Austin offers the least bang for your buck among Texas' major metro areas. Photo by Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Houston may be in the midst of a pandemic, but that hasn't slowed our real estate market. And a new study shows just how much bang for your buck you can get in the Bayou City versus Texas' other major metro areas.

A study released July 7 by the PropertyShark real estate website shows that $250,000 will get Houston buyers a 2,318 square-foot-house, which works out the second-best value in Texas.

In the Houston metro area, last year's sales of single-family homes totaled 90,145, up 3.6 percent from 2018, according to the Texas Association of Realtors.

"Townhomes and condominiums had a roller coaster ride and the luxury market cooled a bit, but overall, 2019 was a phenomenal year," John Nugent, 2020 chairman of the Houston Association of Realtors, said in a January release.

For some comparison, $250,000 nets Austin buyers a 1,139-square-foot house — the least amount among Texas' biggest cities. PropertyShark's data includes single-family homes, duplexes, condos, and townhouses.

In its report on the 2019 real estate market, the Austin Board of Realtors noted that median home price in the region rocketed from $193,520 in 2010 to $318,000 in 2019. The Texas Association of Realtors says 36,782 single-family homes were sold in the Austin metro area last year.

"If we don't take action to increase housing supply in Austin, we will continue to see exponential increases in home values," Romeo Manzanilla, 2020 president of the Austin Board of Realtors, warned in a January release.

While Austin's position in the PropertyShark study is worse than every other big city in Texas, it's considerably better than places like New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In Manhattan, $250,000 would enable you to buy a home the size of a hotel room — 232 square feet. The situation isn't much better in San Francisco, where $250,000 would get you a 269-square-foot home. In Los Angeles, that dollar amount would let you purchase a 524-square-foot home.

"In the country's most populated cities with more than 900,000 residents, the difference in price per square foot between coastal cities and Texas cities is miles apart," PropertyShark notes. "As expected, vast Texas leads the way in providing the most space for the lowest price. In fact, in every Texas city we analyzed, $250,000 will buy more than 1,000 square feet."

San Antonio, meanwhile, continues to solidify its status as the most affordable housing market among major Texas cities. According to the study, a buyer spending $250,000 could purchase a 2,503-square-foot home in San Antonio. That amounts to $100 per square foot.

Looking at the country's 100 largest cities, San Antonio ranks 15th for the amount of square footage available for $250,000. Detroit sits atop the list. There, you can buy a 5,407-square-foot home for $250,000, PropertyShark says.

Last year, 35,456 single-family homes were sold in the San Antonio metro area, according to the Texas Association of Realtors. That's a 6 percent increase compared with 2018. Homes priced between $200,000 and $500,000 made up more than half of the region's sales volume in 2019.

"San Antonio continues to be a top destination for both buyers and sellers, and it's exciting to see such tremendous growth in people achieving their dreams of homeownership," Kim Bragman, 2020 chairwoman of the San Antonio Board of Realtors, said in a January release.

Looking at the country's 100 largest cities, San Antonio ranks 15th for the amount of square footage available for $250,000. Detroit sits atop the list. There, you can buy a 5,407-square-foot home for $250,000, PropertyShark says.

Here's how all the cities in Texas' four largest metro areas compared when it comes to the amount of space you can score for $250,000:

  • Houston, 2,318 square feet
  • San Antonio, 2,503 square feet
  • Arlington, 2,240 square feet
  • Garland, 2,218 square feet
  • Fort Worth, 2,109 square feet
  • Irving, 2,072 square feet
  • Dallas, 1,722 square feet
  • Plano, 1,657 square feet
  • Austin, 1,139 square feet

Like San Antonio and Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth enjoyed robust home sales volume in 2019.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, single-family home sales totaled 103,261 last year, up 3 percent from 2018, the Texas Association of Realtors says.

"Dallas-Fort Worth winds up with record sales again," James Gaines, chief economist at Texas A&M University's Real Estate Center, said in January. "The Dallas side of the Metroplex was actually a little better than Fort Worth."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A Houston pilot program created a way to design stylish homes at a fraction of the cost — and in less than half the time. Photo courtesy of BoxPrefab

Houston-grown partnership completes innovative pilot program promoting affordable housing

innovating an impact

For families who want to live near downtown, Houston's affordable housing deficit in and around the Inner Loop is no secret.

