Looking forward

5 things Mayor Turner promised Houston in his State of the City Address

Mayor Sylvester Turner talked parks, innovation, firefighter salaries, and more at the Greater Houston Partnership's State of the City. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

In the 2019 State of the City Address hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership on May 20, Mayor Sylvester Turner took the stage at the Marriott Marquis in front of over 1,500 Houstonians.

Some of the obvious topics were of course on the table — pension reform, hurricane recovery, job growth — but Mayor Turner surprised attendees with the announcement of a public-private parks program and again alluded to the re-envisioned of Astroworld.

Here's what all the mayor promised in his address.

Public-private partnerships for Houston parks

Houston's major parks have undergone major transformations lately backed by private investments — Buffalo Bayou Park, Memorial Park Conservancy, and Bayou Greenways 2020, to name a few — but the city would like to shift focus to smaller, neighborhood parks across the city. To do this, Mayor Turner called for 50 companies to sponsor 50 parks.

"Today, I am asking the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston Parks Board, and the Parks Department, to help me bring together 50 companies to form a citywide coalition for our neighborhood parks — primarily in underserved communities," Mayor Turner says.

Scott McClelland, president of HEB Food and Drug and board chair of the GHP, offered up HEB as a corporate partner for the program on the spot, despite the formal details of the program not yet being disclosed. Mayor Turner did specify that the park sponsorship would be a commitment over a few years.

"The 50 for 50 effort will touch every district in the city. All Houstonians should have easy access to welcoming, well-maintained, safe, and fun parks," he says.

A developed innovation corridor and a resurgence of AstroWorld

In both in his introductory address and fireside chat with McClelland, Mayor Turner talked about the emergence of Houston's innovation ecosystem. He cites the 140 percent increase in technology jobs as well as the 3,000 reported startups that call Houston their home. He mentions that Silicon Valley-based accelerator program Plug and Play is preparing to enter the market and another 25 million investment from the Houston Exponential fund of funds is expected.

"We're not walking; we're sprinting," Mayor Turner says. "There is no better place for an [innovation] ecosystem to take place than Houston."

Mayor Turner also credited Rice University's The Ion project as a major source of growth for the city's innovation ecosystem.

"We are building an innovation hub and corridor — in collaboration with academia, thank you, Rice, for loaning us the Sears building on South Main, and the energy and tech companies."

When discussing the innovation district, the mayor also gave a shout out to Travis Scott for being the "instigator" of a new AstroWorld-like theme park the city has in the works, but no details were disclosed in the address.

Rethinking Houston's transportation system

As Houston's population continues to grow, Houstonians spend more and more time in their cars fighting traffic. The mayor called for action to reimagine Houston's transportation.

"Our city has changed, the region is changing, and our transportation, transit, and mobility must change," he says. "People want options, and we must give them options."

Mayor Turner alluded to the Metro Next plan that will be on the ballot this November. While he didn't go into much detail, he encouraged support for the plan.

A raise for the Houston Fire Department

McClelland started the fireside chat with a question about the state of things after Proposition B's repeal following being deemed unconstitutional. The proposition, which originally passed last fall, would have matched Houston firefighters' salaries with police officers.

The mayor says that with the repeal, no layoffs or job cuts will be made within the Houston Fire Department. He recognizes that firefighters are in need of a raise, but it must be one the city can afford.

"Our firefighters are deserving of a pay raise," Mayor Turner says. "What I've put forth is 9.5 percent over three years, but look, my door is open."

The best is yet to come

Mayor Turner wrapped up his address on a positive note, saying that the city's growth will continue.

"The state of our city is strong, resilient, and sustainable," he says. "The best for us as a city has yet to come."

All of these initiatives on the mayor's agenda are working for toward uniting and enhancing Houston.

"We are building one complete city," he says. "And we work together, we win."

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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