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How the Lone Star State Got Innovation-Savvy for SXSW

Gary Shapiro, President and CEO, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)

The bands may be different, and a new slate of speakers is now on the ground in Austin, but the biggest change at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2018 is Austin’s openness to ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

In 2017, local bans on ridesharing meant visitors to some Texas cities, including Austin, had a harder time moving around the city. This year, festival attendees can use their smartphones to request a host of ridesharing services statewide.

As head of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which owns and produces CES® – the world’s largest tech event – I can affirm that transportation is one of the most important factors in making a large trade show or festival a success.

The Texas State Legislature’s decision to create a statewide framework for ridesharing companies bolsters the state’s reputation as a tech-friendly hub. Local bans of disruptive technology create a patchwork effect from city to city, making it difficult not only for travelers and visitors, but also blocking locals from harnessing an important source of income. Plus, ridesharing services give local economies a major boost.

For example, since Gov. Abbott signed HB100 last May, ridesharing companies have expanded operations around the state and as a result are now available to millions of more Texans. In many cases, companies have done so in partnership with groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, regional chambers of commerce, local colleges and small businesses. According to Uber, the statewide rideshare bill has now paved the way for other technologies, such as Uber Freight and Uber Elevate to come to Texas.

According to the company’s 2018 annual report, Lyft riders contributed $2 billion to local economies across the nation. In Austin alone, Lyft passengers spent $15 million last year at local restaurants and shops. And with $7 billion coming into Austin each year from tourism, these ridesharing services play a vital role in helping guests explore all the city has to offer.

The state’s willingness to open up to Uber and Lyft is consistent with its other accomplishments in innovation. The state is home to more than 991,000 tech workers – second only to California – as well as innovative companies including Dell, HomeAway and Texas Instruments. And Texas boasts a business-friendly tax framework, with no state income tax.

For these reasons, more and more tech companies have moved to Texas in recent years. Major companies such as Google, Apple and Dropbox have opened offices in the Austin area. And with its business-friendly tax policies and fast internet, Texas continues to attract top tech companies to the state.

I look forward to hearing tech leaders discuss these successes at CTA’s Innovation Policy Day at SXSW. And I hope this shift in legal framework will inspire even greater tech investment in the future, so innovation in the Lone Star State can keep shining bright.

Interested in how ridesharing impacts your hometown? Check out Lyft’s economic impact map to see how your city stacks up.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)TM, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro