Six of the 10 fastest-growing suburban counties in the United States are in Texas. Fort Worth is America’s fastest-growing city with at least 500,000 residents; Austin is in second place. Each has a unique economic mix, culture and character, from the global gateways of Houston and Dallas to the technology and innovation hub of Austin. El Paso is the anchor of a thriving binational mega-region; San Antonio is a cultural center and a leader in life sciences.
The state’s changing demographics are just a part of the story; its changing economy and industrial mix is the other. I have spent more than 20 years working as an economic development adviser for cities around the world. What’s striking about Texas is the outsize role that the private sector, P3s (partnerships between governments and the private sector), developers and businesses of all sizes expect to play in policymaking.
That can be a bad thing, because companies can and do take undue advantage of the state’s business-friendly environment. But companies are not just attracted to Texas because of its low taxes, generous incentives and unrestricted land use. They genuinely value the idea of “limited government” and having a seat at the policymaking table. This is why we’re seeing so many California companies moving to Texas, or at least expanding into it — in the past year, for example, Oracle, Tesla and HP.
In my experience, Texas has a much more diverse broader group of community and policy stakeholders than you’d find in California, where city, state and county officials and metropolitan planning organizations are hugely powerful. Texas is no longer just about big oil and cattle; we have one of the most diversified economies in the country. Texas’s creative class — professionals, techies, scientists, educators and cultural types — has grown nearly 30 percent since 2010.
Yet Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican Party have embraced a top-down policy agenda that is backward-looking, excludes huge swaths of Texas’s citizenry and runs against the grain of many of its new stakeholders’ values. They are looking to shore it up by a combination of gerrymandering, voter suppression and relentless cultural warfare. As long as Texas continues to grow, they see no downside to it. But it seems to me and many other Texans that they are making a fatal miscalculation.
Most of the people and companies that have been drawn to Texas aren’t conservative pilgrims in search of an endless culture-war strife. Many of them — Republican soccer moms and Democratic software engineers, Hispanic building contractors and Black attorneys — are appalled by the G.O.P.’s divisive agenda. Results from the August 2021 University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll bear this out. Fifty-two percent say Texas is headed in the wrong direction — the worst wrong-track number we’ve seen since the project began.
Many Texans are deeply concerned about climate change: The state is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey and the severe winter storm of 2021. Many worry about their mounting health care costs: Almost two in 10 Texans have no health insurance, and the governor and Legislature have refused to expand Medicaid funding. Covid has taken the lives of almost 65,000 Texans, and the state’s low vaccination rate makes it likely there will be many more. The high-technology companies that have been driving so much of Houston’s and Austin’s growth don’t have to stay in Texas, and they won’t if it becomes harder for them to recruit top people to move here.