The annual survey revealed that the percentage of Houston-area residents who had a positive view of the local job market dropped slightly. Photo via Getty Images

Few studies gauge the barometric pressure of the Bayou City like the Kinder Houston Area Survey.

Designed to take the temperature of the general population, the study — now in its 40th year — reveals a Houston citizenry optimistic about its personal futures, per the report.

A little about the study before delving in: The report was conducted by the esteemed Stephen Klineberg, founding director of Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research and emeritus professor of sociology; and Robert Bozick, senior research fellow at the Kinder Institute.

This new survey was unveiled at the Kinder Institute's "Lunch-Out" recent virtual event. Interviews of some 1,051 Harris County adults were conducted between January 18 and March 29 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The full report is available online.

The No. 1 concern

Public health concerns, while rarely registering in previous surveys, were cited as the biggest problem facing Houstonians this year, according to a press release. Some 25 percent of respondents cited the pandemic or health-related issues.

Others — 20 percent — pointed to the economy as the biggest problem, that's up from 13 percent last year. Only 14 percent cited crime, and traffic dropped to 13 percent, down from 30 percent last year.

Highlighting a national socioeconomic disparity, 58 percent of Blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics said they had to risk exposure to the coronavirus to keep their jobs during the past year, per the report. That's compared to 41 percent of Asians and only 36 percent of whites.

Additionally, the report notes that Blacks and Hispanics were more likely (at 73 percent and 67 percent, respectively) to know someone who was hospitalized with or died as a result of having COVID-19, compared with whites (57 percent) and Asians (40 percent).

Mental health issues have arisen as a serious problem in equal numbers across ethnic communities. More than 50 percent of respondents — in all four groups — reported feeling more stress and experiencing more emotional problems during the past year, compared with 2020.

Jobs and the economy

Though Houston is an opportunity city, the Kinder Survey revealed that the percentage of Houston-area residents who had a positive view of the local job market dropped slightly, to 61 percent this year from 68 percent in 2020.

A mere 21 percent reported their economic situations were getting better, down from 34 percent in 2020. Notably — for the first time in the 40 years — of the survey, more respondents (25 percent) said their financial situations were getting worse than getting better.

Blacks and Hispanics were also more likely than Asians and whites to have experienced a loss of income and to have received help from government programs in the past year.

Race relations, immigration, and inequity

Positive ratings of relations among ethnic groups in the Houston area declined across the board, especially among Blacks. Whites and Hispanics were significantly more likely than in previous years to agree that Blacks are still a long way from having the same opportunities in life as whites.

The number of people who said the criminal justice system is biased against Blacks increased to 54 percent from 32 percent in 2015, when the question was last asked, per a release.

Weather, religion, and politics

Area residents were less likely than in previous surveys to say it's virtually certain the region will experience more severe storms in coming years (59 percent in 2021, compared with 81 percent in 2018 and 2020).

The number of religious Houstonians continues to decline, with more people than ever indicating they are not part of any faith tradition (22 percent today, compared with 8 percent in 2008) and do not consider religion to be an important part of their lives (26 percent, compared with 10 percent in 2008), per the study.

Meanwhile, 45 percent of those surveyed said they felt closer to the Democratic Party this year, while only 25 percent voiced support for the Republican Party.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houstonians gained valuable time on the road in 2020. Photo by LUNAMARINA/Getty Images

New study drives home how drastically Houston traffic dropped in 2020

data-driven

Houstonians are still gauging all that they have lost during the pandemic, but one thing they gained in 2020 was time — specifically, in traffic.

Drivers who noticed less cars on the roads were witnessing a 33 percent drop in traffic in 2020, compared to 2019. That data comes courtesy of a new study by Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Houston traffic congestion levels dropped from 24 percent to an impressive 16 percent during the pandemic. In April, during the peak of area stay-at-home efforts, Houston's congestion level plummeted to 6 percent, the lowest of the year. February saw the highest congestion level of 2020 at 26 percent.

For some perspective, in 2019, a 30-minute took an extra 37.5 minutes than a trip during less congested conditions, the study notes.

Further illustrating the headache of 2019 commuting, local drivers lost some 119 hours of extra travel time during peak hours. The study also found that in 2019, Houston drivers lost 119 hours of extra travel time driving during peak hours.

