we're No. 3
The Houston metro area shed 141,300 jobs last year — the worst one-year job loss ever recorded in the region — and the area's unemployment rate peaked at 14.3 percent last April. But, according to a new ranking, there's at least one bright spot in Houston's economy.
Site Selection magazine's latest report shines a bright light on last year's economic development activity in the Houston area and on the future of the region's economy. The area ranks No. 3 among major U.S. metro areas for the number of economic development projects secured last year (213). Houston shares the top 10 with two other Texas metro areas: Dallas-Fort Worth (ranked second with 262 projects) and Austin (tied for No. 6 with 84 projects). Chicago claimed the top spot, landing 327 economic development projects last year.
Site Selection lists several Houston-area projects among the top projects that Texas gained last year, including:
- $2 billion commercial space station on the drawing board at Houston-based Axiom Space
- $500 million hydrogen plant that Air Products plans to open in Texas City
- $200 million chemical plant that Horn Technologies and Services is putting in La Porte
- $150 million expansion of Chevron Phillips Chemical's plastics complex in Pasadena
- $125 million Southwest Airlines maintenance facility at Houston's Hobby International Airport
- $123 million expansion of Kinder Morgan's terminal in Pasadena
- $112 million manufacturing and shipping hub in Houston for locally based United Imaging
Measured another way, Houston ranked sixth for the number of economic development projects per capita last year (32.8) among major metro areas. Austin grabbed the No. 2 spot (43.2 projects per capita), and Dallas-Fort Worth appeared at No. 3 (37.7 projects per capita).
In remarks January 26 at the 2021 annual meeting of the Greater Houston Partnership, board Chairwoman Amy Chronis cited the 1,000-job Axiom Space project as one of last year's economic highlights for the region.
"This is a game-changing project for Houston as we position our region as one of the country's leading tech hubs," Chronis said. "It is the type of catalytic project that will drive meaningful growth of the commercial aerospace sector in Houston."
Chronis noted that Houston already is home to nearly 23,000 aerospace manufacturing professionals, along with more than 500 aerospace and aviation companies and institutions, "but the potential is so much greater."
"The space race is shifting to a commercially funded and operated industry, and it is critical that Houston maintains our leadership position," Chronis said.
NASA announced the Axiom Space project — the world's first commercial space station — in January 2020. Axiom Space aims to begin attaching its space modules to the International Space Station in 2024.
"NASA has once again recognized the hard work, talent, and experience of Houstonians as we expand the International Space Station and promote commercial opportunities in space," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said in a release touting the Axiom Space project.
Just last month, Axiom Space raised $130 million in a Series B round led by London-based investment firm C5 Capital. The funding will go toward bulking up the company's workforce and developing the space station.
Rob Meyerson, operating partner at C5 and a new member of Axiom Space's board of directors, called the company "a force in the space sector," and the startup's space station "the infrastructure upon which we will build many new businesses in space" and a launchpad for exploration of the moon and Mars.
"Axiom's work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research, and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit," Jim Bridenstine, a Rice University graduate who resigned earlier this year as NASA administrator, said in January 2020. "We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration."