A new report from a real estate firm has Houston high on its list for emerging life science hubs. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston is moving up the life sciences ladder.

In October, commercial real estate services company CBRE ranked Houston second on its list of the top emerging clusters for life sciences in the U.S. Pittsburgh took the No. 1 spot, while Austin sat at No. 3.

Now, commercial real estate services company JLL also is giving Houston's life sciences sector some love. JLL recently issued a report identifying Houston as one of the top emerging markets in the U.S. for life sciences.

Among the markets covered in the JLL report, Houston ranked seventh for the number of STEM degrees among people 25 and older (409,354). The gives Houston an edge in terms of life sciences talent.

JLL puts Houston at No. 8 in another life sciences category: wage positioning. This refers either to wages above the industry average that entice life sciences talent or wages below the industry average that attract cost-conscious employers.

"Traditional top life science markets will likely retain their positions; however, it's encouraging that Houston, home to one of the world's largest medical centers, continues to rise on the list of markets for further advancements in the life sciences sector," JLL says.

According to the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston has more than 1,760 life sciences companies, hospitals, health care facilities, and research institutions with a workforce exceeding 320,000. Houston's major corporate employers in life sciences include Abbott, Bayer, Fisher Scientific, Merck, Mylan, Novartis, and Philips.

Of course, the Texas Medical Center — the world's largest medical complex — plays a critical role in the region's life sciences sector. The medical center's TMC3 life sciences hub, set to open in 2022, promises to lift Houston's life sciences profile even more. The 30-acre, 1.5-million-square-foot TMC3 campus is projected to create 30,000 jobs and generate an economic impact of $5.2 billion.

Houston-based real estate developer Hines also is getting in on the life sciences game. It is leading establishment of a 52-acre life sciences hub, Levit Green, adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

In February, commercial real estate firm NAI Partners pinpointed these as the Houston area's current and potential hotspots for life sciences:

  • 1,345-acre Texas Medical Center complex
  • 4,200-acre Generation Park mixed-use development
  • Katy
  • League City
  • New Caney
  • Pearland
  • Sugar Land
  • The Woodlands

NAI Partners noted that life sciences clusters ranking above Houston in the CBRE report sit on the East Coast or West Coast. That makes Houston "the essential location for top-tier, forward-thinking life sciences companies interested in expanding into new geographies," says Holden Rushing, senior vice president of NAI Partners and a member of its life sciences and health care team.

NAI Partners says Houston has affirmed its reputation as one of the most appealing places in the U.S. for life sciences properties.

"Between its highly educated talent pool, nationally regarded health care industry, and business-friendly environment — including being one of the few states without a personal, state, or corporate income tax — Houston's cost-effective tax structure makes it a choice location for any company looking to establish a presence or expand its current footprint," says Travis Rodgers, chief operating officer and executive vice president of NAI Partners.

Fuse Workspace is the latest coworking concept for the west side of town. Photo courtesy of Fuse

Dallas coworking company to open its first location in Houston

new to hou

Dallas-based Fuse Workspace is gearing up to open the first of what could be several coworking spaces in the Houston area as various coworking providers ramp up their Bayou City presence.

Fuse will unveil its first Houston location March 2 at CityCentre, a 47-acre, mixed-use development on the former site of Town & Country Mall in the Memorial City district. The grand opening is set for April 30.

Included in the 29,000-square-foot Fuse space, at 12848 Queensbury Ln., will be Houston's first showroom for Varidesk, a Coppell-based provider of standing desks and other office equipment.

John Herring, brand manager and director of operations at Fuse, says Houston, Austin, and Dallas are the company's target markets. A Fuse space is scheduled to open in July in the Austin suburb of Bee Cave.

"We love Houston and see a great future for our brand here, with multiple locations," Herring tells InnovationMap. "We don't have definitive plans to announce yet, but we have several strategic locations in the area that on our list."

Fuse is a division of DPG Partners LLC, a developer, owner, and operator of coworking spaces in Texas, as well as Hilton and Marriott hotels in Texas and Arkansas.

