Texas is undergoing massive economic change, given the turnover of legacy industry and influx of technology talent. Given the state’s unique structural advantages — infrastructure, energy and land — in addition to a history in capital intensive big industry, well suited engineering talent base, and a few important California expats (ahem, Tesla), we can see a new global robotics hub emerging.
Texas has a huge economy — third largest in the nation — supported by a business-friendly regime, with people and companies flooding in. Energy is the bedrock of this economy — better said, oil and gas. Prior to COVID, over one third of the state’s budget came from direct tax receipts from oil and gas. A plethora of Fortune 500 companies in oil and gas call Texas home, and the Port of Houston has been the largest exporter in the nation in recent history, trafficking in petroleum products. The industry has been a cash cow for the state for decades.
But the world just changed. Negative oil prices experienced through COVID, and a growing societal awareness of the need for sustainability has rocked the industry. The combination of batteries and renewable energy is an existential threat for the industry. Oil and gas fundraising has slowed to a standstill, as institutional capital is no longer willing to take the risk.
Texas has been doing America’s bidding. Texas is the largest emitting US state by a multiple of 2x, second to California which has a much larger economy and population. Texas has incurred $124 billion dollar climate disasters since 1980, more than any other state. This hits close to home for those of us here. Last February, the Winter Storm dumped 20 inches of snow on a historically HOT climate. A warning of things to come.
The entire Texas economy needs to adapt — from a resource-driven economy, to one driven by innovation and technology. The question then, is, where do we focus our efforts?
Energy will always be a big part of the equation for Texas — but in many ways, oil and gas capital is not well suited for this pivot. Clean Energy is rooted in electricity. An entirely different regulatory regime, different key players, and different technological capabilities. The assets in play are lower risk, lower return, with less moving parts and a limited need for heavy industry. The capital that knows oil and gas well is in unfamiliar territory.
That said, Texas has a lot to offer — at a moment when America has some important needs: a stronger domestic industrial base, for one.
· Government — huge attention and activity from defense, of late; Texas is #2 in defense contract spending, localized in supplies and equipment. Defense spending, importantly, has proven responsible for seeding entire innovation ecosystems, as with DARPA in Silicon Valley.
· Workforce — Texas has a heavy engineering talent base, thanks again to oil and gas, and a huge financial services base of bankers, investors and support ecosystem with deep expertise in capital-heavy financial engineering.
· Manufacturing — Texas is strong in Advanced Manufacturing, specifically comprised of Nanotechnology, Semiconductors, and Auto Manufacturing. Easy access to cheap labor in Mexico. Tesla, GM, Toyota and others are all recent examples of this core competency.
· Infrastructure — Texas has oil and gas to thank for one of the most sophisticated and developed industrial infrastructure bases in America. The state boasts the most miles of road, most miles of rail, second largest airport system and a track record of leading the nation in exports for the last decade.
· Economy — Outside of oil and gas, Texas has a diverse economy, with major customers spread across energy, auto, construction, logistics and healthcare. All ripe for innovation.
The state is very well suited for industrial activity. A long history of global distribution and exports, sophisticated infrastructure system, engineering heavy workforce and the advanced manufacturing base. What a timely opportunity — to pivot the capital intensive, infrastructure heavy industrial base that has supported oil and gas for decades into new. New activity we as a nation need desperately. Solutions to the enormous unmet needs of labor, supply chain security, and sustainability.
Robotics is a near perfect solution. Three birds — labor, supply chain, and sustainability — and one stone (a Peter Stone?). An emerging industry, hungry for capital and eager to fill the void left by oil and gas. Automation and machines to electrify the state, work with the emerging presence of clean energy, and provide manufacturing and industrial solutions for all of America. A new age industrial powerhouse.
And the kicker? We desperately need more robotics. We are facing unprecedented labor shortages, inflation and a demographic profile in America that tells us the problem is here to stay. Improvements in labor productivity to fill the jobs we can’t with people is a clear solution.
On the fit for Texas — the proof is in the pudding. No better example than our newest industrial powerhouse, Tesla. On their recent move –
‘How did “Project Bob Pole” land in Texas? Site Selection Managing Editor Adam Bruns interviewed dozens of people last year and chronicled Musk’s journey from California to the Lone Star State. In the end, the usual suspects prevailed: presence of a skilled workforce, particularly in electronics; availability of a large real estate tract that enabled a desirable rate of return on investment; generous state and local incentives package; a largely positive and forward-looking business climate; willingness by state and local leaders to get aggressive in the deal-making process; central location in North America; superior transportation and logistics networks; and direct access to the political powers-that-be in the state capital.’
The emerging industries of robotics, advanced manufacturing and space all are waiting eagerly, ripe with potential. What a perfect opportunity to make a smart and forward-looking change, and all the while evolve toward innovation.
What starts here ….
THE LIST GOES ON
This need to pivot — a challenge and huge economic opportunity — is not limited to Texas. Other resource driven economies like Appalachia and Oklahoma also qualify. Pittsburgh, Steel City, is a notable example. Carnegie Mellon, the top AI school in the nation, provides a hub around which advanced industrial activity will continue to emerge. The examples across the industrial economies of America are nearly limitless.
Like we say — with big challenge, comes big opportunity. And what will it take?