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Technology & Entrepreneurship

When tech firms move to Texas, they mostly adjust to the political climate

Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

From Texas Standard:

“Don't California my Texas,” a popular saying sometimes sported by those who see the influx of California tech companies and their workers as a threat to conservative values. But even as the number of Silicon Valley companies and workers coming to the Lone Star State continues to rise, a long-predicted political shift hasn't happened. In fact, Texas politics has, especially on social issues, moved further right, and the public pushback from tech companies moving in has been muted,writes Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. a principal writer for CNet. He spoke with Texas Standard about why big tech firms have been largely content to accept Texas politics as they find it. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: You wrote that political observers are surprised with the public response from tech companies to the state's recent laws on issues like abortion, voting rights, policies on gender-affirming care and the like. Say a little bit more about why some are surprised by all this.

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho: I think most political observers were expecting a more resounding public rejection of these policies from the companies – something similar to what happened last year in Georgia, with a voting law, or with a bathroom bill from 2017 here in Texas. None of that happened here. So everybody was kind of surprised that given how conservative these policies have been, and given how much the tech community has grown in the state, particularly in Austin, we didn't see a lot of responses from these companies.

I wonder, though, if there isn't an underlying flaw in some of the logic here. When you think about some of the big tech companies that have come, Elon Musk, and even think of the founder of Twitter. Neither of these individuals would be described as liberal, most certainly. And I think a lot of people consider them to be rather conservative. So is the expectation misplaced.

When you talk about tech workers, tech professionals, just assuming that all of them are liberal or that all of them are libertarian, or that all of them are conservative is not really accurate. But rather, I think the expectation is because these companies and these professionals are moving from states and cities that have more progressive policies. The expectation is that when they come here and they see state policies they might oppose, they might consider taking action or not coming altogether, mostly because some of these social policies are seeking to limit individual rights that in other states are more fully realized.

Are we seeing employees, perhaps more liberal employees who've come to Texas sort of finding themselves at a crossroads reconciling, say ,their personal values with their wallets?

Well, a couple experts I interviewed basically made that point, that being liberal in Texas is, as one UT Austin professor told me, basically costless because the state doesn't make big investments in education or health care. So you can come to Texas, really have a good salary, especially if you work in tech, and be outraged or uncomfortable with the investment that the state is making in these areas. But you and your wallet don't really suffer from them. And if you're in tech, you have a pretty good salary. You are making significantly above the median household income in Texas. So you can sort of offset the expenses that might come from living in a place that doesn't provide health care solutions or better education for your kids. They're kind of compromise. They say, “OK, yeah, this is bad, but I'm making so much here compared to what I would make if I lived in San Francisco or New York that, OK, I can live with this.”

Some listening to this conversation might say, maybe there's another explanation. Maybe there just aren't enough tech workers – that Texas hasn't reached that kind of tipping point. What do you see in the future?

I think it's not just the workers. One expert in demographic and how elections have played out in regards to how the state has grown over the past few years, told me that political experts and demographic experts expect that Texas will elect Democratic officials at the state level again by 2030, just because how places like Austin, Houston, Dallas that usually lean Democratic or liberal keep growing. So at some point, if these metropolitan areas that are more democratic or that lean Democratic keep growing and those citizens start participating in elections at the primary level in higher numbers, the state will reach a tipping point. So it's not just workers, it's also these residents of these metropolitan areas.

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