guest column

Guest column: Now is the time to plan for the future of Houston's tech economy

Leaders across the spectrum are coming together this week to shine a spotlight on the future of tech jobs in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

This week, leaders in government, business, and academia are convening to work within the community to explore how we can leverage partnerships and new federal programs to drive investment into Houston’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem.

At AI Across America: Houston, we’ll begin forming plans and partnerships capable of sparking an innovation ecosystem, fueling AI education, training, research, development, and job creation. We’ll also examine how students, workers, businesses, and academics in the community can prepare for upcoming opportunities and challenges.

Why Houston

Besides being near Texas’ 10th District, choosing Houston was easy in its own right. According to a study by Axios and LinkedIn, between 2020 and 2021, while the traditional tech hubs bled top talent, Houston gained 10.6 percent new tech workers. Those workers arrived to a solid foundation; in 2022 the Houston metro area had net tech employment of 134,436 people. The growth is steady too. From 2010 to 2019, the Houston area tech workforce grew 12.3 percent.

Recently, Houstonians are leveraging federal programs and public-private partnerships to build innovative, collaborative environments. These include places like The Ion, East End Maker Hub, and Houston Community College.

Defining the project

The AI Across America project is a collaboration between SeedAI, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and the Congressional AI Caucus. Working in conjunction, the organizations support efforts in the public and private sectors to expand access to AI education, training, development, testing, and job creation for communities across the country.

The AI Caucus is a group of U.S. Representatives working together to better understand their constituent's interests and those of all Americans as it pertains to AI. The organization works to explain the underlying technology and the ecosystem.

SeedAI does the groundwork to build collaboration across the private sector, government, academia, and civil society to support community-driven AI investments. The work of SeedAI focuses specifically on people who have been historically-marginalized and overlooked.

This is a critical moment for AI in America and beyond

AI is the battleground of the next great global competition. We have to be the first to build and master AI technology. Yet, because AI is a reflection of the people creating it and historical data, pursuing technology through the perspective of only a small group of people opens us to disproportionate harm and unknown risks.

Worse still, if the barrier to entry for AI is allowed to continue growing, we risk losing our most precious resource – the ingenuity waiting to be unleashed across the country. How, in those circumstances, can we succeed when faced with a nation like China with a population dwarfing the U.S. alongside an ability to spend far more agilely and extensively?

How can we succeed, and what is Houston’s role?

Fortunately, through recently-passed legislation called the Chips and Science Act, we have an opportunity to reclaim international leadership in a quintessentially American way: by leveraging the diverse strengths of communities across the country.

Houston already has a head start and an expanding tech economy – with planning and collaboration, Houstonians can be first in line to build new resources for AI education and development. When every state and community begins to realize their potential in the AI-powered future, Houston can play a leading role in guiding others to success and enabling their transformation.

If we succeed, we’ll uncover ingenuity and inventions we would’ve never anticipated. And as AI becomes easier to apply, we’ll have a real chance to build an AI-first generation of workers and builders from coast to coast.

Once we become competitive internally, we will be unbeatable internationally. If we succeed, we’ll lead the world in economic competitiveness and national security for decades to come.

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Austin Carson is the founder of SeedAI, a nonprofit established to work with a diverse group of policymakers, academics, and private sector experts to help communities across the United States access the resources they need to engage with AI. Congressman Michael T. McCaul, Republican Leader for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Vice Chair of the Congressional AI Caucus, is currently serving his ninth term representing Texas' 10th Congressional District which stretches from the city of Austin to the Houston suburbs.

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Building Houston

 
 

Bob Harvey has announced his retirement plans. Photo courtesy of GHP

Bob Harvey, who has been at the helm as the Greater Houston Partnership for over a decade has announced his retirement plans.

In an announcement today, the GHP revealed that Harvey, the president and CEO of the organization since 2012, plans to retire at the end of the year.

“This last decade has been a dynamic time for Houston and the Partnership. As a life-long Houstonian, it is a true honor to wake up each day focused on supporting Houston’s growth and working with the business community to create opportunities for all Houstonians,” says Harvey in a news release. “The commitment of business leaders to the success of this region is inspiring, and I look forward to continuing to lead the Partnership over the next year as we move Houston forward.”

Thad Hill, the current board chair of GHP and president and CEO of Calpine Corporation, has created an executive search committee made up of Partnership board members and chaired by Marc Watts, the 2018 Partnership board chair and president of The Friedkin Group. According to the release, the search will be national but the new CEO will be expected to "have some working familiarity with Houston and its business community." Current staff members will also be considered.

“I want to thank Bob for his tremendous leadership over the last decade as we’ve made great strides as an organization and as a region,” Hill says in the release. “I am grateful that Bob will continue to advance the organization over the coming months as we begin the process to find his successor. Under Bob’s leadership, the Partnership plays an essential role in the inclusive growth and prosperity of our great community, and I am confident his successor will expand on that legacy.”

The GHP is an economic development organization that serves the 12-county region encompassing Houston. It also acts as the business community’s advocate within policy across the local, state, and federal levels.

Under Harvey, the GHP has rolled out several initiatives, including workforce development program UpSkill Houston, the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, and diversity, equity, and inclusion program One Houston Together.

“The Partnership is an outstanding organization with strong board and staff leadership, impeccable financials, and a mission-oriented bias for action to make Houston a better place to live, work and build a business,” Hill says in the release. “The next leader of the Partnership is set-up to succeed, and I look forward to the process to identifying this person who will continue the organization’s momentum forward.”

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