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."

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.