Compare that to 2020, where local drivers lost a mere 71 hours of travel time, which is two full days less than 2019. What can one do with an extra two days? Besides the obvious Netflix and chill option, that savings offers enough time to read 3,588 pages of Marcel Proust's 4,211-page whopper, In Search of Lost Time, the study notes.

Less cars on the road was extremely beneficial for the environment, the study adds. U.S. greenhouse gas emission from energy and industry dropped more than 10 percent in 2020 — the lowest recorded level in 30 years.

Thus, the good news is that with more Houstonians working from home, commute times and the local environment benefitted. However, the study notes that with the advent of COVD vaccinations, a subsequent return to work, and with no real policy changes planned, Houston's traffic headaches could soon return.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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New ERCOT dashboards let Houstonians check energy supply in real-time

power check

With winter temperatures and last year's freeze still top of mind for many Texans, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, has rolled out new dashboards to help you keep tabs on the energy supply in real-time.

Local may not have heard of ERCOT until the winter storm in February 2021 that would go on to take the lives of 246 people after the freeze overwhelmed the power grid and left millions freezing in the dark.

Since that storm, anxiety has been high. But these dashboards may help Texans get a gauge on what we're dealing with at any given moment.

The ERCOT site features find nine different dashboards on the Grid and Market Conditions page. Each dashboard has a timestamp of when it was last updated and if you select "Full View," you'll get a detailed explanation of what the graphs mean.

If things are normal, the grid will be green. But if it's black, that means we're in an energy emergency level 3, so expect controlled outages. Energy conservation would also be critical.

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Continue reading and watch the full video on our news partner ABC13.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know — the first of this new year — I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from startup development to energy transition — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Joey Sanchez, senior director of ecosystems at the Ion Houston

Joey Sanchez joins the Houston Innovator Podcast to discuss his new role at The Ion Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

Joey Sanchez, who previously served as director of corporate engagement at Houston Exponential, has been in his new role as senior director of ecosystem at The Ion for about three months now.

"I'm focusing specifically on the communities of entrepreneurs, startups, investors — and trying to bridge connections among them," Sanchez says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "This is the biggest challenge in Houston and we want to flip that with density. Density is really the key to solving connections."

Sanchez joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and shares about what gets him so excited about Houston innovation on the show. Click here to listen and read more.

Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention

Four climatetech-focused individuals have been named to Greentown Lab's board. Photo via LinkedIn

Greentown Labs named new board members, including two community board members to act as liaisons between startups and Greentown Labs. Greentown Houston's appointed representation is Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention, and community member.

Desai's current startup, Intention, is climate impact platform for retail investors, and she has previously worked at six energy-related startups including Ridge Energy Storage, Tessera Solar, and ActualSun, where she was co-founder and CEO. She's also worked in a leadership role at NRG Energy and spent several years as a management consultant with the energy practice of Booz Allen Hamilton — now Strategy&, a PWC company.

"I'm honored to join the board of Greentown Labs as a representative of the startup community," she says in the release. "This is a pivotal time for climate and energy transition. I look forward to working with the rest of the board to expand the collective impact of the Greentown Labs ecosystem." Click here to read more.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi joins InnovationMap to discuss how Cemvita Factory has deployed its recent investment funding and what's next for the company and Houston as a whole when it comes to biomanufacturing. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Moji Karimi and his sister Tara had the idea for a company that could transform carbon emissions and mitigate new damage to the environment. Only, it seems, they were a bit ahead of their time.

Houston-based Cemvita Factory, founded in 2017, uses synthetic biology and take carbon emissions and transform them into industrial chemicals. However, it's only been since recently that the conversation on climate change mitigation has focused on carbon utilization.

"I think people are realizing more about the importance of really focusing on carbon capture and utilization because fossil fuels are gonna be here, whether we like it or not, for a long time, so the best thing we could do is to find ways to decarbonize them," Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO, tells InnovationMap. "There's been this focus around carbon capture and storage, and I think the next awakening is going to be utilization." Click here to read more.

3 businesses join Houston initiative for carbon capture and storage

seeing green

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”