Fuse Workspace is the latest coworking concept for the west side of town. Photo courtesy of Fuse

The Fuse location at CityCentre will feature about 23,000 square feet of Class A office space, along with about 6,000 square feet of outdoor space. Highlights include:

  • 90 private offices
  • Three specialty suites, including one already leased by Varidesk
  • Four terraces
  • Seven conference rooms, including a podcast studio
  • Event space accommodating up to 100 people

"Our goal is to create an outstanding experience in the office through décor, amenities, programming, conference space, and our concierge staff," Herring says.

Fuse is joining a number of coworking providers that have set up shop in and around Memorial City. For instance, Life Time Work, affiliated with a nearby Life Time Fitness gym, opened last year at City Centre. Memorial City also is home to The Cannon, a 120,000-square-foot coworking campus.

Commercial real estate services provider JLL predicts 30 percent of the U.S. office market will be "flexible" space, such as coworking setups, by 2030. That compares with less than 5 percent in early 2019.

In the Houston market, 1.9 percent of office space was considered "flexible" in early 2019, according to JLL, versus 2.8 percent in Austin and 1.7 percent in Dallas.

"Our research, and our conversations with corporate executives across the globe, indicate that flexible work is not just a passing trend — it's woven into the fabric of the future of work," Scott Homa, senior vice president and director of U.S. office research at JLL, said in a 2019 release. "Even though some markets are better positioned for rapid growth, this still leaves significant runway for expansion across all U.S. office markets."

An October 2019 report from Yardi Matrix, a provider of real estate data, shows the Houston market with 113 coworking spaces encompassing more than 2.2 million square feet. By comparison, Dallas-Fort Worth had 159 coworking spaces exceeding 3.5 million total square feet, and Austin had 47 spaces surpassing 1.2 million total square feet.

"The penetration of coworking is highest in markets with new-market economies and tight vacancy rates," the Yardi Matrix report states.

According to JLL, the office vacancy rate in the Houston market stood at 22.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019. But office occupancy is improving, according to a JLL report, as more than 1.85 million square feet of space was absorbed in the Houston market during the fourth quarter of 2019. For Houston, that marked a 20-year high for positive net absorption in a single quarter, the report states.
Houston's industrial development has grown, and a contributing factor is the rise of e-commerce activity. Getty Images

E-commerce growth is sparking some changes in Houston's industrial real estate market

Making moves

With retail e-commerce sales in the U.S. projected to soar from $501 billion in 2018 to $740 billion in 2023, it's no wonder that Houston's industrial market is expanding faster than Santa's bag of toys.

E-commerce is one of the main drivers of an upturn in industrial construction in the Houston area. Estimates from four commercial real estate services companies show that during the third quarter, anywhere from 13.3 million square feet to 18.5 million square feet of industrial space was under construction in the region. That volume is up considerably from the second quarter of 2019 and from the same period in 2018.

Around the country, the "need for speed and choice" to appease shoppers is driving a lot of the increased demand for industrial space, Hamid Moghadam, chairman and CEO of industrial REIT Prologis, recently told Wall Street analysts. That, he said, is because "the more choices you want and the quicker you want them, the more inventory you need to position near the customers."

Rob Stillwell, executive managing director in the Houston office of commercial real estate services company Newmark Knight Frank, says many of the local industrial facilities geared toward e-commerce are being built in and around pockets of residential growth. This includes a swath from I-10 West in Katy to I-45 North toward The Woodlands. Among the facilities popping up in that corridor are massive projects for Amazon, FedEx, and UPS, according to Stilwell.

"E-commerce is likely a contributing factor to many distribution operations in Houston, but not the sole reason for the strong demand seen in the market," Stilwell says. Many new or expanding industrial tenants in the market do have an e-commerce component, he adds, yet won't be leasing space just for e-commerce purposes.

In Houston, e-commerce-fueled construction of industrial space is especially prevalent near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, according to commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield. However, Houston's northwest submarket is seeing the most industrial construction in the area, with 5.5 million square feet underway in the third quarter.

Commercial real estate services company JLL pegs the southeast submarket as the hottest, with its third-quarter report showing 3.5 million square feet of new industrial projects underway there.

Aside from e-commerce, the Port of Houston and the petrochemical sector are propelling industrial construction in the area, Cushman & Wakefield says.

Around the Houston area, nine of the 89 industrial spaces under construction in the third quarter exceeded 500,000 square feet, Cushman & Wakefield says. Several of those lack a specific e-commerce element. This includes a 1 million-million-square-foot manufacturing facility for Coca-Cola, a more than 770,000-square-foot distribution center for Home Depot, and a nearly 550,000-square-foot distribution center for Costco.

Cushman & Wakefield warns that Houston's industrial market could suffer from an oversupply of space, as well as from a drop in shipping activity prompted by ongoing trade disputes and a decline in oil prices. Although industrial vacancy is expected to rise slightly through 2021, the company says, "demand continues for more modern, state-of-the-art facilities and market fundamentals remain healthy."

During the third quarter, only one-fourth of the space under construction in the Houston area was preleased, according to commercial real estate services company Colliers International. However, another 10 percent to 25 percent of that inventory should be preleased before the facilities are completed, the company says.

The area's industrial vacancy rate rose to 7.7 percent in the third quarter as new projects came online, Cushman & Wakefield says. Once more supply arrives, the vacancy rate is expected to tick up.

"Low interest rates and robust investor demand are expected to continue generating strong interest for Houston industrial assets. On the fundamentals side, the market is closely watching new inventory additions," JLL says.

The MKT expects to revolutionize the live-work-play model with everything from retail and restaurant to office and coworking space. Courtesy of The MKT

Massive mixed-use project to bring creative office and coworking space to the Houston Heights

Meet The MKT

On a stroll or a spin down the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, you might not notice a complete transformation is eminent. The MKT — a mixed-use renovation and build out project — is getting ready to break ground.

The five-building, 200,000-square-foot project will bring 30 retail and restaurant concepts, and 100,000 square feet of office space together along with four acres of green space, parking, and an outdoor venue alongside 1,000 linear feet of the trail between North Shepherd Drive and Herkimer Street. The MKT name comes from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad — later known as the Katy Railroad — that was transformed into the Heights Hike and Bike Trail.

MKT is a joint partnership between Houston-based Radom Capital, which is behind Heights Mercantile down the street, and Triten Real Estate Partners with capital partner, Long Wharf. The architect behind the project is Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. Shop Companies is doing the retail leasing, and JLL's Houston office is coordinating the office leasing space.

"There's nothing in Houston that's like this that's upscale creative office space with a huge retail and restaurant component that's located on a major hike and bike trail right in the city," Russell Hodges, managing director of agency leasing at JLL, tells InnovationMap.

Ultimately, the project, which will break ground in the next 60 to 90 days, is a renovation, as the five industrial buildings that make up The MKT currently exist and were built in the '70s. The transformation will include redoing the facades of the buildings and incorporating green space.

The creative office space, which will be in three of the buildings, is doing something a little different than most office buildings in Houston. Originally, Hodges says they expected interest from TAMI tenants — which stands for technology, advertising, media, and information companies — but the interest they have had so far has been diverse.

"The project caters to the tenant that's looking for something different — looking for, honestly for lack of a better word, cool space," Hodges says. "Someone looking for something to help differentiate their business to leverage their office space to recruit and retain talent."

Another unexpected interested party — coworking tenants. Hodges says the project could house anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 square feet of coworking space if the right coworking operator comes around.

"I don't think we were necessarily looking for coworking, per say," Hodges says. "But, we've had significant interest from coworking operators. Based on that level of interest, we think that there's demand for coworking in the area. We're looking for the right operator who's brand aligns with the brand of the project. I don't think that's every coworking brand, necessarily."

The team behind The MKT are also planning a second phase of the project for a large space just east of phase one. That concept has yet to be designed, and there aren't any specifics currently available.

Big picture

Courtesy of The MKT

On the project's website, this rendering can be interacted with to see 3D designs and before and after shots.

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Greentown Labs hires former Houston sustainability exec

new hire

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

Houston edtech nonprofit grows its technology with $440K grant from Kinder Foundation

student-focused

As the learning landscape shifted from in-person to virtual, the ability to provide students with necessary support systems and resources became compromised. However, one Houston edtech company worked hard to close that gap.

ProUnitas, a Houston-based nonprofit, partnered with Thoughtworks, a global technology consultancy, to expand its PurpleSENSE platform to mobile. This partnership was ensured through significant private investment, including a one-time gift of $440,000 from the Kinder Foundation.

