Houston energy exec named to statewide position

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Vicki Hollub has been appointed chairwoman of the Texas Economic Development Corp. Photo via Oxy

Vicki Hollub, president and CEO of Houston-based oil and gas company Occidental Petroleum, has been appointed chairwoman of the Texas Economic Development Corp.

Hollub, who lives in Galveston, had been vice chairwoman of TxEDC, a privately funded nonprofit that collaborates with the state-funded Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism to promote Texas as a business location. She succeeds Temple businessman Drayton McLane Jr., former owner of the Houston Astros, as chair of the Austin-based organization.

Hollub became the first woman to lead a major American oil and gas company when she was tapped as Occidental’s president and CEO in 2016. She has worked at Occidental for 35 years.

In a 2020 interview, Hollub outlined Occidental’s future as a “carbon management company.”

“Ultimately, I don’t know how many years from now, Occidental becomes a carbon management company, and our oil and gas would be a support business unit for the management of that carbon. We would be not only using [CO2] in oil reservoirs [but] capturing it for sequestration as well,” Hollub said.

Aside from elevating Hollub to the role of chairwoman, Gov. Greg Abbott has named Houston’s Mauricio Gutierrez to the TxEDC board of directors. Gutierrez is president and CEO of Houston-based NRG Energy.

Abbott’s office also made two other recent business-related announcements involving the Houston area:

  • Workforce development grants from the Texas Talent Connection program were awarded to Alvin Community College, the Bay Area Houston Advanced Technology Consortium, Capital IDEA of Houston, Lone Star College, the University of Houston – Downtown, and Volunteers of America.
  • Grants for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) summer youth camps were awarded to Lone Star College – Tomball, the University of Houston – Clear Lake, Brazosport College, the San Jacinto Community College District, and Houston Community College.
We're all work and no play. Photo courtesy of AFlags

Texas clocks in among 5 hardest-working states in America, study shows

labor of love

With a nod to disco diva Donna Summer, Texans work hard for the money.

A new study from personal finance website WalletHub puts Texas at No. 5 among the hardest-working states, down one spot from No. 4 in last year's study. Ahead of Texas are, in descending order, Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

To determine where Americans work the hardest, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 10 key indicators. Those factors include average number of workweek hours, share of workers with multiple jobs, and annual number of volunteer hours per resident.

Boosting Texas on this list is the state's average number of workweek hours. The Lone Star State ranks fourth in that category.

Texas also ranks high for the following:

  • Share of workers who leave vacation time unused (No. 11).
  • Share of workers who are "engaged" (No. 5).

Texas ranks low for the share of workers with multiple jobs (No. 46) and the employment rate (No. 39).

More than 13.2 million Texans were employed in July in the state's civilian workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That month, the statewide unemployment rate stood at 6.2 percent. The civilian workforce includes people who are inmates, agricultural workers, and federal employees, but not those who are active-duty military personnel.

In July, Gov. Greg Abbott lauded the state's "young, growing, and skilled workforce" for helping forge a "diversified and resilient economy."

"The Texas economy is booming. Businesses are investing in the Lone Star State at a record pace because we've built a framework that allows free enterprise to flourish and hardworking Texans to prosper," Abbott said.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How's startup life in Texas? Well, it's the best in the nation, according to a new ranking. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Texas ranks as the best state to start a business

lone star startups

If you're a Texan looking to launch a startup, you appear to be in the right place.

Personal finance website WalletHub puts Texas at No. 1 in its new ranking of the best and worst states for starting a business. Across the 50 states, WalletHub compared 28 key indicators of startup success to come up with the list.

In the general bucket for "business environment," Texas ranked second. It dropped to 12th in the "access to resources" category and 32nd in the "business costs" category. Digging deeper, Texas appears at No. 4 for the average length of the workweek, No. 5 for the highest total spending on incentives as a percentage of GDP, and No. 6 for average growth in number of small businesses. However, Texas scored a below-average 29th-place ranking for labor costs.

"Choosing the right state for a business is … crucial to its success," WalletHub explains. "A state that provides the ideal conditions for business creation — access to cash, skilled workers, and affordable office space, for instance — can help new ventures not only take off but also thrive."

The WalletHub accolade follows a handful of other recent plaudits for Texas' business-friendly environment.

In March, Site Selection magazine awarded its Governor's Cup to Texas. The Governor's Cup honors the top states for job creation and capital investment.