For thirty years and counting, Houston-based nonprofit Avenue has confronted this reality by creating affordable housing opportunities and comprehensive community development programs for families in Houston neighborhoods.

"One of our chief objectives is to help stabilize neighborhoods and give opportunities for people to stay in the neighborhoods by providing moderately-priced homes," says Robert Fiederlein, Avenue's senior director of real estate development.

After an audit of Houston's Northline neighborhood revealed the community's affordable housing shortage, the Avenue team began to explore various methods to deliver new construction to the community, through sustainable housing at affordable prices. Research of diverse construction methods led Avenue to the innovative solution of prefabricated family dwellings.

In their effort to find a smart, sustainable alternative to traditional construction, Avenue came across BoxPrefab, an innovative off-site construction company that produces precision-built prefabricated homes from design to completion.

BoxPrefab's sustainable-oriented attributes and efficient processes checked all of Avenue's 'must-have' boxes and the two entities kicked off their partnership with their premier pilot program for modular home development.

"We care a lot about bringing affordability to housing and bringing good designs to affordable housing. We were really excited to work with Avenue because we are really in tune with their mission," says Rame Hruska, BoxPrefab's co-founder. "This is a great solution for homeowners."

This housing solution is not your run-of-the-mill "affordable housing." Besides its sleek finishes and modern look, BoxPrefab's modular home design and construction process is practical and ultra-simplified. Using prefabricated components, the company specializes in building homes in a factory, a controlled environment, instead of building on-site, where the construction process is subject to external variables, like rain, inclement weather, or any labor diversions.

The BoxPrefab houses are created offsite and then set up on the property. Photo courtesy of BoxPrefab

"Reliability is a big factor for our clients. There's so many unknowns and variables, from weather to other various delays, so we can really give people a much more definitive price, time and set quality," says Hruska.

After producing the factory-built components, BoxPrefab then assembles the prefabricated modules on the home's lot. With this streamlined process, BoxPrefab is able to build homes faster and in a more systematic manner, all while reducing waste output and overall cost.

"We have confidence that if we placed higher orders, costs would go down," Fiederlein says. "This could be a way to build less costly affordable housing. Construction costs came out $130 per square foot, which is comparable to the other site-built homes that we're working on right now.

"Another thing we've learned was that we can do it in half the time as a site build," Fiederlein continues. "It takes six to seven months to build a site-built home and we completed this home in just over three months. Russell, with tighter scheduling, said he could've built quicker. We can half the time it would normally take. As you know, time is money."

BoxPrefab's construction process, fiscal efficiency and waste output reduction is exactly what Avenue was looking for in a partner. Together, the two entities successfully completed their pilot program by placing a three-bedroom-two-bathroom prefabricated home on the market in Houston's Northline neighborhood.

"We're really excited about this potential and see it as becoming a much more standard way to build," Hruska says.

Prefabricated building options are considered the future of construction, due to its increased reliability and quality in the construction process, Hruska says. Based on the success of their pilot program, Avenue anticipates investing in more modular housing in the future. BoxPrefab, while Houston-based and focused, has their sights set on expanding regionally, to service more clients with prefabricated solutions, says Russell Hruska, BoxPrefab co-founder.

"Modular is a viable path going forward," Fiederlein says. "It's going to take additional work to get there, but the pilot shows that it's certainly a method that helps to reduce costs…We're confident that it can be the way of delivering affordable housing at lower prices."

Here's what all you should consider before settling into a coworking spot. Leanne Hope/Cresa

5 things to keep in mind when finding coworking space in Houston

Guest column

If you're in the market for office space you've undoubtedly heard a lot about one of the fastest growing trends in commercial real estate – coworking. What started as a simple idea to help freelancers and startups find workspace is now beginning to disrupt the traditional office market. More than 1,000 spaces opened in the US in 2018 alone, according to Coworking Resources.

