H-E-B plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines once they're available. Photo courtesy of BCM

As a pair of COVID-19 vaccines await emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Texas' largest grocer is prepping for the vaccines' unprecedented rollout.

San Antonio-based H-E-B announced its pharmacies will administer the COVID-19 vaccine to Texans once it's available to the general public.

"At H-E-B, the health and safety of Texans is our top priority," the company noted in a release posted December 3. "As a trusted source for all routine childhood and adult immunizations, H-E-B pharmacies will partner with the federal and state government to administer the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to the general public, following the CDC distribution schedule."

Though it's unclear when H-E-B will receive the vaccine doses and which company's vaccine —Moderna, the Pfizer/BioNTech, or otherwise — will be available through the grocer, health-focused organizations and businesses like H-E-B are preparing for the massive distribution, which could begin as soon as 24 hours after the FDA gives its approval.

The goal of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's plan to help develop, make, and distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Americans, is "to deliver safe vaccines that work, with the first supply becoming available before the end of 2020," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also notes once a vaccine is approved and released, there may not be enough doses available for all U.S. adults, though supplies will increase over time and "all adults should be able to get vaccinated later in 2021."

The CDC further states that vaccine doses purchased with taxpayer money will be distributed to Americans for free. However, vaccine providers can charge an administration fee for providing the shot.

It's unclear how many doses each store will receive and whether the company plans to distribute the vaccine through its pharmacy drive-thrus, at onsite pop-up medical tents, or solely from its in-store pharmacies.

"We do have all H-E-B pharmacies registered and ready to administer the vaccine," says Leslie Sweet, H-E-B's director of public affairs in the Central Texas region. "We will follow the prescribed allocation schedule as prescribed by [the Department of State Health Services]. We do not yet have a specific date or allocation number to share."

H-E-B pharmacies throughout the state already have some safety measures in place because of COVID-19 concerns, including allowing customers to prepay for prescriptions on the phone prior to picking them up or have their prescriptions delivered for free, and offering no-contact pickup and delivery of prescriptions through its pharmacy drive-thrus.

Additionally, H-E-B says it is continuing to take steps to protect its customers and employees during the pandemic.

"We're going above and beyond our already stringent sanitation standards, cleaning and disinfecting pharmacy counters, waiting areas, and drive-thru surfaces at a higher frequency," the grocer notes in its recent release. "Our pharmacy partners are practicing proper hand-washing throughout the day, and disinfecting and wiping down commonly used surfaces. We've also installed acrylic barriers and provided masks and gloves for all pharmacy partners. … As always, your health and safety is of the utmost importance to us. Together, we can slow the spread."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-born Matt Mullenweg joined the Greater Houston Partnership for a fireside chat on his tech company Automattic's success of distributed work. Photo via ma.tt

Tech entrepreneur and Houston native shares why flexibility is the future of work

distributed work

The pandemic and the measures companies have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have opened employers eyes to non-traditional ways of working. An increased percentage of the workforce pivoted to remote working this year — in some cases, this was the first time employees were allowed to work from home.

But not having a traditional office setup is far from new to Houston native Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress. He started his company with remote team members basically from day one. In a virtual fireside chat with Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B Food & Drug, for Greater Houston Partnership's Houston NEXT: An ERG Summit last month, Mullenweg describes why he feels confident that a remote — or distributed, has he defines it — workforce is the future.

"Words are really important, and when I hear the word 'remote,' I think there's a central office and then there's someone who's not part of it," Mullenweg says during the chat. "So, we were trying to think of something that captured the fact that we were close to each other in our work — we're just not physically in the same place most of the time. 'Distributed' is what we came up with."

For Mullenweg, this way of running his business was advantageous for the company at its founding in 2000. Since those early days, Automattic, WordPress's parent company, has raised around $700 million in venture funding and made around 20 acquisitions. This success, Mullenweg says, is in part due to distributed work.

"All of this is designed to create a really robust network so that the work can continue regardless of location or anything," Mullenweg says on his workforce structure. "This especially during the early days, allowed us to work two or three times faster than our competitors because when they were doing five days of work a week, we were doing 15 days of work a week."

Mullenweg's plan for distributed work has been the subject a series of blogs, a podcast, and even a TED Talk. As passionate as he is that it is the future of the workforce, he realizes there's a process to getting there, and it's going to take time. He explains a five-tiered process that focuses on strategic culture changes and tech optimization.

"I think you need to have a culture and a way of working that allows people who aren't physical co-present with their colleagues to be productive," Mullenweg says. "The truth is not every company is there yet."

While Mullenweg always believed the rise of distributed work would reach milestones throughout his lifetime, the pandemic might be accelerating crucial steps toward the growth of this type of workforce. Especially since, as Mullenweg explains, this isn't the last major event that's going to occur and prevent in-person work.

"We're all hoping COVID to be gone as soon as possible, but this isn't the last thing like this. I'm sure there are going to be other issues that require us to be more decentralized in the future," Mullenweg says. "If you can get good at that as an organization, you'll be primed to succeed in the coming decades as a business."

Ultimately, distributed work has a lot of potential in the modern workforce, and the structure can do wonders for business advancement as well as employee moral.

