Bragging rights

Houston deemed one of the top 'Cities of the Future' in North America

"The Houston of today looks like the United States of tomorrow," says Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Watch out, world. Here comes Houston.

Houston ranks fifth on a new 2019-20 list of the 10 North American Cities of the Future produced by the fDi Intelligence division of the Financial Times. New York grabbed the No. 1 spot, followed by San Francisco, Toronto, and Montreal. Following Houston were Chicago; Boston; Los Angeles; Palo Alto, California; and Seattle.

The ranking is based on data in five categories:

  • Economic potential
  • Business friendliness
  • Human capital and lifestyle
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Connectivity

Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, says Houston's "ethnically and culturally diverse population" coupled with its "robust and globally connected economy" help form a solid foundation for the city's future.

The North American Cities of the Future ranking is certainly not the only such accolade that Houston has garnered. Hailing Houston as "the American city of the future," Resonance Consultancy, a consulting firm, ranks Houston the 11th best large city in the U.S.

"Positive rankings and recognition like this help us continue to attract the best and brightest minds both domestically and around the world," Davenport says. "Houston has long been a place that solves the world's most complicated problems — from putting humans on the moon to pioneering open-heart surgery. But we make a conscious choice to measure ourselves not on past accomplishments but on what we do next."

Davenport cites Houston's vibrant startup scene, 21 Fortune 500 companies, and burgeoning innovation corridor, along with the presence of the world's largest medical complex, as helping position the city for economic growth.

She also mentions the fact that nearly one-fourth of local residents are foreign-born and that more than 145 languages are spoken. In April 2019, personal finance website WalletHub named Houston the most diverse city in the U.S.

"In short, the Houston of today looks like the United States of tomorrow," Davenport says.

In a March 2019 report, the Center for Houston's Future noted that Houston's economic growth — namely in the construction, healthcare and IT sectors — depends heavily on the continued influx of immigrants. Immigrants already make up nearly one-third of the region's workforce, the report says.

Between 2016 and 2036, almost 60 percent of all jobs added in the region will be filled by foreign-born workers, the report indicates.

Also on the international front, more than 5,000 Houston companies do business abroad, Davenport says, and more than 500 foreign-owned companies have invested in Houston in the past decade.

As Houston looks toward the future, business leaders will continue to diversify the economy through such sectors as life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and technology, according to Davenport. In addition, business leaders will keep driving the transition from traditional fossil fuels to "new energy" sources (like wind and solar), she says.

"Houston's future is a bright one," Davenport says. "Our young and well-educated workforce, coupled with targeted infrastructure investments, will help us become a hub for innovation in the years ahead."

Business Facilities magazine agrees with that assessment. In July 2018, it ranked Houston the No. 1 metro area for economic growth potential, stressing that the region's economy has expanded beyond Big Oil and that it's brimming with "innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship."

"Houston has a distinctly favorable business climate. The region benefits from a skilled workforce, world-class infrastructure and transportation system, and a pro-business environment that stimulates rather than stifles business growth," the magazine says.

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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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