It's a blast to work at Johnson Space Center. Johnson Space Center/Facebook

Houston continues to prove it hosts the best of the best employers in Texas as NASA tops Forbes' 2023 list of "America’s Best Employers By State."

The highly anticipated list, published August 22, is a collaboration between Forbes and Statista to survey the satisfaction levels of tens of thousands of workers employed by national companies.

Though the government agency is based in Washington, D.C., NASA's stratospheric presence in Houston (coupled with a great work environment and advancement opportunities) is what propels it to the top year after year. There are currently more than 17,000 workers employed by NASA, according to Forbes.

Earlier this year, NASA was honored as the Best Place to Work in the Federal Government by the Partnership for Public Service for its unyielding dedication to space exploration and discovery.

"The passion and precision of our workforce makes NASA the best place to work in the federal government," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. "Together, we are poised to accomplish more daring feats with new advancements, more scientific contributions on Earth and in the heavens, and more incredible technological breakthroughs that will help shape the 21st century."

While Forbes explains that the national list isn't the same as their best large employers list, it's meant to serve as an in-depth analysis of companies that are "closer-to-home options for every American worker."

NASA's high rank follows shortly after the agency launched a brand new Digital Engineering Design Center fully dedicated to innovating the future of spaceflight. The new center will aid in expanding opportunities for the younger generation to embrace aerospace engineering as a career.

Forbes and Statista determined their rankings by surveying 70,000 Americans working at employers in the U.S. with at least 500 employees each. The final list features 1,392 highly recommended employers in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 270 employers ranked highly in multiple states.

Here are the 30 best large employers in Texas, as determined by Forbes and Statista:

Houston area:

  • No. 1 – NASA (based in Washington, D.C.; Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake)
  • No. 4 – Houston Community College
  • No. 5 – Houston Methodist
  • No. 6 – Texas Children's Hospital
  • No. 18 – National Oilwell Varco
  • No. 19 – Bechtel (based in Reston, Virginia; major corporate hub in Houston)

Dallas-Fort Worth:

  • No. 6 – Texas Oncology, based in Dallas
  • No. 9 – Fidelity Investments (based in Boston; major corporate hub in Westlake)
  • No. 14 – Capital One (based in Richmond, Virginia; major corporate hub in Plano)
  • No. 17 – University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas
  • No. 22 – Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas
  • No. 24 – Texas Health Resources, based in Arlington
  • No. 25 – General Motors (based in Detroit, Michigan; major assembly hub in Arlington)
  • No. 27 – City of Plano
  • No. 28 – Toyota North America, based in Plano

San Antonio:

  • No. 2 – H-E-B (based in San Antonio; more than 300 stores in Texas)
  • No. 26 – University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Austin:

  • No. 3 – Google (based in Mountain View, California; major corporate hub in Austin)
  • No. 13 – Apple (based in Cupertino, California; major corporate hub in Austin)

Throughout Texas:

  • No. 8 – Salesforce (based in San Francisco, California; offices in Austin and Dallas)
  • No. 10 – IKEA (based in Sweden; five stores in Texas)
  • No. 11 – Costco (based in Issaquah, Washington; 38 stores in Texas)
  • No. 15 – Cardinal Health (based in Dublin, Ohio; 23 locations in Texas)
  • No. 16 – Microsoft (based in Redmond, Washington; offices in Austin, Dallas, Friendswood, Frisco, Houston, San Antonio, and The Woodlands)
  • No. 20 – Leidos (based in Reston, Virginia; locations in San Antonio, Houston, and Webster)
  • No. 21 – Cisco Systems (based in San Jose, California; offices in Austin, Dallas, Irving, Richardson, Houston, Laredo, and San Antonio)
  • No. 23 – IBM (based in Armonk, New York; offices in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Frisco)
  • No. 29 – Nike (based in Beaverton, Oregon; 26 locations in Texas)
  • No. 30 – Charles Schwab (based in San Francisco, California; 25 locations in Texas)
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.
Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini (right) has announced the company's series C round with support from Aljazira Capital, led by CEO Naif AlMesned. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

Houston space tech startup raises $350M series C, clinches unicorn status

$1B club

Houston has another unicorn — a company valued at $1 billion or more — thanks to a recent round of funding.

Axiom Space released the news this week that it's closed its series C round of funding to the tune of $350 million. While the company didn't release its valuation, it confirmed to Bloomberg that it's over the $1 billion threshold. Axiom reports that, according to available data, it's now raised the second-most funding of any private space company in 2023 behind SpaceX.