"One thing we've found is that when people are really happy and fulfilled, they bring their best selves to work — they're more creative and have more energy," Mullenweg says.

Houston NEXT: An ERG Summit - Fireside Chat with Matt Mullenweg www.youtube.com

H-E-B is ringing up a new accolade. Photo courtesy

Equipped with online and in-app ordering, Texas grocer named No. 1 for delivery

DOING MORE

Widely praised for its response to the ongoing pandemic, Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B's cart has once again been filled with kudos.

In a study by market research and mystery shopping firm Ipsos, H-E-B ranked first for grocery delivery among U.S. retailers, with a 99 percent accuracy rate. At No. 2 in the grocery delivery category was Austin-based Whole Foods Market, which achieved a 95 percent accuracy rate.

For the study, mystery shoppers across the country rated various retailers on the quality of their buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), curbside, and delivery services. Ipsos conducted 150 mystery shops per retailer across these three categories.

"Use of BOPIS and curbside pickup has increased for 78 percent of shoppers since COVID-19 began, and 69 percent expect to continue using it at the same or higher levels after the pandemic subsides," Carlos Aragon, vice president of U.S. channel performance at Ipsos, says in an October 9 release. "As we continue to see the adoption and usage of these new digital offers rise and continue to stick, it is important that brands have the mechanism to ensure they deliver a seamless and safe customer experience for these new users."

To promote social distancing, H-E-B rolled out two-hour delivery in April, eliminating the need for customers to interact.

"With Texans relying on delivery now more than ever, it is our duty to support more of our communities across the state, as quickly as possible," Jag Bath, Favor's CEO and H-E-B's chief digital officer, said in an April release.

To accommodate two-hour delivery for H-E-B customers, Favor undertook a statewide expansion. The grocery chain rolled out its home delivery option in 2018, the same year that H-E-B bought Favor.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Grand prize winner, Traci Johannson, 3 Sons Foods; Jody Hall, H-E-B; George Johannson; Winell Herron, H-E-B; Luke and Ayden Johannson; James Harris, H-E-B. Photo courtesy of H-E-B

Houston startup claims HEB award and heads for shelves

Food fix

Five homegrown Texas businesses are enjoying Lone Star State-sized bragging rights after a big win on August 8. The entrepreneurs are the collective winners of H-E-B's sixth-annual Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best contest, which recognizes the most innovative products. Collectively, the winners earn $80,000 in prizes, and, just as important, coveted shelf space in H-E-Bs across the state.

A Houston family leads the way, joining winners from Austin; San Antonio; Woodway; and Atlanta, Texas. Houston's 3 Sons Foods won a grand prize of $25,000 and featured placement as a Texas Primo Pick for Diablo Verde Sauce, a creamy cilantro offering. The company is owned by and operated by Traci Johannson and her three young sons: George (11), Luke (14), and Ayden (16). A portion of Diablo Verde sales goes to the International Rhino Foundation to help stop the illegal poaching of rhinos, according to a release.

First place honors — and a $20,000 prize — go to Austin's Courtney Ray Goodson for her Uncle Ray's Peanut Brittle. Inspired by her great uncle Ray's 35-year-old recipe, Goodson's offerings include Bacon Pecan, Butternut, Pecan, and classic Peanut Brittle.

Hailing from Woodway, Texas, Derek Newball landed second place and $15,000 for his EVOKE collagen drink. Capitalizing on the collagen drink trend, Newball's coconut-based products are meant to benefit skin, hair, joints, and bones, and come in coconut, mandarin coconut, and pineapple coconut flavors.

To the Moon Family Foods, based in Atlanta, Texas, tied for third place (a $10,000 prize) with its To the Moon Family Foods Nutty-Carrot Spread. Creators Kay Lynn York and Joan Reece combine carrots, pecans, and "mouthwatering" spices for a spread to be used on sandwiches; meats; or even rolled in balls, coated, and fried.

Tying with To the Moon at third place (and a $10,000 prize) is San Antonio's Grain4Grain Low-Carb Flour and Mix. Owners Yoni Medhin and Matt Mechtly recycle spent grains from local microbreweries to make a low-carb, high-protein, high-fiber flour. For every pound of flour sold, Grain4Grain donates a pound to those in need.

The 2019 Quest for Texas Best competition drew more than 800 entries from nearly 140 cities and towns across the state after a call for entries in February of this year. Through two qualifying rounds, submissions were judged on taste and flavor, customer appeal, value, uniqueness, market potential, and differentiation from current products at most H-E-B stores.

"Each of these 20 competitors displayed unprecedented creativity, style, and commitment to providing outstanding, unique products for our consideration," said James Harris, director of diversity & inclusion and supplier diversity at H-E-B, in a statement. "In fact, the entries were so good that we ended up with five winners this year. We are delighted to share that diversity and ingenuity with our customers across the state."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

Mayor Sylvester Turner talked parks, innovation, firefighter salaries, and more at the Greater Houston Partnership's State of the City. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

5 things Mayor Turner promised Houston in his State of the City Address

Looking forward

In the 2019 State of the City Address hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership on May 20, Mayor Sylvester Turner took the stage at the Marriott Marquis in front of over 1,500 Houstonians.

