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

 
 

"There's something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it." Photo via Getty Images

Houston's seen a growth in startup and venture investment — even amid the pandemic — and a group of Houston innovators sat down for a virtual event to discuss what's lead to this evolution.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted an installment of its Houston Industry Series focused on Digital Tech on Thursday, September 24. The panel of experts, moderated by Krisha Tracy of Google Cloud, discussed how they've observed the paradigm shift that's occurred in Houston over the past few years — and why.

Missed the discussion? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual event.

“I think there really is an interest for venture capital here, both locally and also welcoming it from outside of Houston. … There’s something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it. I think that magical piece is a renewed interest in collaborating.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund. "I think a lot [of this progress] is due to the GHP, Houston Exponential, and the founding of the HX Venture Fund to bring those venture funds to Houston to say, 'what's happening here?'" Campbell adds, saying that this connectivity and collaboration that's happening in Houston VC is unique.

“I think there’s a misconception around all we do is oil and gas and life science in Houston, but when you think about what VC-backable companies look like, they’re tech, they’re B2B SaaS, they’re highly scalable, and they don’t tend to be capital-intensive types of things we see corporate venture backing.”

Campbell says, adding "the connectivity and the interest in VC is really taking off. It's an exciting time to be in Houston and Texas in general."

“Plug and Play’s ventures team is based in Silicon Valley and one thing they enjoy about meeting Houston-based founders is valuations tend to be more reasonable than in the Bay Area."

Payal Patel, director of Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston. "There are gems to be found," she adds.

“I don’t know what it is — if it’s something in the water or just Texans being very friendly, but the investors here share deal flow. It takes a village, and I think we all understand a rising tide lifts all boats."

Patel says on the collaborative nature of Houston. "It's really magical."

“What you’re witnessing is a city that has been waiting for industrial innovation to reach the point where it can be adopted at a really high scale, and that happened around 2017.”

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas in Houston. Nordby adds that MassChallenge in Houston hasn't been keen on consumer tech, or the "grilled cheese delivery apps," as he describes. "We like companies that are in love with problems, not so much in love with solutions. … We build really meaningful tech."

“Over the last year or two, we’ve seen that sleeping giant get awoken. Open and external innovation is newly adopted by more legacy industries where it wasn’t before — and that’s just created a mountain of opportunities for startups and investors alike.”

Nordby says on the shift toward this meaningful, problem-solving technology, which Houston is full of, as he observes.

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