Texas's location in between the east and west coasts of the US may be something of a geographical accident, but according to many of its residents, the state does not just stand at the centre of North America, it is the centre of the Universe.
When challenged to highlight the main advantages of investing in Texas, aside from its location, Mike Rosa, vice-president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, struggles for an answer. “It has to be said: location is really important," he says, though does add: "We are between the cold climate and the warm one, which gives us a very good weather conditions.”
Texas is also well linked with the rest of the US, with 61 flights a day to the west coast and 57 to the east from the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport alone. It also serves 13 cargo hubs around the world, all the way from Macao on the south-east coast of China to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Mr Rosa keeps various maps at hand – all of them showing Texas as the centre point – and if anyone ever needs to know the number of a Qantas flight connecting Dallas with Brisbane, he will have an immediate answer.
On the job
As it happens, in the second half of 2011, Texas really did become the centre of attention in the US, after the country's Department of Labor calculated that between January 2008 and December 2011, nearly 840,000 new jobs were created in the state. This success story was headline news given the economic hardships and the high level of unemployment affecting the rest of the country.
In terms of job retention, the employment rate in Texas is still growing, and although the criticism is often raised that the state excels in creating low-paid 'jobettes' – rather than jobs requiring high-skills and offering attractive salaries – the fact that Texas weathered the recent economic crisis well is something that few would question.
What are the reasons behind such success? “From the state government perspective, officials do one thing well: they set the policy and then get out of the way. The rationale behind such an approach is simple: the best way to keep things working is to let business run business,” says Jason Ford, CEO of Taylor Economic Development Corporation, a development agency based in Taylor, a city 65 kilometres north-east of Austin. The fact that Texas has a business-friendly tax policy and is one of the few states with no corporate tax is also often pinpointed as one of the reasons why businesses choose to locate to the 'Lone Star State'.
Contrary to the popular image of Texas – as a place dominated by oil wells – the types of businesses establishing a presence in the state range from life sciences to nanotechnology. “If you want to see an oil well or a rodeo, we know where to find it, but our economy is definitely much more diversified than that,” says Mabrie Jackson, CEO of the North Texas Commission, a non-profit consortium of businesses, municipalities and higher education institutions.
In the case of north Texas, as Texas Workforce Commission data shows, only 5% of the population is employed in the construction and mining sector, compared to 15% in business services and 13% in education and health services. “Healthcare is one of our strongest sectors at the moment. In our state, we have 90 hospitals and recently 30,000 jobs were created in that field,” says Ms Jackson.
This is true throughout the state. According to data compiled by Texas comptroller Susan Combs, healthcare and education services together with the leisure and hospitality sector and governmental jobs accounted for more than half of the new jobs created in the state between 2009 and 2011. Since all of these sectors provide services to the local residents, the rise in employment levels seems to be linked with the growing number of residents in the state.
“People come here seeking job opportunities, and in the process they create the new ones,” says Lee Leffingwell, the mayor of Austin. “And thanks to that and our university system, we have a great pool of talent available here.”
Tapping into potential
That pool seems to be growing at an impressive rate. In the past 10 years, the state's population has grown by 4.3 million, the largest increase among all 50 US states in that period. “People finally see that Texas is a great place to live and work. When at various presentations I show snapshots of the life in Austin, often no words are necessary. Just a quick look at what our city has to offer is enough to attract people,” says Adriana Cruz, vice-president of global corporate recruitment at the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Another factor contributing to the state's growth is the large proportion of migrants living there. According to the American Community Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau, 10% of all foreign-born residents in the US live in Texas. And as these numbers grow, the business opportunities are growing along with it.
“We simply could not pass on such opportunity, so a couple of months ago we established our operations in the US, operating from Texas,” says Berenice Flores, commercial manager at Porteo Group, one of the largest Mexican companies specialising in logistics. Texas is home to some 9 million Hispanic-origin residents, and for a company supplying Mexican products to the US market, it is an ideal location.
“The potential for business here is huge and ever growing. Even despite the fact that we encountered many bureaucratic hurdles along the way and competition is fierce, the decision [to move] over here was the right one,” says Ms Flores. And when asked why Porteo Group chose Texas over California – a state with an even bigger Hispanic population – she says that the state’s central location was a deal breaker.
So it seems that Mr Rosa has every right to feel triumphant. With a growing population, and an increasing level of employment in the state, perhaps Texas has moved closer to being the centre of Universe after all.