December 9, 2021

Tech with Texas values — don’t relocate Silicon Valley, replace it

By Peter Rex

The tech exodus from the West Coast to Texas gained speed in 2021. At least 17 companies announced moves to Houston, Dallas, and Austin — including Elon Musk’s tech-driven carmaker, Tesla — while others are expanding in the state. Samsung just announced a $17 billion factory, while Hewlett Packard’s new Texas headquarters, just outside Houston, will be finalized in the coming months.

The transformation is thrilling. But it’s not nearly enough.

I say that as a tech CEO who moved my company from Seattle to Texas in 2020. I believe Texas must shape the future of tech, making it more responsible, respectful and empowering for all. Yet for that to happen, we need more than companies moving their headquarters or setting up new campuses. We need to build a new tech ecosystem altogether, such that every company in Silicon Valley has competitors in the Lone Star State.

Put simply: Texas must replace Big Tech with New Tech. Everyone in America is counting on us.

Despite Texas’ rise as a tech hub, the industry itself is still on the wrong track. That’s clear no matter which side of the political aisle you’re on. The right to free speech is increasingly on the outs, while censorship is in. The right to privacy is under siege, as tech companies look to profit off people’s most intimate information. Big Tech’s tendency toward monopoly is growing, too.

Having worked in Silicon Valley and Seattle, I know where these trends come from. Big Tech is funded, built and run by a tiny, radicalized elite. They typically train at the same schools, hold the same political and cultural beliefs, and look at the masses with the same disdain. The products and services they create tend to reflect it, enriching them without empowering the rest of us.

Americans know something’s wrong. A stunning 80 percent of the country wants Big Tech reined in, including the vast majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents. Yet tech’s problems won’t be solved if the same West Coast elites create the next generation of products, platforms and algorithms. New tech leadership must come from somewhere. Texas is the obvious choice.

As I’ve seen every day since moving here, Texans have a deep respect for the principles and practices that undergird America and human progress itself. There’s great respect for free speech and privacy. There’s a deep concern for lifting up the least fortunate. And there’s a strong undercurrent of faith, from a variety of traditions, that recognizes human dignity and the necessity of individual freedom.

Tech should be built on that foundation — and Texans are the ones to build it. That means social media companies that allow a vigorous debate between opposing views and don't censor political opinions. It means platforms and software makers that respect the right to privacy, online retailers that don’t ban books, apps that unlock people’s entrepreneurial ability instead of extracting value, and more.

Bottom line: We need a new tech ecosystem from top to bottom, from payment processing systems to cloud services to social media platforms to database providers to online retailers and more. Right now, we’re all at the mercy of Silicon Valley. With new and more principled tech companies to choose from, we’d finally get out from under Big Tech’s thumb.

The Texas story is one of pioneering and engineering, and what Texas has done with energy, it can now do with tech. The results could be even more impressive, both in local prosperity and the broader benefits to humanity. Everyone has a role to play in making it happen, from policymakers to professors to investors, innovators and employees.

If Texas won’t lead the way, no one will. Our state has the size, the swagger and the sense of right and wrong. Let’s be glad 2021 saw more tech companies move here. But let’s vow to make 2022 the year Texas moves tech in a new direction altogether.

Peter Rex is founder and CEO of Rex, which builds and invests in tech businesses.

Originally appeared on: Houston Chronicle