"Despite the challenges faced from the COVID-19 pandemic, we've seen what Texas can achieve when we foster an environment that empowers people to succeed," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement about the Governor's Cup win. "The Texas model continues to inspire entrepreneurs and innovators and attract job creators from across the country, and I look forward to spurring more job growth and opportunity for all Texans in every corner of our great state."

A month later, Chief Executive magazine crowned Texas the best state for business for the 17th consecutive year.

But Texas ranked fourth in CNBC's recent rundown of the top states for business in 2021. "A fourth-place finish would be good for most states, but not Texas. This year's finish ties for the worst-ever for the four-time Top State, which last won in 2018," CNBC says.

CNBC says Texas finished fourth based on the strength of its workforce and economy.

"But Texas was hurt this year by policies that run counter to the study's increased focus on inclusiveness," adds CNBC, pointing out that Abbott is pressing ahead with these policies during the current special session of the Texas Legislature.

Abbott's agenda for the special session includes legislation that critics view as watering down voting rights, attacking public school education about racism, and punishing transgender competitors in school sports. Supporters say these measures would preserve election integrity, strip critical race theory from public education in Texas, and protect females participating in school sports whose gender identity aligns with their birth gender.

Texans have been rightfully wary of the grid. Photo by Getty Images

ERCOT announces plan to improve Texas power grid reliability

a better grid

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently demanded aggressive action from state utility regulators to shore up the power grid.

Now, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is revealing its plan to address improvements.

On Tuesday, July 13, ERCOT released a 60-item roadmap it said will be updated regularly through the end of the year. The council says it includes both existing and new initiatives.

Here are a few of the items, according to ERCOT:

  • Taking a more aggressive approach by bringing more generation online sooner if it's needed to balance supply and demand. The grid operator is also purchasing more reserve power, especially on days when the weather forecast is uncertain.
  • Requiring CEO certifications. After a rule change, all market participants who own or operate generation resources and/or transmission/distribution power lines will be required to submit a letter signed by their CEO twice a year certifying their companies have completed their weatherization preparations to protect the electric grid for the summer and winter seasons.
  • Adding new requirements for generation owners. ERCOT is proposing a new market rule that requires generators to provide operational updates more frequently.
  • Assessing on-site fuel supplies. ERCOT is reviewing the need for on-site fuel supplies for some generators.
  • Performing unannounced testing of generation resources. ERCOT says this testing helps verify that generators have provided accurate information about their availability.
  • Addressing transmission constraints in Rio Grande Valley. ERCOT and the PUC (Public Utility Commission) are initiating a process to address RGV transmission limitations and provide increased market access for resources in the Valley. ERCOT says this will improve reliability for customers during normal conditions and high-risk weather events.


ERCOT and grid woes continue to be top of mind for Texans. At least 220 generators were offline the week of June 14 when council officials called for Texans to conserve power.

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Continue reading on our news partner ABC13.

Tesla's Fremont, California, factory employs around 10,000 people and uses a fleet of robots to create the vehicles. Photo courtesy of Tesla Motors

Tesla taps Texas for new factory with construction already underway

Lone star state bound

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is putting an end to months of speculation of if the Lone Star State is to be considered for Tesla's next U.S. factory. Multiple cities including Tulsa, Oklahoma, were attempting to woo the electric car manufacturer.

But, as Musk announced this week, work is already underway on a new site in Austin. The 2,100-acre site sits near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Previous reporting by numerous sources revealed that Tesla had a $5 million option to purchase the property, which has around two miles of frontage on the Colorado River. A sand and gravel mining company currently operates on the site, which is off Texas State Highway 130, just south of Harold Green Road. Google already marks the site as Tesla GigaAustin.

"Tesla is one of the most exciting and innovative companies in the world, and we are proud to welcome its team to the State of Texas," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "Texas has the best workforce in the nation and we've built an economic environment that allows companies like Tesla to innovate and succeed.

"Tesla's Gigafactory Texas will keep the Texas economy the strongest in the nation and will create thousands of jobs for hard-working Texans," he continues. "I look forward to the tremendous benefits that Tesla's investment will bring to Central Texas and to the entire state."

Travis County, where the plant is located, recently approved to grant a tax break for the company that is projected to amount to $14 million in savings on property taxes over the next 10 years. The Del Valle school district, where the site is located, also approved a tax holiday for the company, granting approximately $50 million in tax rebates over the same timespan.

Tesla has promised to reinvest 10 percent of the tax rebate amount back into the community.

The company is planning to spend $1.1 billions to built a 4 to 5 million square foot factory on the site that will employ around 5,000 acres according to documents filed with Travis Country. Workers would earn an average salary of around $47,000 and have benefits and stock options. Minimum pay will be $15 per hour. The workers would not be unionized.

The factory will be company's second automotive plant in the U.S. The other is located in Fremont, California, and employed around 10,000 people.

Tesla intends to make its new Cybertruck at the facility in addition to Tesla Model Y crossovers, Model 3 sedans that are destined for delivery in the Eastern U.S. The Tesla semi truck is also slated for production at the site.

On an earnings call today, Musk said that the plant will be an "ecological paradise" and it will be open to the public.

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This article originally ran on AutomotiveMap.

Tesla plans to manufacture its new Cybertruck at the facility, along with Tesla Model Y crossovers, the Tesla semi truck, and Model 3 sedans. Photo courtesy of Tesla Motors

Texas was named the second best state for business by Forbes, and Oxford Economics predicted Houston's economic growth to be more significant over the next few years than most other major metros. Getty Images

Texas recognized as second best state for business, while Houston expected to see key economic growth

Feathers for our cap

Houston and the rest of Texas received two early Christmas presents signaling that their economies continue to percolate.

In a report released December 23, economic forecasting and analysis firm Oxford Economics predicted Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth will enjoy a greater share of economic growth through 2023 than any other mega-metro area in the U.S. except San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Forbes magazine declared on December 19 that Texas is the second best state for business, behind only North Carolina. Texas previously sat in the No. 3 spot on the Forbes list, preceded by North Carolina and Utah.

Through 2023, Oxford Economics forecasts average compound GDP growth of 2.4 percent in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. Among the country's 10 biggest metro areas, only the projection for San Francisco is higher (2.7 percent).

For Houston, the 2.4 percent figure would be an improvement over recent economic performance. From 2014 to 2018, the region's GDP growth rate was 1 percent, while it was 1.5 percent for 2015-19. In the 2020-21 timeframe, the growth rate for Houston is expected to be 1.9 percent.

In a recent forecast, the Greater Houston Partnership envisions the Houston area adding 42,300 jobs in 2020, mostly outside the energy sector. Among the region's top-performing sectors in 2020 will be healthcare, government, food services, and construction, the partnership says. Meanwhile, the energy, retail, and information sectors are expected to shrink.

In November, Robert Gilmer of the University of Houston's Institute for Regional Forecasting explained that by the end of 2022, job losses in the oil industry should have a limited effect on the region's economy. Still, he anticipates Houston's job growth through 2024 will be "moderate and just below trend."

In forecasting strong economic growth for Houston and DFW, Oxford Economics says the "industrial structures" of the two regions "are not exceptional, but low costs and low regulation mean that the industries that they do have grow faster than elsewhere."

"San Francisco's very high costs are creating affordability problems and rising inequalities that may eventually undermine its model," Oxford Economics adds. "Competitive advantages never last forever. The Sunbelt cities [including Houston and DFW] may yet give it a run for its money."

Houston's and DFW's competitive advantages mesh with those of the entire state. Texas' high points include lower taxes, lower labor expenses, lower cost of living, and low levels of regulation, Oxford Economics says.

As noted by Forbes, Moody's Analytics predicts Texas businesses will add close to 1 million new jobs by 2023, which would be the third highest average annual job growth rate among the states. Meanwhile, the share of Texans who launched businesses last year was the fourth highest in the country, according to Kauffman Foundation data cited by Forbes. And just three states — California, New York and Washington — saw more venture capital flow into them in 2018 and 2019 than Texas did, according to PwC.

Texas earned these rankings on the Forbes list:

  • No. 1 state for growth prospects
  • No. 1 state for business costs
  • No. 4 state for economic climate
  • No. 10 state for labor supply
  • No. 15 state for quality of life
  • No. 21 state for regulatory environment
In his 2019 State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott praised Texas as "the most powerful state in America," thanks in part to healthy job growth, low unemployment, and rising wages. "Texas is the premier economic destination in the United States," he said.
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Photos: Houston coworking company expands with new location

open for biz

Calling all coworkers north of Houston — there's a new spot in town to set up shop.

The Cannon, a coworking company with locations in Houston and Galveston, has expanded north of Houston for the first time. A new Cannon workspace opened at The Park at Fish Creek retail center (618 Fish Creek Thoroughfare) in Montgomery last month. On February 1 at 4 pm, the new community is holding an open house to tour the space.

