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The real estate challenges, opportunities Houston faces as hub for biotech, according to expert

guest column

In the decade prior to COVID, when it came to early stage biotech companies establishing a foothold in Houston, space-wise, there were only a handful of options to choose from. Because of specialized equipment needs, including in many cases, the requirement for vent hoods, multiple sinks, and 24/7 air-conditioned space, traditional flex type projects were not a ready-made option. UH’s Technology Bridge offered those amenities, and while it worked for some, it was not intended as a permanent business home. Most emerging biotech firms found space that was a partial fit, and modified it to work (at their cost).

Houston’s Rise on the National Stage

For a variety of reasons, including its broad talent pool, lower cost of operations, and more favorable business climate, Houston has continued to attract biotech companies from other states. Following on the heels of new and expanding life science firms, and a supportive ecosystem, investor interest in building and purchasing properties to meet their specialized requirements has been a natural result. Unlike traditional office occupiers, lab users need physical space, and are not candidates for a hybrid or work from home model.

TMC Proximity Premium

Land costs inside Loop 610 have historically trended higher than suburban alternatives. For this reason, the newest projects completed near TMC like Helix Park and the planned Bioport are focused on much larger firms and institutions with the ability to commit to a long lease term and pay a premium rent. A second tier of real estate investors has also entered the market, however, purchasing nearby 80’s vintage projects, upgrading them, and repurposing the space to meet demand from mid-size or less creditworthy biotech companies. Existing small to mid-size tenants currently housed in these projects can expect to see bumps in both rent and expenses.

As an alternative to close-in options, but within a reasonable drive of the TMC, Pearland, Sugar Land and Stafford have increasingly become a location choice for biotech firms. Pearland’s EDC has targeted life science companies needing custom-built manufacturing facilities with economic incentives for some time. Lonza, Merit Medical, and formerly St. Paul-based Cardiovascular Systems are just three recent examples touted on their website.

Planning for Affordable Lab Space Options

Management teams for early stage companies are stretched thin, and are not always prepared for the time and money it takes to find and equip office/lab space.

Not all suburban landlords want to incur the sizeable costs for a customized build out, which can range between $40 and $200 per square foot. Entrepreneurs are also surprised by the 4-6 months of lead time it typically takes to identify space options, negotiate a lease, and permit and build the improvements (including the unexpected costs of bringing an older project in compliance with current energy and building codes).

However, with realistic expectations about these challenges, the good news is that once settled into a facility that is a fit, Houston’s emerging biotech companies can thrive and grow.

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Julie King is President of NB Realty Partners. She has mentored and provided commercial real estate advice to technology, biotech, and early-stage companies for over 23 years.

Houston space tech company secures third NASA mission, reveals new spacesuits

ready for liftoff

A Houston-based space tech company has revealed details on two of its commercial partnerships with NASA.

NASA and Axiom Space have again signed a mission order for a private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The mission will commence sometime in November or on and will be from the agency’s NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Axiom Mission 3 is the third mission of its kind and, according to a statement from NASA, is expected to be a 14-day trip.

The ISS's Multilateral Crew Operations Panel will approve four proposed crew members and two back up crew submitted by Axiom for the Ax-3 mission. The crew will be expected to train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX beginning this spring, according to NASA.

“Axiom Space’s selection to lead the next private astronaut mission to the International Space Station enables us to continue expanding access to nations, academia, commercial entities, and emerging industries to research, test, and demonstrate new technologies in microgravity,” says Michael Suffredini, CEO and president of Axiom Space, in the release. “As NASA’s focus shifts back to the Moon and on to Mars, we are committed to transforming low-Earth orbit into a global space marketplace, where access to space moves beyond the partners of the space station to nations, institutions and individuals with new ideas fueling a thriving human economy beyond Earth.”

Axiom's historic first commercial launch was in spring of 2022, and Ax-2, which will launch the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS, is expected to launch this spring. In addition to these two missions, Axiom has been tasked by NASA to develop spacesuits and space station technology.

After several months of working on the suits, Axiom has revealed the details of the technology that will be worn by NASA astronauts returning to the moon on the Artemis III mission that's scheduled to land near the lunar south pole in 2025.

The newly revealed spacesuit will be worn by the first woman and first person of color to visit the moon. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

“We’re carrying on NASA’s legacy by designing an advanced spacesuit that will allow astronauts to operate safely and effectively on the Moon,” says Suffredini in a statement from the company. “Axiom Space’s Artemis III spacesuit will be ready to meet the complex challenges of the lunar south pole and help grow our understanding of the Moon in order to enable a long-term presence there.”

Called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU, the prototype was revealed at Space Center Houston’s Moon 2 Mars Festival today, March 15. According to Axiom, a full fleet of training spacesuits will be delivered to NASA by late this summer.

At the same time as the Ax-3 mission announcement, NASA also announced that it has selected Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas, to carry multiple payloads to the far side of the Moon. According to NASA, the commercial lander will deliver two agency payloads, as well as communication and data relay satellite for lunar orbit, which is an European Space Agency collaboration with NASA.

The contract — awarded for around $112 million — is targeted to launch in 2026 through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, initiative, and part of the agency’s Artemis program. It's the second award to Firefly under the CLPS initiative.

“The diversity of currently available commercial orbital human spaceflight opportunities is truly astounding. NASA’s commercial crew flights to the space station for our government astronauts paved the way for fully private missions to space like Inspiration4 and Polaris as well as private astronaut missions to the orbiting laboratory like the one we are announcing today,” says Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in the release. “We are starting to see the incorporation of space into our economic sphere, and it is going to revolutionize the way people see, use, and experience space.”

How Houston stacks up when it comes to its gender pay gap

mind the gap

Pi wasn't the only thing celebrated yesterday on March 14. Equal Pay Day is also celebrated on the same day — a day to examine the decades of advocacy to extinguish the pay gap between men and women.

Unfortunately, nationwide the gap is still large. The latest Census Bureau says women make 18 percent less money than men do. We know the numbers for Texas and several of its cities, thanks to a new study by small biz experts Chamber of Commerce. They investigated the earnings for full-time workers in 170 of the most populous cities in the United States.

The analysis found that Texas has the 29th largest pay gap out of all 50 states, with women making nearly $11,000 less than men. Texas women can be glad they don’t live in Wyoming, which has the largest pay gap of the states at almost $19,000.

The city with the largest gender pay gap in the United States is Sunnyvale, California, home to Silicon Valley, with an earnings difference of $40,584 between men and women. Actually, California cities make up half of the top 10 largest gender pay gaps.

Texas, however, has two towns in the top 10. Coming in at No. 2 is Frisco and McKinney lands at No. 5. Frisco men make nearly $40,000 more than women, while McKinney men make $29,000 more than women. Just outside the top 10 is Plano at No. 12, with their gender pay gap adding up to $20,736.

How does Houston fair? Not too shabby, actually. The Bayou City landed at the No. 114 spot out of 170 of the most-populated cities in the U.S. Dallas actually has the smallest gender pay gap in Texas, coming in at No. 166 with just $192 between full-time working men and women.

Here's how the rest of Texas ranks:

  • No. 13 – Austin
  • No. 25 – Pasadena
  • No. 30 – Lubbock
  • No. 45 – Fort Worth
  • No. 70 – Irving
  • No. 71 – Corpus Christi
  • No. 74 – San Antonio
  • No. 89 – Arlington
  • No. 93 – Grand Prairie
  • No 97 – El Paso
  • No. 101 – Laredo
  • No. 110 – Amarillo
  • No. 125 – Brownsville
  • No. 134 – Garland

The full study can be found on chamberofcommerce.org.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.