My dear friend, Pike Powers IV, recently succumbed to Parkinson’s disease after a courageous struggle. Beyond the Austin area you may not recognize his name, but he changed your life. He was the most powerful force in making Texas an international technological powerhouse. Its impact is unprecedented and we are all beneficiaries.
In the early 1980s, as Texas emerged from an oil boom and faced a decade of devastation, Pike led the successful effort to attract Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC). The winner of this competition, which was far more intense than any we see today, would have a decisive advantage in growth.
At the start of this quest, he felt he would need some numbers; thus, he contacted a child with a brilliant new econometric model. We immediately began a 40-year odyssey of collaboration, mischief, and good trouble spanning over 100 projects (and at least as many brutal, hysterical speech introductions).
When Pike defended MCC, Texas normally didn’t even compete for such things. Rich endowments of natural resources have long insulated the state from the vicissitudes faced by other regions. The battle to bring about this desperately needed diversification was as much about winning people over in Texas as winning in the larger effort.
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Pike possessed the skills of an extraordinary lawyer for closing deals, a remarkable political acumen, an ability to forge consensus among disparate groups, an intellect to visualize a better future, and an uncanny talent for stunning presentations. He experienced personal and professional challenges that would have broken lesser souls, but never lost his optimism or his passion.
After MCC, its successes have been many – Sematech, Samsung, Freescale, AMD, 3M, Applied Materials and countless others. I had the privilege of being part of it. When I wrote the “Texas, Our Texas” report that laid out a development strategy 20 years ago, Pike navigated it through a legislative minefield. Later, we worked with others on the Texas Technology Initiative, which helped Texas evolve as the focus shifted from chips and hardware to software, games, biosciences, materials science, and nanotechnology.
Even though his health deteriorates, his enthusiasm endures. On his good days, we discussed new ideas and initiatives. He was always focused forward. I’ve had many opportunities to pay tribute to him lately as groups praise his milestone accomplishments. Between the relentless mutual roastings, I sought to put his life in perspective, but probably never succeeded. I don’t know if anyone could do it.
Texas continues to move forward with major cancer initiative; national laboratories; Army Futures Command; and impressive new locations in commercial space exploration, electric vehicles and emerging energy technologies. Other projects are progressing behind the scenes. The footprint is constantly expanding, but the fingerprints inevitably include those of Pike Powers.
The state will undoubtedly persist in its quest for global technological supremacy. No matter how high he reaches, however, he will always stand on the shoulders and rest in the shade of a true Texas giant. Your spirit and your legacy will never diminish, my brother.
Economist Ray Perryman is president and CEO of the Perryman Group, a Waco-based economic research and analytics firm.