By TAB CEO Glenn Hamer
Ten months at the Texas Association of Business (TAB ) have blazed by after an action-packed 14-year run at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
My first assumption about Texas is wrong. I thought I was moving to a state, but Texas is more like a country. The roots here run deep. I meet many Texans who trace back their family ancestry three, four, seven, and even 12 generations to this land. On multiple occasions, I am in a room of five or more people and I’m the only non-native. That never happened in Arizona. Not once.
Texas is truly enormous! El Paso is closer to Phoenix than to Austin. Nevertheless, that does not stop me from exploring all of Texas. Thanks to an itinerary created by Aaron Cox, who serves as the executive director of the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives, I may be the chamber executive who has visited more chamber leaders and members than any human being in 2021 (an unofficial claim). We have a seasoned and accomplished group of local chamber leaders; meeting them feels therapeutic and inspirational–the people running America’s small businesses are solution-oriented and love this country dearly.
Texas food is the best in the world. Every BBQ place I visit in Texas offers an excellent and uniquely enjoyable experience. Beyond the barbecue, my wife loves the marvelous pecan trees and fresh pecans! The food trucks in Austin serve elite food.
Texas’s climate, warmer than that of my northeastern roots, is another selling point. As a former member of my high school weather club, I enjoy the unpredictable weather in Austin.
Boots matter in Texas. My original plan to get a pair at Nordstrom’s Rack did not go according to plan, but the Arizona Chamber’s thoughtful gift card secured a pair of Lucchese’s from Allen’s for me. They look good, but it will take more in-person events to break them in.
The welcoming nature of Texans is legendary. The first person to make me feel comfortable in Texas was Former Secretary of State, Ruth Hughs, at a major event soon after I arrived.
The officer corp at TAB is exceptional. Brint Ryan as Chair, Massey Villarreal as vice chair, Bill Jones as Treasurer, Eddie Aldrete as Secretary, and Becky Redman as past chair are dedicated to the organization. They have a deep love for Texas and an unwavering commitment to our purpose of championing the best business climate in the world and unleashing the power of free enterprise to enhance lives for generations.
Thank you to Drew Scheberle, co-founder and director of the National Security Innovation Council who also helps TAB, and A.J. Rodríguez of Texas 2036 for helping me get situated personally. And thank you to my friend, Starlee Coleman, who runs the Texas Charter Schools Association with incredible effectiveness and beat me to Texas by a few years after an accomplished run in Arizona, who was kind enough to invite me to a big event she was hosting on my birthday.
I want to thank Stephanie Matthews for her tireless work in leading our advocacy operation with elegance and being my sounding board on every key decision during my tenure. She is an incredible force for good and a consummate team player and manager. Cindy Marks, executive assistant, keeps me in one pice. A big thanks to Jessica Attas and Katie Greer for taking a chance to leave great jobs to join TAB. John Wittman and Ray Sullivan have been hugely helpful as consultants. And I am thankful every day that Megan Mauro had recently started at TAB when I joined. She’s an emerging superstar and is a great executer. As a result of her work I testified on Day Two of the job. In addition to all the people mentioned above, I also wanted to include Stephanie Simpson, who I’ve known for well over a decade. Stephanie helped me before I started and was the very first external person I met with on day one, she is now at Safonis leading their GR efforts. Dana Harris, formerly at the Austin Chamber and now at Samsung, helped me greatly understand the legislature and what to focus on from the start. Our Board Member, Mary Tipps, has been so helpful to everyone at TAB and did an extraordinary job leading the Keep Texas Trucking coalition - a TAB top Priority that passed successfully during the 87th legislative session. Thank you to all who have helped me and the TAB team the past 10 months!
Texas is the center of the free-market system for the world which is why I jumped at the opportunity to come to Texas. The size of the economy is about $2 trillion, which makes it the ninth largest amongst world nations, ahead of countries like Italy, Brazil and Russia. (Again, Texas is more of a country than a state). Texas also exports significantly more than any state in the US – more than New York and California combined. When it comes to exporting tech goods, Texas again takes the lead. The world’s pound-for-pound tech superpower leader Israel recognized Texas’s flourishing environment for tech through the establishment of an important research office, the Israel-US Binational Industrial R&D Foundation, in Austin. Like Arizona, the number one export country by far for Texas is Mexico, but in Texas, the border shared with our friend, ally, and neighbor encompasses four Mexican states. Texas also has 29 ports of entry – more than any other state. Trade is an area that TAB will expand on ‘22. (I’ve visited Mexico City twice since coming on board.) Stay tuned!
For 17 years straight, CEO Magazine has ranked Texas as the top state for business. The Governor’s office holds the many trophies from Site Selection magazine for Texas being the top economic development state in the country – nine years in a row, and counting.
The most recognizable (and wealthiest) business leader on the planet, Elon Musk, and his $1 trillion company, Tesla, call Texas home. Top entrepreneurs such as Joe Lonsdale and Peter Rex have moved to Texas as well. The newcomers are changing Texas for the better. They know why they came to Texas and are fostering an environment of free speech and innovation. The cancel culture scene has not taken root in Texas. You can speak and think. It doesn’t hurt that top podcaster, Joe Rogan, now calls Texas home.
Great companies like Oracle, HP and Charles Schwab have moved headquarters to Texas, and more are coming. The state is now the semiconductor capital of the world with $47 billion of new investment from Texas Instruments and Samsung in the month of November alone.
The workforce is skilled and diverse, with a Texas Workforce Commission connected to business through the commissioner assigned to employers, Aaron Demerson. The higher education systems are strong and growing stronger with powerful engineering programs.