Saudi Arabia-based Aljazira Capital and South Korea-based Boryung Co. led the round. To date, Axiom has raised over $505 million with $2.2 billion in customer contracts, according to the company.

“We are honored to team with investors like Aljazira Capital, Boryung and others, who are committed to realizing the Axiom Space vision,” Axiom Space CEO and president Michael Suffredini says in a news release. “Together, we are working to serve innovators in medicine, materials science, and on-orbit infrastructure who represent billions of dollars in demand over the coming decade.

"We are building on the legacy of the International Space Station, leveraging the pillars that were constructed in low-Earth orbit more than two decades ago, to now support a burgeoning global space economy,” he continues.

Axiom, founded in 2016 by Suffredini and Executive Chairman Kam Ghaffarian, is working on the first commercial space station that will replace the International Space Station when NASA retires it in 2031. The first module is expected to launch to the ISS by 2026.

Boryung, which has reportedly invested in Axiom prior to this round, is a firm focused on health care investments. Chairman of the firm, Jay Kim, says Boryung is making investments in technology that supports human space missions and building a space health care system.

“We recognize the depth of human spaceflight knowledge and the level of space station construction and management experience at Axiom Space, as well as the sophistication of the company’s sales and business strategy,” Kim says in the release. “We have a shared vision and ethos and are excited to build opportunity together.”

Naif AlMesned, CEO and managing director of Aljazira Capital, says his investment in Axiom is in accordance with Saudi Vision 2030, a government program launched in 2016 by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to increase economic, cultural, and social diversification for the sovereign state.

“We believe in the importance of innovation in various sectors and across various markets," AlMesned says in the release. "In line with the Saudi Vision 2030’s transformative approach, we acknowledge the need for technology toward the advancement of human life. To that end, we are excited to support Axiom Space along its journey of building for beyond.”

In addition to its work on Axiom Station, the company is working on other contracts with NASA, including constructing a new age spacesuit, a long-term NASA contract that's reported to be $1.26 billion. Axiom has also collaborated with NASA on two private astronaut missions — with two more planned for 2024.

Texas A&M University will build a new facility near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of JSC

Texas university to build $200M space institute in Houston

gig 'em

Texas A&M University's board of regents voted to approve the construction of a new institute in Houston that hopes to contribute to maintaining the state's leadership within the aerospace sector.

This week, the Texas A&M Space Institute got the greenlight for its $200 million plan. The announcement follows a $350 million investment from the Texas Legislature. The institute is planned to be constructed next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The Texas A&M Space Institute will make sure the state expands its role as a leader in the new space economy,” John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, says in a news release. “No university is better equipped for aeronautics and space projects than Texas A&M.”

The new institute would build on A&M's expertise and resources to, according to the release, "make new discoveries, technological developments, health advances and workforce growth." Within its system, the university's space presence includes:

  • Four astronaut faculty members.
  • Scientists and engineers have participated in all NASA rover missions to Mars with two scientists active on NASA's Perseverance Rover Team.
  • More than 280 faculty and investigators are involved in space-related research.
  • Students, faculty and researchers are working on more than 300 space-related projects.
  • For the past five years, over 25 million per year in funding awards from NASA, other government agencies, and the commercial space industry.
  • Interdisciplinary space-related research across more than 12 colleges/schools within the Texas A&M University System universities.

Last summer, NASA and Texas A&M signed a Space Act Agreement, a general agreement to promote collaboration with the agency.

Axiom Space secured another mission with NASA and SpaceX. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

Houston space tech company secures fourth NASA mission

ready for takeoff

Houston's Axiom Space announced this month that it has signed its fourth mission order with NASA to send a private astronaut mission to the International Space Station.

The mission is targeted to launch no earlier than August 2024 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) is targeted to launch no earlier than January of the same year.

Ax-1 successfully launched in April 2022, and Ax-2 successfully launched about a year later, in May 2023. Ax-2 was the first private mission commanded by a woman and included the first Saudi astronauts to live and work on the ISS, and the first Saudi female astronaut to go to space.

"Each mission allows us to build on the foundation we have set for the world's first commercial space station, Axiom Station, preparing our teams and orbital platform to succeed ISS operations in low-Earth orbit," says Michael Suffredini, CEO and president of Axiom Space, in a press release. "These missions are instrumental in expanding commercial space activities and access to space for individuals and nations around the world, as well as developing the knowledge and experience needed to normalize living and working in microgravity.”

Axiom Mission 4 (Ax-4) is expected to spend up to 14 days docked to the ISS.

The crew will train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX. SpaceX has also been contracted as launch provider for the missions.

