sixth, Dallas 16th, and Houston 22nd.

In addition to organic, Texas-led innovation and growth, many other tech companies — including Facebook, Google, Oracle, and Uber, among others — have made significant investments in Texas, whether through new campuses, offices, research and development (R&D) centers, or data centers.  In fact, Apple’s Austin campus is already their biggest population of employees in the world outside of their Cupertino headquarters.

As the presidential candidates debate in Texas and continue laying out their agendas, here are some other key things they should keep in mind:

China Tariffs Are Undermining Texas Consumers, Businesses, Farmers, and the Entire U.S. Economy: The trade war with China is hurting jobs, undermining the entire U.S. economy and inflicting very significant damage on Texas, a state that has seen $10 billion of its exports to China targeted for retaliation.  

Everyone running for President should understand that tariffs on technology also harm other sectors of the U.S. economy that rely on innovative technologies to run their businesses more effectively.  This includes America’s farmers, who are among the most negatively impacted by the tariff war between the U.S. and China.  In addition to the crops being targeted, higher tariffs on technology products they increasingly use to manage water, detect diseases, and make better decisions are hurting them as well.  This includes robots, sensors, cameras, fuel cells, and specialized batteries, as well as cloud computing and artificial intelligence applications.  In addition to farms, our industry’s products are being put to use each day to enhance communication, efficiency, and productivity — in offices, factories, schools, hospitals, airports, and across all state government entities.  These tariffs are taxes on all of them.

China must be held accountable for its unfair trade practices, but these tariffs are taxes that hurt U.S. consumers, workers, and job creators.

And, Mexico Tariffs Would Further Damage Texas’ Economy: While the China tariffs have been a reality for more than a year, the specter of a tariff war with Mexico continues to cast a shadow over our economy.  Texas is by far and away America’s leading trading partner with Mexico.  It is imperative to stand firmly against tariffs against Mexico because they would damage an economic engine for Texas that last year generated over $200 billion in trade.  Earlier this year, we appreciated the bipartisanship demonstrated by Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas congressional delegation in opposing these tariffs.  The Texas and Mexican economies have been linked for centuries and generated enormous economic opportunity on both sides of the border, for the benefit of both of our populations.  This should continue, regardless of who is President.

Pass the USMCA: This fall, Congress should pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  The deal represents a long overdue modernization of our trade relationship with our neighbors to the north and south by adopting strong rules for digital trade, intellectual property, customs, and cybersecurity, among other key areas.  Trade with Canada and Mexico is an important part of the Texas economy.  Overall, nearly 950,000 Texas jobs are supported by trade with the two countries, and the state exported $127 billion worth of goods to both countries in 2017, including computer and electronic products.

Embrace Worker Freedoms Made Possible By Gig/On-Demand Economy: The rise of the gig and sharing (or “on-demand”) economy has created new jobs and income opportunities in virtually every corner of the country, including all across Texas.  This has allowed people to work independently and on flexible schedules that make most sense for them, use their personal property to generate income, help them expand their businesses, and provide for themselves and their families.  It is imperative that policymakers work closely with innovators in this space and other stakeholders to ensure that these opportunities can continue to expand, remain flexible, and meet consumers’ demand.  Earlier this year, we saw Texas embrace this approach with positive results when it established a new consumer delivery permit that allows for safe and legal delivery of alcohol from a retailer to a consumer.  More states should look to this cooperation as an example of how to further promote enhanced consumer experiences and income opportunities that innovative on-demand platforms have made possible.

The Tech Industry’s Long-Standing Partnership with the U.S. Military Must Continue: After California, Texas is home to more military installations and military personnel than any other U.S. state.  And, Austin is the home of the Army Futures Command, whose mission is to accelerate the military’s modernization efforts.  Just as technology powers every sector of our economy today, it is also key to keeping our military ahead of the evolving global threats we face.  Thus, it is imperative that we continue making significant investments in R&D of cutting-edge innovations such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and quantum computing, among others.  Ultimately, achieving superiority in these emerging technologies, and enhancing our cybersecurity capabilities, are essential for U.S. national and economic security.  The candidates should support this continued partnership between the U.S. military and our world-leading tech sector.

Taking Care Of Our Veterans Includes Education and Workforce Development: Texas is home to the second largest veteran population in the U.S.  Ensuring that they have the best medical care must remain top of mind.  Additionally, one of the best ways we can thank them for their service is to position them for successful transitions to civilian life.  For the tech industry’s part, we remain focused on education and workforce policies that help facilitate the transition of service members to civilian life and put the skills they have developed in the military to work in STEM careers — for example, through initiatives like S. 153/H.R. 425, the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act.

Cybersecurity and Modernizing Government IT Systems: Although we do not expect to hear anything during this debate specifically about the importance of modernizing the federal government’s information technology (IT) systems, we do hope these debates will focus greater attention on cybersecurity and the candidates’ plans in this area.  For our part, it is important to highlight the ongoing cybersecurity threat posed to outdated and insecure technologies still being used by governments at all levels — most recently evidenced by the 22 local governments in Texas that were targets of ransomware attacks.  Regardless of who the next President is, he or she should commit to continuing the important work of implementing the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act.

Tech Is At Work Improving Lives Across Texas, Especially In Times Of Need: Whether on the debate stage in Houston or in the months ahead in this campaign, we hope to hear from candidates an appreciation for the many positive benefits that U.S. innovations have provided the American people and the world.  We understand that with this leadership role tech has assumed comes a responsibility to ensure our nation’s values are reflected in our work and that we can ultimately be proud of what we have shared with the world.  Every day, tech is at work trying to solve some new or long-vexing problem by applying technology to it.

Houston and Texas understand this as well as any place.

For example, it is home to some of the world’s preeminent cancer research and treatment centers.  Aiding these efforts are tech companies that are making medical advancements in the field of cancer research through machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing.  These efforts are helping doctors and researchers enhance early detection, improve treatments, glean better insights from the seemingly endless body of data and medical research that exists in this area, and quickly share their findings with each other and with patients.  In doing so, they are helping save lives and improve life expectancy.

And, when Hurricane Harvey brought devastating winds, rain, and flooding to Texas in 2017, we witnessed modern technology playing an important role in relief and recovery efforts.  Innovative tech companies served as trusted partners to governments and emergency response teams, helping them connect, inform, and save lives.

In closing, the U.S. simply would not be a global innovation leader without Texas.  And, there are lessons from Texas’ experience that can be applied to ensure the United States’ continued global technological and economic leadership.  During the debates, we hope to hear how candidates will enable a pro-innovation agenda in communities across the country — including Texas.  This is important not only for winning this debate and rising in the polls, but also in presenting a compelling and inclusive message to the many Texans who benefit from tech ahead of the March 3 primary there next year.

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