The internal infrastructure is strong. The airports in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin are adding new international routes routinely.
The momentum is palpable.
The business-friendly handling of COVID-19 has helped the state’s recent growth. Vaccines are encouraged, but Texas respects personal choice. (I chose to vax and got boosted.) People are living and working. It is no coincidence that Texas has recovered all of its jobs since the start of the pandemic and has added more people in the last year than any other state, with Florida and Arizona rounding out the top three.
In addition to skilled people and a strong infrastructure, Texas has business friendly policies such as zero income tax, a light regulatory touch, and powerful economic development incentives that help attract businesses.
Texas also has excellent economic development leaders. The governor’s head of economic development and tourism, Adriana Cruz, is a talented and unifying force in a state where regional autonomy is respected. Robert Allen, President and CEO at the Texas Economic Development Corporation (Go Big in Texas) is a great champion for the entire state.
The civil justice environment is business friendly and always improving thanks to the great work of Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Richard Weekley and his team are a major reason why Texas has been so attractive to manufacturers and other businesses.
It also helps that three large population states, California, New York, and Illinois have anti-job policies, with high taxes and a regulatory environment hostile to free enterprise. Texas gained two congressional seats this last census– the only state to do so– while the states mentioned above lost one each. People are voting with their feet.
The Texas legislature meets in a regular session every other year, which provides greater policy stability and greater thought into bills that become law. Less is more. However, special sessions can be called– three were called in 2021– when conditions warrant them.
The unique set-up of the Lt. Governor’s position as the controller of the agenda of the Senate is different from other states. The current Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, governs the legislative body with more discipline than I’ve ever witnessed. It’s also interesting to note that while Texas has 36 (soon-to-be 38) seats in the US House of Representatives, it has only 31 state senators. Those spots are highly prized, and without any term limits, extremely powerful.
The Speaker of the Texas House, Dade Phelan, brings a human and humble touch to a very important position.
What’s also different is that Texas is the only state that I’m aware of where members of the minority party chair key committees. While this doesn’t always change the final votes, it does help promote bipartisanship and comity. It also helps Texas escape – more than other states – the toxic partisanship that exists in Washington, DC.
Governor Abbott does an outstanding job promoting Texas. He’s everywhere when it comes to big job announcements. Whether it’s avocados, vehicles, cheese or semiconductors, or you name the industry–he’s present.
Sen. Cornyn is perhaps the most important Republican leader on Capitol Hill. A Senator’s senator, he’s doing everything possible to make the “world’s (formerly) greatest deliberative” body work on tough issues like border security, immigration and great power competition with China. His work on semiconductors is a big deal for the US to remain as the world’s top military and economic power. He sees the big picture. And the junior senator, Ted Cruz, is not shy about calling out the administration on misguided policies, like how it’s hostile to domestic energy production while begging OPEC to pump more oil.
Gratitude for Arizona
I want to acknowledge the state I left, Arizona. It’s also a great and growing state with a booming economy. I used to say that Texas has no income tax but Arizona has Sandra Watson– the head of the Arizona Commerce Authority, the state’s economic development head– to promote Arizona. She’s that good.
Governor Ducey has built on the operating system of former Governor Brewer in making Arizona a jobs juggernaut. A 2.5 percent flat tax — the lowest in the country for states that have an income tax — is an impressive achievement. The Governor has also dug in on K-12 educational reform and he’s now in the rarified air of Jeb Bush as all-time great governors on this front. He’s a good man who has permanently changed the trajectory of the state, and for those keeping score — the country, as the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association–with the election of Gov. Elect Glenn Youngkin in Virginia.
The senior senator from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema is the single most effective policymaker in Washington. She deserves the most credit for the passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. She also played the key role in eliminating job-killing tax hikes from the “Build Back Better” boondoggle that would have destroyed US economic competitiveness. She stood firm even when some deranged critics harassed her in a women's bathroom. While other senators hid under their desks despite concerns about the hard left hijacking the party’s agenda, she stood firm. Sen. Manchin obviously deserves credit for sticking a fork in the reconciliation package as well.
The long-time head of Arizona State University, Dr. Michael Crow, who transformed the university from a party school into an innovation and engineering powerhouse is tops in understanding how a modern university can deliver the complex hard and soft skills that businesses need. Everywhere I go, praises are deservedly sung for his vision.
I also want to thank an incredible line of chairs for their support. Starting with Steve Twist — who has done more to protect the rights of crime victims than anyone on the planet as well as to protect people from becoming victims in the first place through his work on Arizona’s criminal justice code and ending with Dawn Grove (now running for Attorney General) with terrific chairs in between like Susan Anable (two years) the chamber and the state were blessed.
It takes a team and teamwork to make a chamber run. I am grateful for the work of Garrick Taylor who was a partner on three stops for me–at the office of Congressman Matt Salmon in late ‘90s, press guru at the AZGOP, and the AZ Chamber press and legislative head. He’s the best communicator in Arizona, a policy maven on many issues including trade and immigration, and a gifted and loved manager.
And finally a big thanks to Courtney Coolidge, the head lobbyist at the Arizona Chamber, for making the job fun and easy for me. Although I’m a bit sore she wouldn’t let me testify at the legislature — they liked her better. She’s the best lobbyist in Arizona. And since I’m from the Bronx I will do what the Babe did once and call a shot. I believe she will wind up in Texas.
I fly back a lot because my wife and girls may have read too much Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry propaganda and it’s taking some time to get them to Texas permanently. But I do want to thank them for fully supporting me and I love them all very much and am grateful for the many daily non-stops provided via the great airlines, Southwest and American from Austin to Phoenix.
Wishing all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2022!