Some of the obvious topics were of course on the table — pension reform, hurricane recovery, job growth — but Mayor Turner surprised attendees with the announcement of a public-private parks program and again alluded to the re-envisioned of Astroworld.

Here's what all the mayor promised in his address.

Public-private partnerships for Houston parks

Houston's major parks have undergone major transformations lately backed by private investments — Buffalo Bayou Park, Memorial Park Conservancy, and Bayou Greenways 2020, to name a few — but the city would like to shift focus to smaller, neighborhood parks across the city. To do this, Mayor Turner called for 50 companies to sponsor 50 parks.

"Today, I am asking the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston Parks Board, and the Parks Department, to help me bring together 50 companies to form a citywide coalition for our neighborhood parks — primarily in underserved communities," Mayor Turner says.

Scott McClelland, president of HEB Food and Drug and board chair of the GHP, offered up HEB as a corporate partner for the program on the spot, despite the formal details of the program not yet being disclosed. Mayor Turner did specify that the park sponsorship would be a commitment over a few years.

"The 50 for 50 effort will touch every district in the city. All Houstonians should have easy access to welcoming, well-maintained, safe, and fun parks," he says.

A developed innovation corridor and a resurgence of AstroWorld

In both in his introductory address and fireside chat with McClelland, Mayor Turner talked about the emergence of Houston's innovation ecosystem. He cites the 140 percent increase in technology jobs as well as the 3,000 reported startups that call Houston their home. He mentions that Silicon Valley-based accelerator program Plug and Play is preparing to enter the market and another 25 million investment from the Houston Exponential fund of funds is expected.

"We're not walking; we're sprinting," Mayor Turner says. "There is no better place for an [innovation] ecosystem to take place than Houston."

Mayor Turner also credited Rice University's The Ion project as a major source of growth for the city's innovation ecosystem.

"We are building an innovation hub and corridor — in collaboration with academia, thank you, Rice, for loaning us the Sears building on South Main, and the energy and tech companies."

When discussing the innovation district, the mayor also gave a shout out to Travis Scott for being the "instigator" of a new AstroWorld-like theme park the city has in the works, but no details were disclosed in the address.

Rethinking Houston's transportation system

As Houston's population continues to grow, Houstonians spend more and more time in their cars fighting traffic. The mayor called for action to reimagine Houston's transportation.

"Our city has changed, the region is changing, and our transportation, transit, and mobility must change," he says. "People want options, and we must give them options."

Mayor Turner alluded to the Metro Next plan that will be on the ballot this November. While he didn't go into much detail, he encouraged support for the plan.

A raise for the Houston Fire Department

McClelland started the fireside chat with a question about the state of things after Proposition B's repeal following being deemed unconstitutional. The proposition, which originally passed last fall, would have matched Houston firefighters' salaries with police officers.

The mayor says that with the repeal, no layoffs or job cuts will be made within the Houston Fire Department. He recognizes that firefighters are in need of a raise, but it must be one the city can afford.

"Our firefighters are deserving of a pay raise," Mayor Turner says. "What I've put forth is 9.5 percent over three years, but look, my door is open."

The best is yet to come

Mayor Turner wrapped up his address on a positive note, saying that the city's growth will continue.

"The state of our city is strong, resilient, and sustainable," he says. "The best for us as a city has yet to come."

All of these initiatives on the mayor's agenda are working for toward uniting and enhancing Houston.

"We are building one complete city," he says. "And we work together, we win."

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Houston is poised to lead 5G growth in Texas, according to a new report

leading the stream

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

Houston lands on list of nation's top spots for millennials on the move

migration destination

The Bayou City is shining as an attractive destination for young people on the move.

According to the fifth-annual study from SmartAsset, millennials are fleeing cities like Los Angeles and Chicago and migrating to other areas in search of work and a better quality of life, with Houston landing as the No. 18 spot for young professionals age 25 to 39.

In order to compile the list, SmartAsset dug into U.S. Census Bureau data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 180 specific cities. According to the findings, 18,035 millennials moved in to Houston in 2019, while 15,838 moved out. That makes a net migration of 2,197, per the study.

When it comes to migrating millennials, the Lone Star State is tops, landing at No. 1 for states where millennials are moving, with more than 187,000 young people heading to Texas in the pre-pandemic year. Though some 154,000 millennials left Texas during the same time period, this results in a net gain of more than 33,000 millennial residents, the biggest net gain for the group in the country, giving Texas the lead in millennial migration for the second year in a row.

In news that is hardly shocking, Austin landing as the No. 4 hot spot overall.

While Austin ranks as the top Texas city where millennials are moving, one other Texas spot landed in the top 10, the Dallas suburb of Frisco (No. 6), with a net migration of 3,516 out-of-state millennials in 2019.

Dallas just missed the top 10, landing at No. 11 on the list, with a net millennial migration of 2,525 in 2019. San Antonio (No. 22) showed a net migration of 1,865 millennials.

The top city overall for millennial migration in 2019 was Denver, followed by Seattle.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.