Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the document in London alongside U.K. Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoc. Photo via LinkedIn

Britain signed a trade agreement with Texas on Wednesday, the eighth the U.K. has inked with a U.S. state in the absence of a wider free trade deal with the U.S. government.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the document in London alongside U.K. Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch. Abbott also met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who told him it was an “exciting moment.”

The "statement of mutual cooperation” is not a full trade deal because individual U.S. states do not have the power to sign those, but it commits Britain and Texas to improve cooperation between businesses and tackle regulatory barriers to trade.

“Understand that this is far more than a document,” Abbott said. “What we signed our names to today is a pathway to increased prosperity.”

During and after Britain’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership, supporters of Brexit argued that a chief benefit of leaving the bloc, and its vast free market of almost half a billion people, was the chance for the U.K. to make new trade deals around the world.

U.K.-U.S. trade talks were launched with fanfare soon after Britain left the EU in 2020, but negotiations faltered amid rising concern in the U.S. administration about the impact of Brexit, especially on Northern Ireland.

Instead, Britain has resorted to signing agreements with states including Florida, Indiana and North Carolina.

Although these agreements do not lower tariffs, as a free trade deal would, they can provide some help for businesses through recognizing U.K. qualifications or addressing state-level regulatory issues.

The friendship state is also known for its business friendliness — for 19 years running, according to one report. Photo via Getty Images

Texas continues its reign as the top state for business

We're No. 1

The Texas business sector has a pretty impressive winning streak when its compared to the rest of the country.

For the 19th consecutive year, CEOs surveyed by Chief Executive magazine have named Texas the best state for business. For its annual survey, the magazine questions CEOs about each state’s business climate, workforce, and quality of life.

“The state’s combination of business-friendly policies, growing cities, a rising professional class, and a direct appeal to CEOs who aren’t happy with California continues to keep Texas at the head of the class,” the magazine says.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott touted the Chief Executive honor in a recent news release.

“Texas is attractive to CEOs and their businesses because we offer the freedom and opportunity that cannot be found elsewhere: no state income tax; a stable, predictable regulatory structure; and a young, educated, and growing workforce ready to take on the jobs of tomorrow,” the governor says. “Workers know that in Texas you can find a good home, a great education for your children, and plenty of companies that provide an ample income to support their family.”

The Chief Executive accolade comes almost two months after Texas claimed its 11th straight Governor’s Cup from Site Selection magazine. The Governor’s Cup recognizes the nation’s top-performing state for job-creating business relocations and expansions.

“Texas truly is America’s economic engine, and we stand apart as a model for the nation,” Abbott said in a March 2023 news release about the Governor’s Cup victory.

Another report, from business credit card experts Capital on Tap, deemed Texas as the second best state to start a small business, right after Florida. They retrieved their data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics based on several factors, including new firm survival rates, corporate tax rates, the number of entrepreneurs per state, and more. The Lone Star State's friendly tax framework and lack of income tax was among the reasons cited by that study. Additionally, if a small business owner in Texas needed to take out a loan, they’d be able to secure $4,811 per employee, which is the fifth-highest average loan amount in a calculation of all 50 states.

Meanwhile, WalletHub, a personal finance resource website, ranked Texas as the third best state to start a business in its recent list, 2023's Best & Worst States to Start a Business, with a score of 56.85 points. Texas ranked behind Utah, No. 1, and Florida, No. 2, and just ahead of Colorado. Idaho, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, and California make up the rest of the top 10, respectively.

Whatever the study, Texas ranks high on any list of states recognized for their business climate.

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

Houston energy exec named to statewide position

mover and shaker

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.

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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.