But, as this trend continues to take off, tenants now face a wide range of potential options. So many, in fact, it can seem overwhelming weeding through them. Where does one even start? How do you find the right space? Here are five things you should keep in mind when conducting your search.

Location

We've all heard the old adage that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location. Although it's become a well-worn cliché, it's overused because it's usually spot on. That doesn't mean, however, that you should limit yourself to the space just down the street. There are other factors you need to consider.

If you're looking to build a team, understanding where the labor force is can be vital for sustaining growth through recruiting. Some companies place value being in proximity to their client base to make visiting and hosting prospects easier. Others may want better access to area amenities such as gyms, restaurants and shopping that could help create a better work/life balance.

Fit

Coworking isn't a one-size-fits-all-solution. Each space has its own energy and community. Some are even specialized to tailor to unique niches. There are spaces for women only and the health conscious. There are others specifically designed for different industries, including tech firms, legal practices and even cannabis growers. Be sure to ask questions when touring to get a better sense of what each space is like.

Stylistically, coworking is also growing up. Bold colors and patterns are fun, but they may not be right for everyone. Your surroundings say a lot about your company's culture, and if you're hosting clients regularly you may opt for a more sophisticated space with higher end finishes. Understanding your business goals and needs should help you prioritize what's important.

Perks

Many perks, including access to coffee bars, high-speed WIFI, and conference rooms, have seemingly become commoditized by coworking operators. To help differentiate themselves, these operators are beginning to take a hospitality like approach.

Tenants today can find everything from on-site childcare and locker rooms to rentable private event space and organized networking events. Some providers also offer discounts to use preferred vendors for business services like payroll and technical support. Maximizing these added perks can really make or break the decision on a specific space.

Flexibility

One of the major advantages of coworking space compared to a traditional office lease is increased flexibility. Committing to space for a shorter period of time is great, but coworking space creates other ways to help tenants remain flexible.

If you're forecasting significant future growth, you may want to select a space with enough room to accommodate that need to avoid any interruption in business operations caused by relocation. Worried distractions could be overwhelming or that privacy could become an issue? There are plenty of options that offer a wide range of workspace solutions, from private desks to secured suites for teams.

Finding a coworking operator with multiple locations could provide a workspace solution for team members who are scattered across the country. This is also a great option if you find yourself traveling between the same locations repeatedly.

Price

Comparing pricing between locations isn't always apples to apples. Workspace providers may or may not include many things in their advertised pricing. Pay attention to the fine print as some coworking companies charge for things like parking, phone service, conference room time, printing/copying, admin services and coffee. Factor in any of these charges when comparing your options as sometimes a space may appear less expensive than it really is.

With more coworking options than ever before, find one that works for you. Don't settle. No two spaces are the same, but keep in mind that your surroundings say a lot about who you are. Pick one that conveys the message you want to send to employees and clients.

Maximizing perks could help offset some cost, but make sure you understand what you're being charged. If you do a little homework then you should be able to focus on what really matters most – your business.

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Sue Rogers is principal of Transaction Management Cresa in Houston.

Using social media — the right way — can help foster better relationships with millennial clients. Tracy Le Blanc/Pexels

How this Houston Realtor uses technology to interact with an increasingly younger clientele

Social media butterfly

According to a 2018 AdWeek article by Dario Cardile, the millennial population accounts for 66 percent of the first-time homebuyer's market, and industry research suggests the millennial generation chooses Instagram as its top social media platform.

I have learned the importance of adapting to modern techniques including adopting the social media climate and using it to my advantage, both as an individual and as a company. It's not just because social media has grown to be a leading component of brand promotion but because it's my direct line of communication to my current and future clients.

Today, social media, particularly Instagram, is not just a small promotional tool among many, but rather a major engagement platform for the real estate industry. As a real estate agent in the competitive Houston market, I use Instagram as another avenue to reach a larger audience, connect with potential new clients and showcase my listings in a unique and organic way that complements my overall approach.

