At the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, we work diligently every day to ensure our region is a place of opportunity, working to bring new business investments and create opportunities for Valley residents and our local economy. Our mission is “to be the catalyst for prosperity in the Rio Grande Valley.” That is why we participate in events with Texas leaders, host virtual events to keep our community connected and informed, partner with private and public organizations, and advocate for the interests of our business community.
For many years, the RGV Partnership has been successful in the pursuit of our mission, but 2020 hit our region hard. The pandemic brought extended lockdowns, business closures, and a major public health crisis. Our region experienced much loss and our way of life forever changed. Our healthcare infrastructure was pushed to the edge and the small businesses that fuel our economic engine faced serious financial hardship. As we turned the page to 2021, there was hope as vaccinations are being administered. The total outlook for the new year looks promising, but it is fragile.
When the reality of the pandemic hit and the lockdowns became prolonged, companies had to quickly pivot to survive. Many businesses adjusted operations and adapted to the new social-distancing standards by relying on online tools and e-commerce platforms such as Google’s Ads and My Business suite. Companies leaned into social media advertising and other communication tools to keep customers up to date on changes to business hours and how they could continue to buy products or services. Those that were able to quickly switch to an online business model were the ones that had a fighting chance to make it through. Tech companies like Facebook stepped up to the plate, offering $100 million in cash grants and ad credits, while Microsoft set up an information hub to help small businesses navigate the uncertainty. Google, meanwhile, started the Grow with Google Small Business Fund and posted free tutorials on how to use online tools to grow and learn to code.
As 2021 continues, we need to set a strong foundation for our small businesses to rebound and spur growth in our economy — as these companies have helped us do. That is why it is difficult to understand the reasoning behind the lawsuits our own state is pushing against companies like Google, which has been essential in providing tools and resources to help small businesses through the pandemic.
In December, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against Google, alleging that the company worked with Facebook to corner the online advertising market. This would be a major scandal if it had any merit. But it does not. Instead, it is threatening our small businesses and our Texas economy. Even Texas leaders are warning against actions like Paxton’s. The reality is that if Texas continues to pursue lawsuits like the one against Google, the tools and resources these companies have provided that have been a lifeline in a time of desperate need could be in jeopardy. Instead of focusing on helping our small businesses, tech companies will have to waste time defending themselves in court.
Paxton is hampering our efforts to bring our economy back stronger and help our friends through this unprecedented time. This lawsuit will needlessly tie up essential resources to help businesses and could cost Texas taxpayers as much as $43 million in a time when Texas faces a pandemic-induced budget deficit. How is this a good deal for Texans? Instead of suing these companies, shouldn’t our state work with them to get us through this pandemic? Shouldn’t Texas continue to work alongside them on projects like bringing broadband to our region to create opportunities for more Valley residents? That would make the most sense, but right now, our attorney general is actively working against our own best interests.
The economic outlook for the RGV is improving and we are resilient. But as one of the hardest-hit regions in the state, where unemployment reached 17 percent in May 2020, we need to be looking for any and all solutions instead of stepping on our own toes. Now more than ever, we need to work alongside companies like Google and Facebook to help our small businesses through and ensure there is economic prosperity for all as we emerge from this pandemic.