This year's first round of grants will be announced in May and the company plans to make additional announcements throughout the year. Photo via Getty Images

Internet giant Comcast announced this month that it will invest another $1 million in the Houston-area to "shrink the local digital divide" in 2023.

A large portion of the investment will go toward 60 nonprofits and organizations that help Houstonians gain internet access and improve digital skills for the workforce.

This year's first round of grants will be announced in May and the company plans to make additional announcements throughout the year.

Comcast is considering programs that focus on the following areas:

  • Connectivity and adoption of internet and digital tools
  • Digital skills in the workforce
  • Entrepreneurship

The funds will also be used to support Houston organizations that raise awareness about low-cost internet connectivity programs like Internet Essentials and the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

"As we expand our next-generation network across southeast Texas, we’re here to be good neighbors. We’re here to support and uplift the communities we’re honored to do business in by teaming up with trusted partners to invest in programs that make a difference,” Ralph Martinez, Comcast Texas’ Regional Senior Vice President, said in a statement.

The investment from Comcast is part of the company's $1 billion initiative that aims to advance digital equity in the country, Project UP. The initiative has helped set up Comcast Lift Zones that provide free, high-capacity WiFi to students and families and has awarded funds to groups in other cities like Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Comcast deployed its first $1 million investment focused on Houston's digital equity last year, initially awarding funds to eight organizations like United Way, Dress for Success and The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston.

In times of crisis, communities are disproportionately affected and access to tech is limited. Here's what one organization is doing to bridge that gap. Photo courtesy of Medley Inc.

Houston expert: Three steps community organizations can take to close the digital divide

Guest column

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on low-income communities. On top of job losses and a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, people in disadvantaged neighborhoods face another significant hurdle: access to technology.

In communities like Houston's Fifth Ward, owning a device with internet access can be an almost insurmountable challenge, as residents are 53 percent more likely to lack access to basic technology than the greater Houston area.

Technology has the power to help level playing fields, providing information and resources and even programming and socialization to all who have access, but for communities where the median household income is roughly $18,308, or less than half of Houston's median income, organizations must bridge the gap and support residents' access to and adoption of technology.

Here are three steps the Julia C. Hester House, a community center serving the greater Fifth Ward in Houston, has taken in order to provide successful virtual programming and services to ensure that everyone from children to seniors can benefit.

Provide greater access

The first barrier disadvantaged communities face is access: both to devices and to the internet. A 2019 study from the Pew Research Center found that nearly half of low-income adults lack a computer, and a majority are not tablet owners. However, many residents have access to landlines and smartphones, offering a starting point for virtual engagement. Community centers can start with partnerships with tech companies to help bridge the gap by securing and distributing tablets and internet-ready devices to provide an initial step toward connectivity.

On top of low device adoption rates, the recurring cost of home broadband internet creates another hurdle. When the City of Houston used a portion of CARES act funds to provide one-year internet vouchers to 5,000 low-income households, Hester House worked to spread the news quickly to the Fifth Ward. Hester House also recently partnered with the Fifth Ward Redevelopment Corporation, which has taken on a leadership role in this regard, to get internet service into the homes of local seniors and families with young children. Public-private partnerships and policies that provide free or low-cost internet services across communities can enhance connectivity and improve outcomes for families and neighborhoods.

About 4 percent of Fifth Ward residents possess a college degree, and while that's not required to browse the web, it suggests a lack of exposure to technology, particularly among seniors who came of age before widespread adoption of the internet.Beyond securing greater access to broadband, new approaches to providing computer training and teaching tech fundamentals such as how to access and participate in Zoom meetings go a long way toward increasing new technology adoption rates. Zoom program participants may be reticent at first, but practice and support offer opportunities for greater community adoption.

