Bills, bills, bills

Expanding fintech company bets on Houston for second office

California-based Bill.com is opening its second office in Houston. Photo via Bill.com

Usually, getting stuck with the bill isn't a good situation to be in, but this is different. Houston just scored the second office of Bill.com, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based business software company. The company decided on Houston because of what the city has to offer both the business and its employees.

"We conducted an extensive national search to select our first location outside the San Francisco Bay Area," says René Lacerte, CEO of Bill.com, in a release from the Greater Houston Partnership. "We're growing at a high speed and it's critical to find the right mix of talent, quality of life and business-friendliness in our next office location. We found all this and more in Houston and are delighted the city can support our next phase of growth."

Planned to open this spring, Bill.com's Houston office will be located on the west side of town at the CityWest development, where it will occupy 25,000 square feet, per the release, and employ 125 people.

"The City of Houston is thrilled to welcome the Bill.com team," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "We've always been a global and innovative city and the Bill.com announcement is another great example of Houston's building momentum as a leading digital tech hub. We offer a great place to live, work and grow a business, especially for startups and entrepreneurs."

Bill.com was founded in 2006 by René Lacerte and has raised over $259 million in funding. The software-as-a-service company has over 3 million members, according to Bill.com, and processes $60 billion in payments annually.

The Greater Houston Partnership was instrumental in bringing the second Bill.com office to town.

"Houston has always been at the cutting edge of technology — we put a person on the moon and created the first artificial heart, and we continue to build on that legacy," says Susan Davenport, the Greater Houston Partnership's chief economic development officer. "We've been working hard over the last couple of years to develop our community as a hub for digital tech, and the Bill.com expansion here is a validation and confirmation that we've made great progress."

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."