by the numbers

Report: Houston sees uptick in data center leasing activity

According to a report from CBRE, Houston registered the eighth-most data center leasing in North America in first half of 2021. Photo by Christina Morillo/Pexels

Houston's data center market is electrified. In the first half of 2021, the local data center market saw the eight highest amount of leasing activity among the 17 North American markets tracked by commercial real estate services company CBRE.

In the first half of this year, the Houston data market experienced net absorption of 5.7 megawatts worth of capacity, up 119 percent from the first half of last year, CBRE says. Net absorption is a key indicator of leasing activity.

During the past year, Houston has added 5.1 megawatts of inventory, dropping the vacancy rate for data centers to 18.5 percent, according to CBRE.

"There have been a few large transactions in the first half of the year that added to Houston's increased absorption numbers," Brant Bernet, senior vice president in CBRE's Dallas office, says in a September 7 news release. "The major storyline for the Houston market is investor interest."

A handful of data center acquisitions already have occurred this year in the Houston area, and more could be on the horizon, Bernet said. Datacenters.com lists 20 privately owned data centers in the Houston area. Among all landlords, Dallas-based CyrusOne owns the most data centers in the Houston market — four.

In June, Las Vegas-based data center operator Switch completed its purchase of Austin-based data center company Data Foundry for $420 million. In Houston, Data Foundry operated two data centers totaling 370,000 square feet. At the end of 2021, Switch plans to develop more data centers in Houston and Austin that are set to open in 2023.

The smaller of Switch's two newly acquired data centers here is a 20,000-square-foot facility at 5555 San Felipe St. in West Houston. The larger one, encompassing 350,000 square feet, sits on an 18-acre site at 660 Greens Pkwy. in North Houston.

In March, Vienna, Virginia-based data center operator Element Critical purchased Skybox Datacenters' facility in Katy for an undisclosed amount. The more than 96,000-square-foot data center sits on 20 acres at 22000 Franz Rd. Skybox is based in Dallas.

A CBRE report indicates Houston's data center market remains dominated by international energy companies, finance companies, and regional health care providers. Demand comes largely from locally based companies.

Phillip Marangella, chief marketing officer at Herndon, Virginia-based EdgeConneX, is among insiders in the data center industry who are bullish about the future of data centers. EdgeConneX operates a 93,400-square-foot data center at 1510 Prime West Pkwy. in Katy.

"Data centers will be processing more workloads, more data, more video, more machine learning, and [will be] serving as facilitators for a global transformation in business, even smaller or more regional enterprises," Marangella tells Data Center Frontier. "Data centers are becoming part of an infrastructure fabric of capacity, connectivity, power, and proximity that is empowering enterprises to take advantage of the location, the scale, and the economics that work for them."

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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