Houston usurped the Dallas metro to grab the No. 2 ranking in the United States for big cities attracting corporate relocation and expansion projects. Getty Images

In Texas, Houston rules the corporate relocation and expansion kingdom.

Site Selection magazine ranks Houston second among large U.S. metro areas for the number of corporate relocation and expansion projects landed in 2019. That's up two spots from the previous year's ranking.

On the new list, published in the magazine's March issue, Houston replaces Dallas-Fort Worth in the No. 2 spot among metros with at least 1 million residents, pushing DFW down to No. 3. Austin takes the No. 6 spot.

Last year, Houston landed 276 projects that met the magazine's ranking criteria. With 416 projects, Chicago earned the No. 1 spot. Dallas-Fort Worth scored 261 projects in 2019, while Austin snagged 95.

Qualifying projects for Site Selection's rankings must have a minimum investment of $1 million, create at least 20 new jobs, or involve at least 20,000 square feet of new space.

A couple of notable Houston corporate relocations or expansions in 2019 were:

"This latest ranking is more evidence of Houston's strength as a destination for corporate relocation and investment," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says in a March 3 statement. "Our low cost of doing business, access to quality talent, and pro-growth mentality continue to make Houston an attractive place for companies across the country and around the world looking for expansion and relocation opportunities. Our strong, diverse economy is a big part of what makes Houston a great global city."

Commercial real estate services company Colliers International notes that Houston is one of the country's most competitive cities for corporate relocation and expansion.

"Houston's ability to foster continued expansion in future-growth industries responsible for generating high-quality, well-paid jobs across all business sectors has placed it in the top tier among U.S. cities," Colliers International says. "With its numerous business advantages, Houston is well positioned to successfully compete in today's global marketplace."

Among those advantages, Colliers says, are:

  • Two major airports
  • Massive seaport
  • Extensive rail and road infrastructure
  • 90 foreign consulates

In February 2019, René Lacerte, founder and CEO of Bill.com, said the Palo Alto, California-based company picked Houston for its first U.S. outpost following an "extensive national search." Bill.com settled on Houston because of its talent pool, quality of life, and business-friendly environment, he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said the Bill.com expansion represents a "another great example of Houston's building momentum as a leading digital tech hub."

A second example is Amazon Web Services' July 2019 expansion in Houston. Kris Satterthwaite, the company's Gulf Coast enterprise sales leader, praised the city as "a fantastic place to live and work," and as having "a strong local economy that we look forward to investing in and growing together [with]."

The Houston-DFW-Austin trifecta of top-performing markets for corporate relocation and expansion in 2019 helped propel Texas to win Site Selection's Governor's Cup Award for the eighth consecutive year.

In accepting the award, Gov. Greg Abbott called Texas "the most dynamic economy in the nation."

"Texas' skilled, diverse, and ever-expanding workforce drives our booming economy," Abbott said. "I want to thank all of our local, regional and statewide economic development teams for their work to expand economic opportunity in Texas, as well as the companies that continue to invest and create more jobs throughout the Lone Star State."

Bill.com's new Houston office is in West Houston and has space for 125 employees. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Silicon Valley fintech company officially opens its second headquarters in Houston

New to town

Only 18 months ago, a growing Palo Alto, Calif.-based fintech company was weighing its options for its first out-of-state expansion. And yesterday, Bill.com opened its second headquarters in Houston.

"When we set out to find a second headquarters in Houston, we had three criteria we were looking for," says René Lacerte, CEO of Bill.com.

Those three things were a good education foundation, vibrant business economy, and diversity, which "Houston has that in spades," Lacerte adds.

Lacerte, who is based in Palo Alto, celebrated the opening of the office on September 18 at a reception that included Mayor Sylvester Turner, Susan Davenport, president of the Greater Houston Partnership, and others who were involved in the process of bring Bill.com to Houston. Mayor Turner even celebrated the office opening by proclaiming September 18th as Bill.com Day in Houston.

"We've worked very hard the past few years to strengthen Houston's digital tech innovation ecosystem," says Davenport. "Today, I think solidifies the momentum we've been building."

The new office is located on the west side of town at the CityWest office development. Bill.com has 25,000 square feet and can have up to 125 employees. Lacerte says he wants to have every department represented in the Houston office, from sales to programming.

