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."

Ahead of entering the Houston market later this year, Silicon Valley's Plug and Play hosted three days of programming surrounding innovation in energy and health care. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm and accelerator program, plans to launch its operations in Houston later this year. And, in showing its commitment to the Bayou City, the organization hosted three days worth of panels, talks, and pitches at the Texas Medical Center's TMC Innovation Institute earlier this month.

Houston Innovation Week was Plug and Play's formal introduction to Houston startups and the local corporations that have the potential to support them. The programming focused on health and energy and sustainability, and the summit concluded with TMCx's Demo Day.

If you missed the event, we've hit the highlights for you by rounding up nine powerful quotes overheard throughout the week.

“Nowadays, I feel every industry is going to go through an incredible digital transformation. Even the oil and gas industry, which is very capital heavy, there’s going to be a layer of fast-moving technologies which would help the industry be more efficient. This is the crossroads where Plug and Play was born — bridging the gap between the entrepreneurs and the technologies. That changes an industry.”

— Saeed Amidi, CEO and founder of Plug and Play, says. He also shares the story of how Plug and Play got its start from a few lucky early investments to making over 150 investments a year.

“Now we have about 30 offices, and then quite frankly I realized I had forgotten about America.”

— Amidi says, announcing that Plug and Play will open five new offices across the United States in the next six months to a year.

“We’re not walking in terms of building this integrated robust innovation ecosystem, we’re sprinting in that direction.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner says, adding that, "If there is any city that ought to be leading the way when it comes to startups, technology, and innovation, it ought to be the city of Houston."

“You have to get people to invest more. It doesn’t happen on its own. People have to see that if we invest, we’re going to get a return.”

— Mayor Turner says, calling the crowd to action. "You can't just talk about what others have done and what we have accomplished. You have to take that now, build the platform, and move into where we are going."

“One of the things you look at is it’s not the technology itself that’s going to make you win or lose, it’s what you do with it.”

— Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, responding to a question about what technologies she has her eyes on. Burger continued on to say that, while she couldn't highlight any technologies in particular — it's like picking a favorite child, she's always evaluating how a new technology would help with the affordability, reliability, and lower environmental impact. "That's the game," she says.

"Management is amazing at suppressing innovation. … We can move toward just trying not to suppress it. If someone has an idea, they are safe to go through the process and raise their hand."

— Bradley Andrews, president of digital at Worley. "I think it's a change in attitude," he says about how management can evolve to advance ideas within energy companies.

“It’s easy to say that we’ll do the thing that gives us the most competitive advantage — and it’s really hard to figure out what that means and how you do that. In general, if we see something that’s out there and implemented that someone else has done, I don’t need to create an internal capability like that. I just need to go access that.”

— Doug Kushnerick, senior technology scouting and venture adviser at ExxonMobil. For Kushnerick, technology solutions that fix specific problems are easy to go after, but things that affect big picture and strategic assets are harder to figure out if they are worth implementing.

“One of our big asks from our partners from an internal perspective is really to have a champion — whether its an innovation manager or someone who really advocates these startups internally. Someone who will find the clinician and the business unit and tap the legal team.”

— Neda Amidi, global head of health and partner at Plug and Play Tech Center, responding to a question about opening up the channels of communications between startups and large companies. She adds that it's a requirement for these people to visit a Plug and Play location four to six times a year.

“What I see from a culture perspective is that it really starts with the leadership in the institution. If the people at the top in the C-suite of the institution are focused on understanding why their organization isn’t performing as well as they expect it to be and are willing to look to the outside, that’s how it starts in my mind.”

— Thomas Luby, director TMC Innovation Institute, responding to a question from the audience about large organizations that tend to be slower adaptors to new technologies.