ProUnitas promises that this expansion will allow student support teams to take the power of PurpleSENSE with them on the go for easier, real-time response using the new PurpleSENSE mobile app.

"A mobile version of PurpleSENSE will empower student support teams to work more rapidly, efficiently and effectively towards their mission and goals," Chris Murphy, CEO of Thoughtworks North America, says in a news release.

Committed to ensuring that no students fall through the cracks, ProUnitas' purpose is focused on providing all students, including those most impoverished, with support services such as food assistance programs, mental health counseling, and after-school clubs.

"Every day many of our students carry the burden of poverty on their shoulders to school, and despite the availability of services, schools do not have the technology infrastructure necessary to connect students to resources in a coordinated way. We want to change this reality," says Adeeb Barqawi, president and CEO of ProUnitas, says in the release.

Engaged in similar work, the Kinder Foundation was a natural partner.

"The Kinder Foundation believes that children cannot succeed if they are juggling significant personal challenges," says Nancy Kinder, president and CEO of the Kinder Foundation, in the release. "As a result of the pandemic, we are seeing mental health and the impact of stress with fresh eyes. Now is the time to support our children and help them thrive and learn. We are proud to help elevate the work of ProUnitas to reach more schools and more students in this critical time of need."

In a press release, ProUnitas states that through these new mobile capabilities, up to 60 percent of administrative work in providing social service options is eliminated. It also shortens the response time for a student to be identified and receive services by 90 percent.

The expansion of PurpleSENSE to mobile is a critical step for ProUnitas to effectively support more schools and students.

Renewables are Houston's next chapter, says this expert

guest column

Houston has long been known as an innovative city — from medicine to technology to creative cuisines (see Viet-Cajun). I am always proud to see how cultures, education, and change come together to build the fabric of our city. As we look forward to a new future, we need to look no further than one of our strongest industries: energy. As many before me, I've sat down to ask: What does that next chapter look like for Houston?

Renewable energy has rapidly grown in Texas and across the country. Emerging technology has furthered this innovation, bringing wind and solar projects that are more powerful and reliable online from the Panhandle to deep in the Rio Grande Valley. As these new projects come online, aging wind facilities built in the early 2000s are beginning to be revitalized, gleaming bright white with newer, longer blades. And, similar to cleaning out your closet of old clothes, the current blades have to go somewhere. Where others see a problem, we saw an opportunity: We've made a business out of recycling them.

At Everpoint, we are demolishing and removing blades all across the US, with projects in North Dakota, Colorado, and even here in another Texas city, Sweetwater. In this rural Texas town, wind investment took Nolan County market value from $607 million in 1998 to $3.2 billion as development peaked in 2009. This growth enabled the school districts, county, and hospital district to expand and upgrade their facilities. As a trailblazer in the industry, we worked closely with the Sweetwater team to handle a smooth transition, allowing their community to look forward to a breezier future.

The industry is quickly innovating to meet the demands of Texas' future, and new opportunities are forming every day, something we're proud to be a part of, especially as a veteran-owned company. We are driven to make the future of energy more transparent and traceable, that's why we partner with firms like Media Sorcery which uses sensors and an ESG based blockchain built by another Houston firm, Topl, to maintain full accountability throughout the decommissioning process.

Beyond our company, the renewable energy industry employs veterans at a higher rate than the national average, with more than 11,000 in the wind industry alone. As a veteran myself it only made since to team with another veteran founded company to pursue this opportunity. I appreciate meeting fellow veterans every day that are applying the skills they learned in the military: a technical knowledge base, teamwork, and discipline.

Across Texas, renewable energy is powering 40,200 well-paying careers that I know are building toward a better, brighter Houston. It's in our blood to continue the Texas legacy of welcoming energy industries, like wind and solar, into our state. I believe in an all-energy approach to the energy transition. Renewable energy is about more than hearts and minds, it's about dollars and cents.

In honor of that, we are celebrating American Clean Power Week this week, October 25-29, and we hope you will join us. Not to celebrate one industry, but to embrace an all of the above, made in Texas energy future — a future that I know we can all be proud of, and where Houston will be the Energy Capital of the Future.

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Kevin Doffing is the chief commercial officer of Everpoint Services.