"There are two reasons I founded the company," Lacerte says to the crowd. "One was to make a difference in the lives of our customers, and the other was to make a difference in the lives of our employees. Having this second office is a huge opportunity in the lives of people in our communities."

Lacerte founded Bill.com in 2006, and the company has raised over $259 million in funding. The software-as-a-service company has over 3 million members, according to Bill.com, and processes $60 billion in payments annually.

California-based Bill.com is opening its second office in Houston. Photo via Bill.com

Expanding fintech company bets on Houston for second office

Bills, bills, bills

Usually, getting stuck with the bill isn't a good situation to be in, but this is different. Houston just scored the second office of Bill.com, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based business software company. The company decided on Houston because of what the city has to offer both the business and its employees.

"We conducted an extensive national search to select our first location outside the San Francisco Bay Area," says René Lacerte, CEO of Bill.com, in a release from the Greater Houston Partnership. "We're growing at a high speed and it's critical to find the right mix of talent, quality of life and business-friendliness in our next office location. We found all this and more in Houston and are delighted the city can support our next phase of growth."

Planned to open this spring, Bill.com's Houston office will be located on the west side of town at the CityWest development, where it will occupy 25,000 square feet, per the release, and employ 125 people.

"The City of Houston is thrilled to welcome the Bill.com team," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "We've always been a global and innovative city and the Bill.com announcement is another great example of Houston's building momentum as a leading digital tech hub. We offer a great place to live, work and grow a business, especially for startups and entrepreneurs."

Bill.com was founded in 2006 by René Lacerte and has raised over $259 million in funding. The software-as-a-service company has over 3 million members, according to Bill.com, and processes $60 billion in payments annually.

The Greater Houston Partnership was instrumental in bringing the second Bill.com office to town.

"Houston has always been at the cutting edge of technology — we put a person on the moon and created the first artificial heart, and we continue to build on that legacy," says Susan Davenport, the Greater Houston Partnership's chief economic development officer. "We've been working hard over the last couple of years to develop our community as a hub for digital tech, and the Bill.com expansion here is a validation and confirmation that we've made great progress."

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Growing Houston-based drone software company snags government contract

ready for liftoff

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Report: Houstonians lose days-worth of time each year due to rush hour

not in the fast lane

Traffic is a part of life in Houston. But a new study quantifies just how much time the average Bayou City dweller spends sitting in rush hour gridlock every year—and the results are eye opening.

According to a study released this month by CoPilot, Houstonians lose nearly four days of time each year due to rush hour commuting.

The report found that rush hour extends Houstonians' commute by an extra 22 minutes per day. Annually, that totaled an additional 91.6 hours commuting due to rush hour.

This earned the Houston area (including the Woodlands and Sugar Land) a No. 8 spot on CoPilot's list of cities where commuters lose the most time to rush hour.

Evening commutes saw the highest increase in time in Houston, with the average commuter spending 14 additional minutes on roadways due to rush hour. Morning rush hour in Houston added about eight minutes to commuters' daily drives.

Houston was the only Texas city to make CoPilot's list of the top 15 cities that lost the most time to rush hour traffic. New York drivers lost the most time to rush hour, which adds about 32 minutes to daily commutes and 132 hours a year, according to the report. Los Angeles drivers lost the second-most time, followed by urban Honolulu, Miami, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Birmingham, Alabama.

The report found that drivers in Houston spend about eight more minutes commuting during rush hour than the average driver in the county. That totals to about 30 more hours per year than the average U.S. driver.

Commute times have been dropping nationally, reaching a low of 25.6 minutes in 2021 compared to 27.6 minutes in 2019, as more workers have transitioned to hybrid schedules or working from home, according to CoPilot

In 2020, Houston drivers even witnessed a 33 percent drop in traffic compared to in 2019, according to a study from Rice.

Still, Houston roadways are consistently ranked among the most congested in the country. Last year, a similar study found that the typical Houston driver wasted 46 hours due to traffic congestion.

Portions of the 610 West Loop are notorious for being ranked as the state's most congested roadways, and other stretches of roads are known as some of the worst bottlenecks in Texas.