I have found that my Instagram followers enjoy seeing both sides of me: the professional and personal. Keeping up with my account isn't as simple as posting every so often. People like to know and trust who they are working with and it's been a fun challenge to balance (and blur) my work and personal life to give my followers and clients a behind-the-scenes look at my career and lifestyle. I've learned that they want to know who you are in and out of the office and I've even been asked for tips outside of real estate such as make up, skincare, and fitness.

One way I organize my Instagram account is through categorized story highlights. Because I post frequent stories, it's important to feature and distinguish the most notable ones in order for people to find what they are looking for, whether it be things I have to offer as a Realtor or what I do in my free time. I've created story categories such as "Listings," "Nan Properties," "Fitness," "Beauty," and "In the News" in order for easy access.

My posts on my feed often feature pictures of me in both the work and social environment. I like to create fun captions that encourage followers to check out my story in order to see the latest listings. This makes the work aspect of my life exciting and engaging.

Because real estate is very focused on visual content, videos and photos of listings provide a quick and convenient way for clients to view listed properties. This engagement is incredibly important to keep my real estate company top-of-mind for clients, especially those who are millennials. In addition, I feature pictures of my family and adorable puppy in order to show my followers what is important in my life.

Of course, it's necessary to set boundaries when it comes to sharing personal information on social media. I've taken a lot of precautions when it comes to sharing my personal life and my biggest rule is to avoid sharing in real time when possible.

A major tip that I would pass on to any Realtors or client-focused professionals getting involved with social media is to have fun. People love to see your excitement about what you do. Be consistent with your posts and as more followers engage with your content, take note of what they enjoy and would like to see you posting about frequently.

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Nancy Almodovar is the president and CEO of Nan and Company Properties in Houston.

Main&Co's office space is now 100 percent leased. Courtesy of Main&Co

Recently renovated Downtown Houston office space snags leases from 2 tech companies

Tech Space

Two tech-focused companies moved into a newly developed office space in downtown Houston at the intersection of Main Street and Commerce Street. One company relocated its Houston office, and the other company has expanded to the city for the first time.

Oil and gas AI-enabled analytics platform, Ruths.ai relocated its downtown office to Main&Co, located at 114 Main St. The company has 8,457 square feet of office space in the recently renovated historic building.

Meanwhile, global robotics process automation company UiPath has expanded to build a Houston team. The computer software company is based in New York, but has a presence in 18 countries. The company's office has 5,187 square feet of Main&Co's office space.

The two leases account for 100 percent of the office space in the mixed-use facility, which is owned by Houston-based investment firm, NewForm Real Estate. The company does have 1,136 square foot street-level retail space left yet to rent.

The five-story development completed renovations in the summer of last year and has, in addition to the office space, bars — including The Cottonmouth Club, ETRO Nightclub and Lilly&Bloom — and a contemporary art gallery on the fifth floor called the LCD Gallery.

"Main&Co has become a bustling epicenter of culture, arts, nightlife, and commerce in Downtown Houston," says Dan Zimmerman, president of NewForm Real Estate, in a release. "Restoring these iconic historic buildings and leasing the office space to cutting-edge tech firms is a testament that landmark real estate has a place in the future landscape of our city."

Last week, Greenway Plaza announced three different tech organizations that are moving to or had moved to its office park. Those transactions accounted for over 20,000 square feet of space.

Recently renovated

Courtesy of Main&Co

The renovation of the structure concluded in June of 2018.


A new service from Zillow helps Houston sellers get cash fast. Photo courtesy of HAR

Houston homeowners first in Texas to showcase Zillow's new cash offer homebuying program

Selling solution

Local car owners looking to rid themselves of their ride know the no-hassle ease that CarMax and TrueAuto offer. But what about those looking to quickly unload their home? Fortunately, a new service has made it easier for homeowners to score some fast funds from their domiciles.

Houstonians can now use a new program from real estate marketplace Zillow to sell their home. With Zillow Offers, local sellers can request a free, no-obligation cash offer. Once the seller accepts, they can pick a close date that works best for them.

The idea is to give consumers more control and certainty in the home-selling process and allows sellers the opportunity to sell their house on their own timeline, according to a statement. Zillow notes that timing the sale of a home with the purchase of a new one is a top concern for sellers and that 61 percent of sellers are buying a new home at the same time, which adds significant stress and financial complexity to the process.

Houston is the first Texas market and the seventh market nationwide where Zillow directly buys homes, prepares them for showings, and quickly lists them for resale.

Zillow Offers is currently available in Phoenix; Las Vegas; Atlanta; Denver; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina. Zillow Offers has also announced plans to launch in Dallas; Miami; Minneapolis; Orlando, Florida; Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Riverside, California by fall 2019.

"Texas is home to some of the largest and most vibrant housing markets in the country, and we're thrilled to bring Zillow Offers to Houston today," says Zillow brand president, Jeremy Wacksman, in a statement. "In just nine months, Zillow Offers has already helped thousands of homeowners sell their home in a simple and stress-free way."

While direct-sell in theory, local real estate agents are still very much part of the Zillow Offers process. The service works with local agents and brokers on every transaction and pays commission to agents when it buys and sells each home, according a Zillow release.

"What we've overwhelmingly heard from these consumers is that they love the control we give them over the entire process," Wacksman says. "Starting today, Houston-area homeowners are able to use this innovative, consumer-first service for one of the largest financial transactions of their lives."

The program also gives local brokerages and premier agents the opportunity to acquire new listings by connecting them with motivated sellers who have taken a direct action to sell their home, according to Zillow. These motivated sellers who request a Zillow Offer, but opt instead sell their house traditionally with an agent or do not receive a Zillow Offer, will still be connected with a local brokerage or agent.

In a city where certain neighborhoods are moving a blistering pace, this new program could be an easy sell for savvy homeowners.

More and more real estate companies are using technology for the homebuying and selling process. Houston-based Entera uses machine learning, for instance, in the process, and Offerpad, an ibuyer, recently announced its expansion to Houston.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston startup grows C-suite, Deloitte opens awards apps, SDO names leader, and more innovation news

short stories

The Houston innovation ecosystem has been especially busy this year, and for this reason, local startup and tech news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, local organizations announce new innovators, Deloitte opens apps for its annual tech awards, Houston Tech Rodeo prepares for its annual events, and more.

Early stage accelerator names new Houston leader

Kate Evinger will lead gBETA Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

A Houston early-stage startup accelerator has named its new director. Kate Evinger has joined gener8tor's gBETA Houston as director. She will run the third gBETA cohort in Houston, adding to the 10 alumni from the two cohorts held in 2020.

Evinger has replaced Anu Pansare, who was previously named director in February. Pansare, who replaced the accelerator's inaugural director Eléonore Cluzel, moved on to another opportunity, Evinger says.

Based in Houston's Downtown Launchpad, gBETA's third cohort of early stage startups will soon start its free 7-week program, which is designed to help participating companies gain early customer traction and develop key metrics that will make them more marketable for future investment.

Evinger has been a part of the gener8tor family since 2016 when she joined the team as associate for gBETA Madison. She was promoted to program manager in 2019 when she graduated from Indiana University with degrees in finance, entrepreneurship and corporate innovation, according to a news release.

"Downtown Launchpad's inclusive set of tools, resources and opportunities empower Houston founders to accelerate and scale their businesses to solve humankind's boldest challenges," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston, in a news release. "Kate Evinger brings experience and valuable insights to the gBETA Houston program and will help us continue to support founders, Houston-based partners and the community."

Houston Tech Rodeo launches registration and names headliner

Master P will be the headlining guest for Houston Tech Rodeo. Photo courtesy of HTR

Houston Tech Rodeo, a week-long collaboration of events hosted by Houston Exponential, has opened registration and announced Percy Miller, also known as musical artist Master P, as the headliner.

Miller, who began his career as an international rap artist, later became a CEO, investor, and founder of Nemesis RR.

"I'll be sharing my journey, my secrets, my success, my feelings, and my rebuilding. Transitioning from international artist to CEO to investing in philanthropy, I want to educate you and give you that gain," says Miller in a news release. "I want to add diversity into technology and the automotive industry."

HTR kicks off May 16 at Saint Arnold Brewing Company with live music, beer, and swag bag pick ups with registration. The week concludes on May 23. Registration is free and available online.

Houston industrial blockchain company expands C-suite

Data Gumbo has a new C-level executive. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, a Houston-based industrial smart contract network powered by blockchain — announced that it has brought on Robin Macmillan as chief corporate development officer to lead the company's corporate development team.

"The sheer breadth of Macmillan's experience will serve as an invaluable asset to Data Gumbo as we continue to exponentially grow and mature our company into new industrial markets and further solidify our leadership in energy," says Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Macmillan has the experience to expand Data Gumbo's commercial market penetration to aid companies in undertaking digital transformation with smart contracts to reveal streamlined efficiencies and cost savings, sustainability insights across supply chains and transactional certainty in any commercial relationship."

Macmillan has over 40 years of experience in the energy industry, most recently at National Oilwell Varco and is the vice president of drilling services at the International Association of Drilling Contractors,

"There is tremendous opportunity right now to change how business is executed," says Macmillan in the release. "Data Gumbo is poised to deliver trust through automated, auditable blockchain-backed smart contracts that execute transactions in real-time. I am thrilled to be a part of the Data Gumbo executive team as the company is in a period of hyper growth into new industries, serving as a harbinger for significant digital transformation across commercial relationships and transparent, accurate sustainability impact data."

Deloitte opens annual tech awards nominations

Calling all fast-growing tech companies. Image via Deloitte

Deloitte's Technology Fast 500 awards — which celebrate the fastest growing, most innovative technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and energy tech companies in the country — has opened applications for its 2021 program.

Applications opened online on April 9 and will remain open until June 29. Winners will be announced on November 15. The program ranks applicants based on percentage of fiscal year revenue growth and the list is compiled from applications. For more information, visit the Technology Fast 500 website.

"Each year, we are excited to see the variety of Houston's Fast 500 applicants, which represent the city's positive momentum in both diversifying its core competencies and highlighting the boom in technology innovations coming to market," says Amy Chronis, vice chair and Houston managing partner at Deloitte LLP. "We look forward to seeing what Houston's innovators will bring in 2021."

Energy incubator announces latest cohort

Fifteen energy startups are joining the Plug and Play family. Gif courtesy of Plug and Play

Plug and Play Tech Center has announced 154 startups into its 2021 summer program — 15 of which were named to the Houston-based Batch 8 Energy Program. During the course of the next three months, these companies will receive access to our corporate, venture capital, and mentor network.

The new energy cohort consists of the following companies:

Texas expert: Energy reliability and climate sustainability are not mutually exclusive

Guest Column

It's no secret that Texas has long been a leader in energy production, but it may surprise you to learn that Texas leads the nation in wind-powered generation, producing 28 percent of all US wind-powered electricity in 2019.

We're not just producing a lot of renewable energy, we're increasingly consuming it.

Contrary to the caricaturistic portrayal of Texans in mainstream culture, a recent study by the University of Houston revealed that 4 out of 5 Texans believe the climate crisis is real.

In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, more and more households are making the decision to switch to 100 percent renewable energy. And this adoption isn't isolated to core urban areas. We're witnessing a diverse spread in smaller, more rural markets.

These reasons and more are why Bulb, one of Europe's fastest growing company that provides 100 percent renewable energy, chose Texas as its first home in the U.S. Less than a year after launching here, it's safe to say we made the right choice as we're experiencing even faster growth in Texas than we did in our early stages in the United Kingdom.

One of the many reasons Texans have rapidly adopted our simpler, cheaper and greener energy is because they no longer have to choose between being budget and climate conscious. Sadly, the progress the state has made could be knocked back following the recent winter storm.

After the nation witnessed Texas' massive outages during the winter storm, our state leaders understandably feel the pressure to "do something," quickly.

We share our leaders' determination in avoiding another crisis of this magnitude, but we fear that Texas may be heading in the wrong direction. In the mad rush to avoid another catastrophe, some regulators and politicians wrongly and disproportionately blamed renewable energy sources for the outages.

