• September 17, 2021

Exclusive: Republicans’ extreme politics send Texas-based tech companies into crisis mode

 Exclusive: Republicans’ extreme politics send Texas-based tech companies into crisis mode

Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson is skeptical of Abbott’s sunny outlook for the Lone Star State’s business climate.

“It’s too early to know,” Tomlinson told NPR last week. “Companies that decided to relocate made that decision a year ago, two years ago. It’s, you know, we can’t judge anything by what’s happening at the moment.”

In other words, give it a minute. The businesses already committed to Texas aren’t the ones to judge by—even though that’s clearly the measure Abbott wants to employ.

Just a week later, as Tomlinson suggested, we’re starting to see that the GOP’s extreme politics could effectively end the state’s tech industry boomlet right as the region was turning into a bona fide tech hub.

Tech companies that have already relocated to Texas are now fretting over the possibility that the state’s extreme politics will hamstring their ability to recruit top talent. As the Washington Post writes, “In August, Texas had 33,843 tech job openings — the second highest in the United States after California — according to a report from the Computing Technology Industry Association. That’s up 56 percent from a year earlier.

Vivek Bhaskaran, chief executive of an Austin-based software company that produces online surveys, told the Post the company was already finding it “extremely challenging” to attract tech workers to the state. The abortion ban, Bhaskaran said, “seems like an extremely unnecessary conversation we’re going to have to have.”

In fact, just two days after the ban went into effect, Bhaskaran convened a virtual town hall for female employees of the company, QuestionPro, and told them the company would pick up the cost of any abortion services they sought out of state.

The company’s director of marketing, Crystal Wiese, said the town hall was comforting on one level but disconcerting on another.

“There was a reassuring feeling, but it’s not the kind of conversation you expect to have with your CEO,” she said. 

Similar to Bhaskaran, the chief executive of the Dallas-based dating app Match is working to cover employee costs for anyone traveling out of state for abortion services. Chief executive Shar Dubey, who immigrated to America from India a quarter-century ago, circulated a company memo blasting the abortion ban.

“I am shocked that I now live in a state where women’s reproductive laws are more regressive than most of the world, including India,” Dubey wrote. “Surely everyone should see the danger of this highly punitive and unfair law.”

The Texas abortion ban also prompted Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff to send a Slack message to employees nationwide saying the company would help employees and their immediate families move to another state if they felt reproductive healthcare wasn’t accessible enough where they lived. Benioff later explicitly invoked Texas in a tweet offering to help staff “exit TX.”  

The Post also talked to workers who have either moved to Texas or considered it. To say that GOP governance of the state isn’t exactly a draw would be an understatement.

Valerie Veteto, a freelance copywriter specializing in tech writing, relocated to Austin from San Francisco just last fall. Guess what? The hip vibe and lower cost of living aren’t worth the tradeoff for the state’s right-wing bent and governmental incompetence. Between the great power grid freeze earlier this year and fringe GOP politics, Veteto and her boyfriend are hightailing it to New York City.  

San Diego-based David Panarelli, a user experience designer, had also considered making the move with his wife. But they balked at the Texas GOP’s handling of the pandemic, immigration, and other issues. The abortion ban was the final nail in the coffin.

“If I’m in a situation where I have to make an extremely irreversible decision, I don’t want anyone making that decision for me,” Panarelli told the Post. “It’s not about women. It’s about human rights.”

Seems like banning abortions, targeting voters of color, freezing your constituents to death, and ensuring the pandemic would flourish in your state isn’t the hot seller Abbott says it is.

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Reporters Team

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