Innovate program models

As internet, hardware and software access has increased in the community, the next step requires adjusting programming to meet new virtual parameters. Hester House moved many of their programs online and developed new programs to replace what was offered in person prior to the pandemic. Shifts to virtual programming can include virtual tutoring and youth classes, mental and social support programming, exercise and activity based video programming and purely social engagements such as group dinners and games.

The acclimation to virtual programming at Hester House has been a challenge, particularly for youth, however program managers continue to make adjustments to program models to strengthen engagement. Recurring programs that make use of music, guest speakers and pre-planned topics of conversation can help strengthen engagement and encourage participant retention, providing more shared experiences that uplift communities.

Measure and iterate results

As virtual programming continues to grow and find its cadence, program managers must continue to survey participants and make adjustments. Understanding the experiences and needs of participants will help guide planning and execution of changes that ensure participants will not only come back but will bring friends. Utilizing appreciative inquiry to improve programming benefits attendees and ensures that mission-oriented goals are met with regard to service to the community. For example, recent virtual gardening and food preservation classes, aimed at teaching healthy food growth and storage practices, has been so popular that the Hester House is assessing ways to expand the program and dive more deeply into specific topics.

Feedback from the community through surveys and qualitative data collection through individual interviews offer the space to understand the experience from members of the community, allowing organizations to focus on testing and iterating new approaches to foster successful engagement, continuing to meet the needs of the community.

It's no surprise that during difficult times, there's an even greater squeeze on nonprofits serving at-risk communities, which is why Hester House launched its Technology and Innovation Access Campaign in December. Campaign goals include funding long-term internet access, computer training, tech education classes and support, real-time tech support, helping residents navigate online applications for local, state, and national resources, and more. Community centers are focused on a successful continuation of service in these changing times, and the steps above offer a model for technology innovation for other organizations looking to provide continuity of service in difficult times.

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Lis Harper is a strategist and account executive at Houston-based Medley Inc.

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17 Houston entrepreneurs named finalists in annual regional competition

on to the next round

Entrepreneurs from the Houston area have been named finalists for one of the region’s most prestigious business awards.

The 17 finalists are competing for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year 2024 Gulf South Award. The Gulf South region includes parts of Texas, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.

An independent panel of judges selected the 48 finalists. Contenders were evaluated based on their demonstration of building long-term value through factors such as entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth, and impact.

The Houston-area finalists are:

  • Shannon Payne, Allied Fire Protection, Pearland
  • Jay McEntire IV, Arva Intelligence, Houston
  • Andrew Levy, Avelo Airlines, Houston
  • Derek Maetzold, Castle Biosciences, Friendswood
  • Scott Aronstein, Connectivity Source, Houston
  • Joshua Weisman, Construction Concepts, Houston
  • Feras Moussa and Ben Suttles, Disrupt Equity, Houston
  • John Poindexter, J.B. Poindexter, Houston
  • James Ross, LJA Engineering, Houston
  • Asher Kazmann, Locke Solutions, Houston
  • Chad Millis, Millis, Missouri City
  • Mike Francis, NanoTech Materials, Houston
  • Stuart Hinchen and Peter Jenkins, Quva Pharma, Sugar Land
  • Trevor Best and Suman Khatiwada, Syzygy Plasmonics, Houston
  • Hal Brumfield, Tachus Fiber Internet, The Woodlands
  • Jared Boudreaux, Vector Controls and Automation Group, Pearland
  • Ting Qiao, Wan Bridge, Houston

“The finalists of this year are audacious entrepreneurs who are making a significant impact in their respective industries and communities,” says Anna Horndahl, an EY partner and co-director of the EOY Gulf South Program.

“These pioneers, chosen by an independent panel of judges, showcase relentless commitment to their businesses, customers and communities. We are thrilled to acknowledge their accomplishments,” adds Travis Garms, an EY partner and co-director of the EOY Gulf South Program.

Houston makes top 10 list of metros with most millionaires

living large

Anew population analysis has unveiled an exclusive view into how the elite live in the U.S., including a surprising discovery that Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land has the No. 9 highest concentration of millionaire households in the country.

