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Houston named a top life science emerging market

A new report from a real estate firm has Houston high on its list for emerging life science hubs. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston is moving up the life sciences ladder.

In October, commercial real estate services company CBRE ranked Houston second on its list of the top emerging clusters for life sciences in the U.S. Pittsburgh took the No. 1 spot, while Austin sat at No. 3.

Now, commercial real estate services company JLL also is giving Houston's life sciences sector some love. JLL recently issued a report identifying Houston as one of the top emerging markets in the U.S. for life sciences.

Among the markets covered in the JLL report, Houston ranked seventh for the number of STEM degrees among people 25 and older (409,354). The gives Houston an edge in terms of life sciences talent.

JLL puts Houston at No. 8 in another life sciences category: wage positioning. This refers either to wages above the industry average that entice life sciences talent or wages below the industry average that attract cost-conscious employers.

"Traditional top life science markets will likely retain their positions; however, it's encouraging that Houston, home to one of the world's largest medical centers, continues to rise on the list of markets for further advancements in the life sciences sector," JLL says.

According to the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston has more than 1,760 life sciences companies, hospitals, health care facilities, and research institutions with a workforce exceeding 320,000. Houston's major corporate employers in life sciences include Abbott, Bayer, Fisher Scientific, Merck, Mylan, Novartis, and Philips.

Of course, the Texas Medical Center — the world's largest medical complex — plays a critical role in the region's life sciences sector. The medical center's TMC3 life sciences hub, set to open in 2022, promises to lift Houston's life sciences profile even more. The 30-acre, 1.5-million-square-foot TMC3 campus is projected to create 30,000 jobs and generate an economic impact of $5.2 billion.

Houston-based real estate developer Hines also is getting in on the life sciences game. It is leading establishment of a 52-acre life sciences hub, Levit Green, adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

In February, commercial real estate firm NAI Partners pinpointed these as the Houston area's current and potential hotspots for life sciences:

  • 1,345-acre Texas Medical Center complex
  • 4,200-acre Generation Park mixed-use development
  • Katy
  • League City
  • New Caney
  • Pearland
  • Sugar Land
  • The Woodlands

NAI Partners noted that life sciences clusters ranking above Houston in the CBRE report sit on the East Coast or West Coast. That makes Houston "the essential location for top-tier, forward-thinking life sciences companies interested in expanding into new geographies," says Holden Rushing, senior vice president of NAI Partners and a member of its life sciences and health care team.

NAI Partners says Houston has affirmed its reputation as one of the most appealing places in the U.S. for life sciences properties.

"Between its highly educated talent pool, nationally regarded health care industry, and business-friendly environment — including being one of the few states without a personal, state, or corporate income tax — Houston's cost-effective tax structure makes it a choice location for any company looking to establish a presence or expand its current footprint," says Travis Rodgers, chief operating officer and executive vice president of NAI Partners.

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Building Houston

 
 

Irving-based ExxonMobil has announced the Houston Ship Channel will be the site of an "innovation zone" for carbon capture and storage. Photo via Business Wire

In a move that would be a gamechanger for Houston, oil and gas giant ExxonMobil envisions creating a $100 billion carbon-capture hub along the Houston Ship Channel.

ExxonMobil foresees the Houston Ship Channel being the site of an "innovation zone" for carbon capture and storage. In a blog post on the ExxonMobil website, Joe Blommaert, the Houston-based president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, says Houston would be "the perfect place" for the project because:

  • The ship channel is home to dozens of refineries and petrochemical plants.
  • The geological formations in the Gulf of Mexico could "safely, securely, and permanently" store tons of carbon emissions under the sea floor, according to the blog post. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the storage capacity along the U.S. Gulf Coast could handle 500 million metric tons of CO2.

Irving-based ExxonMobil, which employs more than 12,000 people in the Houston area, says the project could capture and store about 50 million metric tons of CO2 annually by 2030. By 2040, that number could rise to 100 million metric tons.

"We could create an economy of scale where we can reduce the cost of the carbon dioxide mitigation, create jobs, and reduce the emissions," Blommaert tells the Reuters news service.

In a news release, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner applauds the ExxonMobil plan.

"This proposal by ExxonMobil is the type of bold ambition and investment we will need to meet our climate goals and protect our communities from climate change," Turner says. "ExxonMobil's proposal represents a significant step forward for the energy industry, and I hope it brings more companies to the table to help Houston lead a global energy transition."

Turner notes that the Houston area is home to some of the largest emitters of carbon in the U.S., adding that everyone has "a responsibility and role to play in decarbonization."

Blommaert says the project would require public and private funding, along with "enhanced regulatory and legal frameworks that enable investment and innovation." According to Politico, ExxonMobil wants the federal government to kick in tax breaks or to set carbon-pricing policies to help get the project off the ground.

Politico reports that the Biden administration isn't considering ExxonMobil's idea as it prepares a climate-change package.

"Meanwhile, environmental groups and many Democrats have slammed carbon-capture proposals as a climate strategy, saying the only way to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution is a wholesale switch away from fossil fuels," Politico says.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency maintains that carbon capture and storage "are critical for putting energy systems around the world on a sustainable path." Achieving net-zero goals "will be virtually impossible" without carbon capture and storage, the group says.

ExxonMobil announced creation of its Low Carbon Solutions business unit in February as part of its push to invest $3 billion in lower-emission energy initiatives through 2025. Low Carbon Solutions initially will focus on technology for carbon capture and storage. The business unit is exploring opportunities along the Gulf Coast, as well as in Wyoming, Belgium, the Netherlands, Qatar, Scotland, and Singapore.

Last year, ExxonMobil hit the pause button on a $260 million carbon-capture project in Wyoming due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Bloomberg news service.

In a December report, the Global CCS Institute, a think tank, said 65 commercial carbon-capture projects were in various stages of development around the world.

"Climate ambition, including efforts to decarbonize industry, has not been curtailed despite the adversities faced in 2020," Brad Page, CEO of the institute, says in a news release about the report. "We're continuing to see an upward trajectory in the amount of CO2 capture and storage infrastructure that is being developed. One of the largest factors driving this growth is recognition that achieving net-zero emissions is urgent yet unattainable without CO2 reductions from energy-intensive sectors."

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