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Houston named the No. 2 city for STEM jobs

Need a job in STEM? You've come to the right place. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Sure, Houston can boast that it's the Energy Capital of the World. That's undisputed. However, Houston also is making strides in the wider range of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

A new study from the American Enterprise Institute's Housing Center finds Houston is No. 2 among the best U.S. metro areas for STEM workers. Dallas-Fort Worth topped the ranking, and Austin earned the No. 4 spot.

The American Enterprise Institute sifted through data in three categories — STEM employment in 2018, overall employment growth since 1990, and affordability for first-time homebuyers — to devise its ranking. In all, the institute examined the 30 metro areas with the most STEM jobs.

Houston landed at:

  • No. 10 for STEM employment, with 207,000 jobs in 2018. (The Greater Houston Partnership puts the current figure at more than 240,000).
  • No. 6 for overall employment growth (70 percent) since 1990.
  • No. 6 for median home price for first-time buyers.

The study notes that the vibrancy of home construction helped Houston maintain a high rate of employment growth and a high score for home affordability.

"On one hand, some metro areas with relatively high home prices are desirable places to live in terms of jobs and local amenities," the study says. "On the other hand, house prices may be higher than they really need to be due to local policies that needlessly drive up the price of land and thereby constrain the amount of new housing. Households should be aware of these tradeoffs."

Houston fared better in the American Enterprise Institute study than it did in a recent STEM ranking from personal finance website WalletHub. To determine the best markets for STEM professionals, WalletHub compared the 100 largest metro areas across 20 key metrics. Houston ranked 33rd, while Dallas-Fort Worth ranked 38th and Austin came in at No. 4.

Whether Houston stands at No. 2 or No. 33, business leaders are confident the region is fertile territory for STEM.

"Houston's talent base of 300,000 educated millennials and more than 240,000 STEM workers power our leading industries, including life sciences, energy, and manufacturing and logistics," says Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership.

"For us to continue to compete and grow in these critical sectors," Davenport adds, "we need to continue to foster and attract new STEM talent and market the positive attributes that make Houston a great place to live."

The Greater Houston Partnership touts several strengths that will propel the region's STEM sector, including:

  • The Texas Medical Center's recently announced TMC3 research hub.
  • A firm foothold in the life sciences industry, thanks to the Texas Medical Center, the world's largest complex of healthcare and life science institutions.
  • NASA's Johnson Space Center.
  • A cluster of more than 6,000 manufacturers.

Davenport points to establishment of Houston's four-mile-long Innovation Corridor — featuring an array of startup accelerators and tech incubators — as another vehicle for STEM success. At the heart of the corridor will be Rice University's new $100 million innovation hub, known as The Ion.

The corridor, she says, "will help Houston create the next generation of companies solving big problems."

Wind energy usage in Texas has been slowly creeping up on coal — and now the two are neck-and-neck. Getty Images

In an electrifying sign for the renewables sector of Houston's energy industry, wind for the first time has essentially tied with coal as a power source for Texas homes and businesses.

In 2019, wind (19.97 percent) and coal (20.27 percent) were locked in a statistical dead heat to be the No. 2 energy source for customers of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. Natural gas ranked first (40.2 percent). The Austin-based nonprofit manages about 90 percent of the state's electrical grid.

Houston stands to benefit greatly from these winds of change.

Long dominant in the oil and gas industry as the Energy Capital of the World, Houston is adapting to the shifting tide from traditional energy sources to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Over 30 companies involved in wind energy are based in the Houston area. Major local players in wind energy include BP Wind Energy North America Inc., EDP Renewables North America LLC, and Pattern Energy Group Inc. In addition, many of the state's more than 130 wind-generation projects are operated from Houston.

Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says the region's "unparalleled experience" with massive energy initiatives supplies an edge in the burgeoning renewable energy sector.

"Houston's talent base knows energy, from development to commercial operations, and the region offers a competitive advantage to renewable energy companies looking to develop projects both domestically and around the world," Harvey says. "Houston and Texas are well positioned as leaders who are developing large-scale renewable energy projects in both wind and solar."

Harvey says ERCOT's aggressive pursuit of wind and solar power also bodes well for Houston and the entire state.

"When combined with our natural advantages of great sites for wind and solar, our market structure has made Texas a global leader in the transition to low-carbon power generation," he says. "We expect Houston will continue to play a major role as wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources continue to rise on a global scale."

Susan Sloan, vice president of state affairs at the American Wind Energy Association, notes that Texas leads all states for wind energy, with 25 gigawatts of capacity generated by nearly 14,000 wind turbines. The Lone Star State produces about one-fourth of the country's wind power, and the wind energy industry employs more than 25,000 Texans.

With another 9 gigawatts of capacity coming online, "Texas continues to champion investment in wind energy as the state's electric load continues to increase," says Sloan, who's based in Austin. "Wind is an established and growing part of the Texas energy economy, and will be for years to come."

Texas has made great strides in wind energy in the past decade. In 2010, wind represented only 7.8 percent of ERCOT's power generation and ranked as the grid's No. 4 energy source, while coal stood at 39.5 percent and ranked first.

In September 2019, Norwegian energy research firm Rystad Energy predicted wind will bypass coal as a Texas energy source in 2020. Rystad Energy, which has an office in Houston, expects wind to generate 87 terawatt-hours of electricity in Texas this year compared with 84.4 terawatt-hours from coal. One terawatt-hour equals the output of 1 trillion watts over a one-hour period.

"Texas is just one of many red states that have recently 'gone green' by harnessing their great wind-generation potential," Carlos Torres-Diaz, head of gas market research at Rystad Energy, said in a release. Renewable energy sources like wind "are reaching a level where new installations are not driven solely by policies or subsidies, but by economics," he added.