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

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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