Imagine a high-tech startup trying to recruit in a state where anyone can carry a handgun without training or permit, social media companies are under attack, voting is increasingly restricted, abortion is all but illegal and the power goes off for days in the winter.
That’s exactly the situation in California’s arch business rival Texas, where a gerrymandered state legislature is passing a slew of right-wing bills, demonstrating its rural focus and accompanying disdain for the views of the sophisticated residents of Austin, Dallas and Houston.
Texas’ hard-right turn comes with a tinge of religious fundamentalism. As state Rep. Matt Schaefer explained in authoring the gun-rights bill, Texans will be able to “exercise their God-given right to self-defense.” And Gov. Greg Abbott thanked “our Creator” when he signed a bill banning abortions after six weeks.
This no doubt delights the Republican base — and will win accolades from former President Trump — but it’s unlikely to improve the state’s business climate. Dallas-based American Airlines said as much about the voting bill.
“As a Texas-based business, we must stand up for the rights of our team members and customers who call Texas home, and honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote,” the company said in a statement.
For years Texas has courted California companies, promising low taxes and a business-friendly environment. That may be fine for traditional metal-bending manufacturing where low wages trump new technology, but what about Silicon Valley-style breakthrough innovation?
Well, Texas doesn’t like companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, and doesn’t want their ilk in the Lone Star state.
“The First Amendment is under assault by these social media companies, and that will not be tolerated in Texas,” said Abbott in March.
Now Texas hasn’t stopped trying to poach companies. As Abbott told a TV interviewer in December, ““I have been on the phone on a weekly basis with CEOs across the country, and it’s not just California.”
CEOs can certainly move their company headquarters, but what well-educated young engineer wants to build her career in a state that restricts her voting and reproductive rights?
What bright business school graduate with an idea for the next great consumer product wants to worry whether a disgruntled employee will walk in with a perfectly legal concealed handgun?
And what new 24×7 service business wants to gamble its future on a state where stodgy fossil-fuel utilities coddled by the state legislature can’t keep the power on?
Building a business isn’t primarily about wages, expenses and taxes. It’s about envisioning the future. And the future is unlikely to materialize in a fundamentalist, gun-toting, Jim Crow kind of place.
California will remain the Golden State when its comes to building innovative new businesses.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.