“The Cannon is a Houston innovation institution, and we meet demand where innovators and entrepreneurs live—in this case, Montgomery County,” says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. “The goal is to grow The Cannon community – and entrepreneurship overall – regionally, via the Fish Creek brick-and mortar space, and to also expand utilization of our digital community platform, Cannon Connect.”

With 8,100 square feet of space, the facility has 19 private offices, three conference rooms, and several gathering and working areas. Memberships — from assigned desks and private space to day passes — are now available. All Fish Creek members receive access to Cannon Connect, a global, digital community platform that provides resources, networking and building blocks for business growth.

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

This Houston entrepreneur is enabling fashion upcycling for more sustainable style

houston innovators podcast episode 170

When shopping online one day, Hannah Le saw a need for a platform that allowed transactions between upcycling fashion designers and shoppers looking for unique, sustainable pieces.

Le created RE.STATEMENT, an online shopping marketplace for upcycled clothing. Before RE.STATEMENT, designers were limited to Etsy, which is focused on handmade pieces, or Poshmark and Depop, which are dedicated to thrift finds. Upcycle fashion designers didn't have their own, unique platform to sell on — and, likewise, shoppers were scattered across sites too.

"These marketplaces are really good for what they do," Le says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but, whenever I think of someone looking for something unique and sustainable, it's hard for me to imagine finding that on these marketplaces."

The platform soft launched in December with 25 upcycling designers and over 1,200 buyers that had been on the company's waitlist for almost nine months. Now that the site is live, Le hopes to give both buyers and sellers quick access to transactions.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le explains. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

Le says that she started with buyers to see what exactly they were looking for, then she searched and found the designers looking to sell their pieces, and the current platform is dynamic and flexible to the needs of users within her community.

"Even today, it changes every single day depending on how users are interacting with the website and what sellers are saying that they need — really communicating with buyers and sellers is how the marketplace is evolving," she says.

RE.STATEMENT's ability to quickly evolve has been due to its early stage, Le explains on the show. She's not yet taken on institutional funding or hired anyone else other than tech support. She says this allows her to quickly make changes or try out new things for users.

"For me, there are still so many things I want to prove to myself before I bring others involved," she says. "To start, it's coming up with new opportunities for buyers to interact with the website so that we can keep learning from them."

Le has already proven some success to herself. Last year, she took home one of three prizes offered at the city's Liftoff Houston competition. The contest, which gives Houston entrepreneurs pitch practice and mentorship, awarded RE.STATEMENT $10,000 for winning in the product category.

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le says of the competition where she got to introduce her business to Mayor Sylvester Turner and a whole new audience of people. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shares more about her vision for RE.STATEMENT and the integral role Houston plays in her success on the show.


Houston startup teams up with nonprofit research for decarbonization pilot

seeing green

A Houston tech company has joined forces with a nonprofit to test a new sustainable fuel production process.

The project is a joint effort from Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics and nonprofit research institute RTI International and sponsored by Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. Based in the RTI facility in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, the six-month pilot is testing a way to convert two potent greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) — into low-carbon-intensity fuels, which have the potential to replace petroleum-based jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

"This demonstration will be the first of its kind and represents a disruptive step in carbon utilization. The sustainable fuels produced are expected to quickly achieve cost parity with today's fossil fuels," says Syzygy CEO Trevor Best in a news release. "Integrating our technology with RTI's Fischer-Tropsch synthesis system has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation without requiring major fleet modifications."

According to Syzygy, the pilot is a step toward being able to scale the process to a commercial-ready Syzygy e-fuels plant.

"By making minor adjustments in the process, we also expect to produce sustainable methanol using the same technology," Best continues.

An independent research institute, RTI International's focus is on improving the human condition. The multidisciplinary nonprofit seeks to support science-based solutions like Syzygy's technology, which has already proven its scale-up capabilities in earlier testing.

Through the partnership, RTI will assist Syzygy with process design and systems integration for the pilot-scale demonstration. Once it reaches commercial scale, the technology is expected to turn millions of tons of CO2 per year to produce sustainable fuels.

"We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Syzygy to test and assist in the scale-up of this promising technology," says Sameer Parvathikar, Ph.D., the director of the Renewable Energy and Energy Storage program in RTI's Technology Advancement and Commercialization business unit. "This work aligns with our capabilities, our goals of helping de-risk and commercialize novel technologies, and our vision to address the world's most critical problems with science-based solutions."