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Comcast unveils its $16 million technology center in a growing suburb just outside of Houston

The new $16 million Comcast facility is another feather in the cap of Fort Bend County, which is booming with new business. Courtesy of Comcast

At Comcast's new $16 million technology center in Missouri City, technicians for the internet and cable TV provider can "test drive" new product and services at a demo lab and can take classes at Comcast University. It's a far cry from the stereotypical workplace of the "cable guy."

The center represents a cutting-edge expansion for Comcast — and represents yet another feather in the economic-growth cap of Missouri City and Fort Bend County.

On June 19, officials from Comcast, Missouri City government, and the Fort Bend Economic Development Council debuted the 32,000-square-foot center. The center is at 551 Buffalo Lakes Dr., near the intersection of Texas Freeway and Independence Boulevard. Aside from the demo lab and Comcast University classrooms, the center features more than 100 workstations and 15 conference rooms.

The center employs more than 300 technicians, Comcast Business and Xfinity sales professionals. Service technicians install and maintain internet, video, voice, and home security services for residential and business customers in Missouri City and nearby areas, while network technicians build and maintain Comcast's local fiber-optic system.

Employees at the new center previously worked at other offices in the Houston metro area but live in Missouri City and surrounding communities. More than 1,200 people work at Comcast's 10 technology centers throughout the Houston area.

Michael Bybee, director of external communications at Comcast, says Missouri City was picked for the new center because of its strong economic growth and its proximity to major highways and, ultimately, "to bring our employees closer to customers."

Missouri City and Fort Bend County are gaining more potential Comcast customers by the day. From April 2010 to July 2018, the population of Missouri City grew 12.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For Fort Bend County, the population growth rate during the same period stood at 34.7 percent.

Economic growth has accompanied that population growth. Last year, the Comcast center was among several economic development wins scored by Missouri City. An $85 million, 550,000-square-foot Best Buy distribution center and a 200,000-square-foot Warren Valve warehouse and distribution center were two of the other wins.

Fort Bend County as a whole is enjoying economic success. For instance, discount retailer Dollar Tree said in February that it's building a $130 million distribution center on a 140-acre site in Rosenberg that will employ more than 300 people. The company operates more than 1,600 Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores in Texas.

The 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center, on Spur 10 near Klosterhoff Road, is scheduled to open in the summer of 2020.

"When you have a company like Dollar Tree seeing the opportunity that we offer, it just adds to our strengths and builds on our assets," Bret Gardella, executive director of Rosenberg Development Corp., said in a Dollar Tree news release.

The economic growth in Missouri City, Rosenberg and other places in Fort Bend County isn't likely to subside, at least for the next several decades. A report from the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs predicts Fort Bend County will end up being the state's third-fastest-growing county from 2010 to 2050.

"Fort Bend County has continued to top lists for livability and economic success — and there is no sign of slowing down," the Fort Bend Economic Development Council says on its website. "Residents and businesses agree that there's no place better to live or work."

Contributing to Fort Bend County's draw is the presence of five business parks — two in Missouri City, and one each in Rosenberg, Sugar Land, and Stafford. The council touts Fort Bend County as "the hub for industrial development."

Courtesy of Comcast

Aside from the demo lab and Comcast University classrooms, the center features more than 100 workstations and 15 conference rooms.

The Rice Management Company has broken ground on the renovation of the historic Midtown Sears building, which will become The Ion. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The Ion — a to-be entrepreneurial hub for startups, universities, tech companies, and more — is, in a way, the lemonade created from the lemons dealt to the city by a snub from Amazon.

In 2018, Amazon narrowed its options for a second headquarters to 20 cities, and Houston didn't make the shortlist.

"That disappointment lead to a sense of urgency, commitment, and imagination and out of that has come something better than we ever could have imagined," David Leebron, president of Rice University, says to a crowd gathered for The Ion's groundbreaking on July 19.

However disappointing the snub from Amazon was, it was a wake-up call for so many of the Houston innovation ecosystem players. The Ion, which is being constructed within the bones of the historic Midtown Sears building, is a part of a new era for the city.

"Houston's on a new course to a new destination," says Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Here are some other overheard quotes from the groundbreaking ceremony. The 270,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in 18 months.

“We have the capacity — if we work together — not only to make this a great innovation hub, but to do something that truly represents the Houston can-do, collaborative spirit.”

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. Leebron stressed the unique accomplishment the Ion has made to bring all the universities of Houston together for this project. "When we tell people the collaboration that has been brought together around this project, they are amazed," he says.

“The nation is seeing what we already know in the city of Houston. That this city has the greatest and most creative minds. We are a model for inclusion among people and cultures from everywhere. We are a city that taps the potential of every resident, dares them to dream big, and we provide the tools to make those dreams come true.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner, who says he remembers shopping in the former Sears building as a kid, but notes how Houston's goals have changed, as has the world.

“When this store opened in 1939, it showcased a couple of innovations even back then: The first escalator in Texas, the first air conditioned department store in Houston, the first windowless department store in the country.”

— Senator Rodney Ellis, who adds the request that The Ion have windows.

“Many people ask us, ‘why not just tear down the old building and start new?’ We actually see this as a very unique opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs to be located within a historic building, while benefiting from an enhanced structure, state-of-the-art technology, and Class A tenant comforts.”

— Allison Thacker, president of the Rice Management Company. She describes the environment of being a beehive of activity.

“[As program partner for The Ion,] our mission is to build the innovation economy of Houston one entrepreneur at a time.”

— Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. Rowe describes Station's role as a connector between startups, venture capital firms, major corporations, and more.