Numerous media outlets and energy experts have overwhelmingly refuted these claims. An AP fact check described the efforts to blame renewable energy sources as "false narratives." And, they're not alone in their conclusion.

According to Reuters' fact check, "These claims are misleading, as they shift blame for the crisis away from what appears, so far, to be the root cause...The state's woes mainly stem from issues surrounding its independent power grid. The cold weather affected all fuel types, not just renewables."

Determining what went wrong isn't a blame game. A proper diagnosis is essential to any problem solving. And a failure to conduct a thorough analysis could have serious consequences. Currently, a number of legislative solutions are floating around the state Capitol that would shift the blame and consequences to renewable energy.

These proposals would increase the financial burden on Texas consumers, many of whom are still recovering from the storm, and hamper new investments in renewable energy. Additionally, and perhaps even more concerning, they don't adequately address the root cause of the winter storm energy crisis, further exposing Texans to another meltdown.

Texas' leadership on renewable energy production is no small feat, and it didn't happen by chance. For two decades, our lawmakers have made strategic decisions that led to the advancement of renewable energy production, and it has paid dividends in terms of jobs, economic growth, energy reliability, sustainability and even the state's reputation.

We are at a critical juncture, but Texas doesn't have to choose between reliability, affordability and sustainability. We can offer reliable energy and green energy, stop another crisis before it happens again and move forward with renewable energy investments.

Continuing to promote policies that pushed Texas to its leadership position will unleash even more investments and innovation, which is good for Texas, good for Texans and good for the planet.

As we observe Earth Day, we would urge our leaders to consider the possibilities. Rather than turn the clock back, let's use this storm as an opportunity to innovate further.

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Vinnie Campo is the general manager for Bulb U.S., a new type of energy company that aims to make energy simpler, cheaper, and greener by providing renewable electricity to its members from Texas wind and solar. He is based in Texas.

Houston-based software startup aims to connect workers with wages in real time

there's an app for that

Could you incur an unexpected $400 expense if it hit your bank account today? According to Jeff Price, founder and CEO of Houston-based Pronto Pay, many hourly workers could not. He's set out to change that.

"When you think about it, payroll hasn't changed in nearly two centuries. As far as we can remember, you get paid weekly or bi-weekly. And that's precisely the point we're trying to solve," Price says.

A recent graduate from Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, Price founded Pronto Pay in the first quarter of 2021. The software aims to connect hourly works with transparent access to wages earned before pay day without disrupting the employers' books. Currently the company has seven staff members, is actively hiring and is looking to expand outside of Houston soon.

Pronto Pay partners with the employers to seamlessly build out connections with their time and attendance system and payroll processor. After the company signs up, ProntoPay automatically creates an account for each employee, which allows them to view their accrued wages and withdraw their earnings instantly from the app or next-day for automated clearing house payments — all via the Pronto Pay App. When an employee wishes to withdraw funds prior to their normal pay cycle, Pronto Pay applies a small fixed fee — $2.99 — for completing the transaction. .

Come pay day, the employer's system will automatically balance the difference and route the withdrawn money back to Pronto Pay. As Price describes it, Pronto Pay aims to compete "directly with (while severely undercutting the price of) payday and other predatory lenders."

The idea was born out of a series of simple questions Price started to ask himself when he envisioned what his newborn son's first job would be earlier this year.

"My wife and I were having our son and it challenged me to ask questions like, 'Hey, why do we get paid bi-weekly? If I can Venmo 100 bucks in real time, why can't a company do that?'" Price recalls.

Apart from the impact of advanced pay, Price envisions that earned wages access will improve workplace culture and retention, too. Pronto Pay has already on-boarded users in the local staffing and warehousing markets, in the janitorial and security guard fields, and at call centers. As Price describes, Pronto Pay's clients "typically have a lot of hourly employees that struggle with employee retention and keeping folks at the same job for longer than three to 12 months."

"We're hoping that we can permanently change that employee-employer relationship," he adds. "And help those employees."

Jeff Price is the founder and CEO of Pronto Pay.