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How Texas Can Rocket To The Top

When Space X sent the SN8 “Starship” rocket into the blue skis over Boca Chica Beach along the Texas coast on December 9, space flight began to look a little different.

That such an industry transformation began in Texas won’t surprise any Texans.

Innovation and invention are not new to us; many industry-changing innovations have their origin in our state.   Not only is Silicon Valley taking notice, many there are joining us here, with Oracle the latest example.

A Nobel Prize-winning Texas Instruments engineer invented the integrated circuit in 1958.  The first artificial heart transplant was performed at the Texas Heart Institute in 1969, and the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies of the ’80s and ’90s make Texas the star of the energy industry today.

I know what you’re thinking – Texas doesn’t need transforming.  It’s hard to disagree but hear me out.

After all, in the last decade Texas has won more awards for job growth and healthy business climate than the other 49 states combined. 

U.S. corporate executives recently ranked Texas the number one state for business for the eighth consecutive time.  And by a wide margin — 48% of survey respondents favored our business climate compared to second place Georgia’s 25% favorability.

“Business Facilities” released its 16th Annual report, with Texas leading as the state with the best business climate, a repeat of 2019 and a record-breaking 4th “State of the Year” award.

Not to be outdone, “Area Development” presented Texas with a 2020 Gold Shovel for achievement in attracting high-value investment projects that will create a significant number of new jobs in their communities.

These aren’t hollow accolades.   Corporate re-locations and expansions continue on a record pace.

Still, there’s always room for improvement and innovation is the formula to get there.

How do we continue our rocket fuel growth, stay on top and, dare we say, do things even better?   Innovation, the driver of most economic growth. 

Don’t get me wrong; Texas does a lot of things right.

We have public sector organizations like the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute (CPRIT) that are national models.  The Governor’s University Research Initiative and the Texas Academy of Medicine Engineering and Science are hubs for the brightest minds in the country to create and innovate.  

A robust innovation economy starts with a strong research base and these are solid building blocks.

Our friends at Merriam and Webster tell us that Innovation can refer to something new or to a change made to an existing product, idea, or field and generally falls into one of four different categories  – Incremental, Disruptive, Architectural and Radical. 

We won’t dive into the differences here but suffice to say that all forms of innovation foster a competivtive economic ecosystem and drive growth.

But as UT-Austin Professor of Innovation, Bob Metcalfe – an inventor of the Ethernet, no less —  has said: research is not enough to change the world. We must better commercialize and scale our research results for impact. That starts by showing up and educating ourselves on all forms of innovation.

Innovation is the primary currency of economic growth, and while the contributions of heroic entrepreneurs and pioneering companies are important, economically relevant innovation — on a regional scale — is mostly the product of robust and efficient innovation ecosystems.

Among industrialized nations, the ability of regions to swiftly create new ideas and transform those ideas into high growth companies is the key determinant of regional wealth creation.

Notably, even Texas public education is getting in on the transformation act with Districts of Innovation.

Big companies like Dell, IBM, Toyota and Rackspace are partnering with school districts and offering technical training to high school students so they’ll be prepared to fill the jobs they create.

Smaller companies like Texas-based Bresatech are re-inventing the Digital Transformation Journey for large companies like Amazon and Apple and in the public sector in Florida and Texas through a “centered out” design approach to  minimize the trappings and risk of the most common mistakes an organization makes.

Market-leader Synexis has partnered with Trane Technologies to install its breakthrough, proprietary Dry Hydrogen Peroxide technology in K-12 schools to continuously improve indoor environmental quality and reduce pathogens in the air and on surfaces.

Silicon Valley doesn’t have a lock on the next big thing in innovation and rapid-scale industries.  While they innovate mostly with bits of information, Texas does so with atoms that matter, including microcircuits, aortas, shale deposits, batteries and immune systems. Those last two won Texas scientists Nobel Prizes.

As Metcalfe has observed, commercializing research — taking inventions from the mind to the marketplace — still needs to improve in Texas. We need to win increased federal investment in Texas research, to expand access to venture capital and to improve our research centers. By doing so our state will more quickly span the various valleys of death that keep successful research from going to scale in world markets.

But we’ll get there – Texas always does.  Who’s got next?