The study by online real estate marketplace Point2Homes compared household data among millionaires in the 30 biggest U.S. metropolitan areas, including four Texas metros, between 2017 and 2022.

The report found that the number of U.S. households that earned at least $1 million a year more than quadruped within the five-year period, with the highest concentration of millionaire households located in the New York-Newark-Jersey City area across New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

There are just under 2,900 millionaire homeowners living across the Houston metro, making up 0.11 percent of all households in the area. The report revealed a majority (32.9 percent) of millionaires in Houston are actually Gen Xers, with the second highest share going to baby boomers (28.9 percent).

Most interestingly, the youngest generation, Gen Z, make up 15.4 percent of all millionaire households in Houston, with millennials making up 21.5 percent, according to the report. But the Gen Z percentage is misleading; as the report clarifies, there aren't actually that many Gen Z millionaires walking among us in H-Town.

"Instead, this high share is most likely almost entirely due to the people aged 15 to 24 who are still living with their (millionaire) owner parents," the report explained. "Unfortunately, living in a millionaire owner household does not a millionaire owner make — but it does come with some serious perks."

Physicians make up Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land millionaires' main occupations across all age groups, the study also found.

This is how Houston's millionaires live
The saying goes, "Go big or go home," and Houston's millionaire homeowners are taking that to heart when it comes to their own lavish households.

The report discovered the typical home owned by a millionaire in Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land is a five bedroom, nine total-room house, with an average assessed value of $1,466,682. As for wheels, a Houston-based millionaire is likely to have less than three vehicles (2.8) on average.

By comparison, the average value for a millionaire homeowner's abode in San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, California is $2,816,196, the highest amount out of all 30 U.S. metros in the report.

Big, expensive homes don't come without big costs to maintain them, the report reminds. And when it comes to managing finances for wealthy earners, making more money doesn't necessarily mean they'll be saving that income.

"Rather, it just means bigger homes with bigger mortgages and maintenance expenses; more cars; much costlier schools; and more over-the-top lifestyles, which simply bite bigger chunks out of the family's big budget," the report said. "However, despite the 'risks,' most of us would probably choose to have rich people problems. Or, as the saying goes, crying in a Ferrari might just feel better than crying in a Toyota when all is said and done."

Millionaire lifestyles across Texas
In a comparison of all Texas metro areas, Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land claimed the highest share of millionaire homeowners statewide. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington took the No. 2 spot, while Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown rounded out the top three. San Antonio-New Braunfels took No. 4 in the statewide analysis.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington was right behind Houston in the national standings, ranking No. 10, with nearly 2,650 millionaire households situated in the Metroplex. DFW's millionaires are mainly chief executives and legislators, or physicians. Gen Xers (44.1 percent) make up the highest share of the metro's millionaires, with baby boomers (24.7 percent) not too far behind.

Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, however, fell to No. 24 in the national ranking with only 749 millionaire households calling the Texas Capital home. Austin's millionaires are mainly chief executives and legislators, or other types of high-level mangers. Gen Xers (34.9 percent) make up the highest share of the metro's millionaires, with millennials (30.8 percent) not too far behind.

San Antonio-New Braunfels ranked at the bottom of the study at No. 29, above Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There were only 414 millionaire households in the metro area between 2017-2022, and a majority of them (38.4 percent) were Gen X physicians.

The top 10 metros with the highest share of millionaires in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – New York-Newark-New Jersey City, New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania
  • No. 2 – Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California
  • No. 3 – San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, California
  • No. 4 – Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts-New Hampshire
  • No. 5 – Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Virginia-Marland-West Virginia
  • No. 6 – Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin
  • No. 7 – Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Florida
  • No. 8 – Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington
  • No. 9 – Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas
  • No. 10 – Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas

The full report and its methodology can be found on point2homes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.