Thank you, Chairman Alcantar for those kind words and for the hard work you, and everyone at the Workforce Commission has put into helping make Texas the success story that it is.
My thanks also to Adriana Cruz and the folks at the Austin Chamber for all you've done for Central Texas.
I understand this is Adriana's last event with the Chamber, and I wish you well as you take over the reins for the Greater San Marcos Partnership.
Before we get started, I'd like to take a few moments to send prayers and positive thoughts to our friends and neighbors who have been through so much in Oklahoma, North Texas and elsewhere.
These storms are hard reminders that no matter how much we plan and how hard we work, the random destruction of Mother Nature can completely uproot our lives.
In times like this, I'm always struck by how everyone pulls together to help a community heal; neighbors helping neighbors and corporate citizens of all sizes providing solace and support in our darkest times.
Even in the worst of disasters, we can often see the very best in our people.
It's my pleasure to be with you all today as we gather to discuss current issues facing small businesses, especially the challenges and incredible opportunities involved in taking a small business global.
There's nothing "small" about that undertaking.
What is "small business" anyway?
The federal government generally defines a small business as any company employing fewer than 500 people, but nearly 90 percent of these companies actually have fewer than 20 people on the payroll.
So, maybe that distinguishes them from the Caterpillars, Toyota and Samsungs of the world.
But sometimes I think the word "small" doesn't really fit.
Because to the people working to make a business succeed-to grow and thrive-their business is anything but small.
To them, their business is everything.
It's their past, invested in an idea and driven by a dream.
It's their present, measured in 14-hour days, seven days a week, with birthdays, holidays and graduations often included.
And it's their future, measured in peace of mind and a better life for them, their employees and their families.
We need to remember sometimes just how big "small business" truly is.
In Texas, small businesses employ about 46 percent of all private-sector workers in the state. That's about 4 million people.
2.3 million small businesses spread across every sector of the Texas economy, from health care to construction, to manufacturing and finance.
It's almost absurd to describe them as vital to the Texas economy, because in almost every way, small businesses are the Texas economy.
The Texas economy is, after all, designed not only to attract larger employers seeking to expand or relocate, but also to encourage entrepreneurs to take that step they've always dreamed of, and become their own boss.
Over the last decade, self-employment in Texas has expanded by 17 percent with female and minorities posting the biggest gains.
Female self-employment shot up by 22 percent while self-employed minorities made a huge increase of 76 percent between 2000 and 2011.
Every one of these entrepreneurs holds the potential to create entirely new lives for themselves and entirely new industries for Texas.
Now, Texas has always been home to the daring and creative people willing to risk everything to realize their potential.
What we've been working to do as a state is to give those entrepreneurs the very best shot at success.
The formula we've put in place is nothing complicated. In fact, it's quite simple.
We've kept our taxes low so employers and employees alike get to keep more of their hard-earned dollars.
This is money that can be confidently re-invested in new hires, new equipment and new ideas as companies grow and expand, locally and globally.
We've instituted tort reform so our courts are fair and don't allow for over-suing, meaning employers spend less time in court fighting expensive and all-too-often-baseless lawsuits.
We keep our regulations smart, predictable and effective so a business can start work on a new project, for example, in weeks, rather than months.
That doesn't mean we don't take care of our own; our system of common sense regulations works.
In fact, we've managed to improve our air quality significantly during a time of significant economic and population growth.
And we've also invested heavily in building a world-class workforce so Texas workers are ready to fill any role an employer requires.
That has helped us build an economy that wins raves from the business community, including Chief Executive Magazine's "Top State for Business," as voted by CEOs, for nine straight years.
Texas also received accolades from media outlets like USA Today and CNBC, Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Site Selector magazine.
The climate they're talking about benefits businesses of all sizes.
Most recently, the Kauffman Foundation ranked Texas yet again as a top state for small business friendliness, giving us an "A" grade in every single category they study.
To the chamber, city and state's credit, Austin, along with Houston and San Antonio, ranked amongst the top three of five cities in the survey.
Not surprisingly, California had three of the bottom five ranked cities.
And guess what, a lot of those businesses are high-tailing it to Texas.
Some of those businesses benefitting from, and contributing to, our great business climate are being awarded and celebrated here today.
But no spoilers from me.
Small businesses also play a key role in our international trade, and it's only fair to remind you that Texas has been the nation's top exporter for 11 consecutive years with nearly $265 billion dollars in trade last year.
That's larger than the entire GDP of good-size countries like Chile, Nigeria, the Philippines and Portugal.
And that 168 percent increase in export trade over the last decade is no accident.
In fact, we owe a big part of that success to our vibrant small businesses who have embraced the enormous opportunities of international markets.
Small businesses make up about 92 percent of all the Texas businesses that export, so don't think that global trade is just for big businesses or beyond your reach.
The simple truth is it's yours for the taking.
What this all means is that if you want to start a small business or make your small business bigger, Texas is the best place in America to get the job done.
What do they say in New York? "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere?"
In Texas, we prefer, "You can make it here."
Does that mean we can rest on our laurels?
Far from it.
While some states are doubling-down on job-killing tactics like higher taxes and draconian regulations, some other states are wising up.
States like Louisiana, Florida, and others are starting to follow our lead, and are becoming more competitive with each passing year.
That means we have to rise to the challenge of these upstarts and make our great jobs climate even better.
We're entering the stretch run in the 83rd Legislature and while the situation is still fluid, I'm confident the steps currently being taken will make a stronger Texas economy.
We're working to intelligently invest in our workforce for the new global marketplace, dramatically strengthen our infrastructure and provide Texans with the tax relief they need to continue our winning streak.
That includes finally making the small business tax exemption permanent.
Legislation has been passed that will help employers of all sizes fill high-demand positions by making it easier for workers to earn technical certificates or associates degrees more quickly and efficiently.
To do that, we're going to use competency-based learning to give students credit for subjects and skills they've already mastered. So instead of being stuck in a classroom rehashing a subject, they're ready to go to work for you.
We've giving more cost certainty to students pursuing degrees at Texas universities.
This is something I've advocated a long time-letting students lock in tuition at the rate they pay as an incoming freshman for four years.
Today, I can announce that all six university systems in Texas have plans to offer four-year, guaranteed tuition.
We're also closing in on establishing a top-tier university in South Texas which will effectively tap into the creative energy being generated by the fastest-growing area of our state.
This will lead to more research being conducted and more world-class graduates heading out into the Texas workforce.
This is truly an exciting time in Texas, whether your business is small, medium, or large; and whether your marketplace is local, national or international.
The small businesses of Texas are making waves across the globe and hold the potential of doing even more.
You have the power to change the world and Texas is going to help you do it.
May God bless you, and, through you, may He continue to bless the great State of Texas.