Last month, Axiom also received $5 million to continue its work developing new spacesuits that will be used in NASA's upcoming Artemis missions, with a potential value of $142 million investment over four years. The company has been working on the spacesuits with North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace since last summer.

Initial designs of the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU, were revealed in March at Space Center Houston’s Moon 2 Mars Festival.

Earlier this summer, NASA also opened its Digital Engineering Design Center in Johnson Space Center. Enrolled engineers and students will work on NASA projects related to in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU, which is a type of engineering that utilizes materials native to space

NASA has invested $15 million to address a unique challenge of moon exploration. Photo courtesy of Zeno Power

Houston space tech company secures $2.4M to collaborate on moon exploration innovation

going dark

For 14 days of the month, the moon goes dark, and if humans have any change of further exploring the moon or even residing on it, there's going to need to be an innovation that can help sustain life in the dark and cold that results from the lunar night.

Luckily, NASA is already on it. The organization just announced a $15 million Tipping Point initiative award to a project led by Washington, D.C-based Zeno Power. The goal is to create a Radioisotope Power System — the interoperable americium-241 (Am-241) radioisotope Sterling generator, to be exact — for lunar landers that ensures operation of lunar assets during the lunar night period as well as the moon's permanently shadowed regions.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines is collaborating on the project and has been designated approximately $2.4 million for its part in the project. According to a news release, the team's goal is to have the technology ready for a lunar surface demonstration by 2027.

“The ability to survive the lunar night is paramount to Intuitive Machines and the space exploration community,” Trent Martin, vice president of space systems at Intuitive Machines, says in the release. “NASA investing in mission longevity and the endurance of spacecraft paves the way for uninterrupted scientific exploration, enabling future robotic and human missions to unlock the mysteries of the lunar surface and propel humanity’s presence in space to new frontiers.”

During the lunar night cycle, parts of the moon reach -279 degrees Fahrenheit. If NASA is able to provide a solution to surviving the lunar night, the lunar missions could last longer than two Earth weeks — including allowing for missions to last for several years.

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is behind the Tipping Point solicitation. The Zeno Power-led team also includes NASA Glenn Research Center, NASA Marshall Flight Center, Sunpower Inc., and the University of Dayton Research Institute.

Intuitive Machines, which went public earlier this year, has several other projects ongoing with NASA, including a satellite joint venture with KBR that announced up to $719 million in funding in April.

The new facility will be key to innovating across the Artemis missions. Photo courtesy of NASA and UTEP

NASA debuts digital design lab in Houston

future of engineering

NASA has opened a new center in Houston that's dedicated to digital space innovation for the future of spaceflight.

The Digital Engineering Design Center has recently opened in NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The facility is equipping the aerospace engineering community with skills and processes for digital designing that can build, test, and refine innovations before the manufacturing and assembling process in order to to test them.

“The DEDC will help prepare a modern American aerospace workforce by equipping it with valuable skills in digital engineering and encourage even more students to become engineers,” says Julie Kramer White, director of engineering at NASA Johnson, in a news release. “Collaborations like this one show we are committed to having the most talented, diverse, and motivated engineers that can continue to meet the exploration goals of the agency.”

Julie Kramer White, engineering director at NASA Johnson, delivered a speech at the DEDC ribbon cutting ceremony at NASA Johnson. Photo courtesy of James Blair/NASA

Digital engineering has many benefits to NASA, including reduced risk and cost, streamlined development schedule, and the ability to work with experts remotely.

NASA’s DEDC program is operated by the University of Texas at El Paso Aerospace Center. The partnership, which was celebrated at JSC and UTEP simultaneously, is also a part of a collaboration with Johnson’s Engineering Directorate and the Space Technology Mission Directorate.

The enrolled engineers and students will work on NASA projects related to in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU, which is a type of engineering that utilizes materials native to space.

ISRU is a key focus of the Artemis missions to the Moon and Mars. The engineers from NASA will be the ISRU experts, while UTEP professors will contribute their digital engineering software expertise.

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Growing Houston tech nonprofit expands access to textbooks for college students

openstax updates

If everyone that attended a college or university were polled, they’d all likely agree that one of the worst parts of the experience was the rising costs of textbooks.

In an effort to combat the hefty price tag of assigned texts, OpenStax, a nonprofit education startup out of Rice University, which is on a mission to increase educational access for all, seeks to democratize high-quality education by offering free, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks for students and knowledge seekers across the globe.

This month, OpenStax will add to its 57 open education resources, or OER, titles with a full version of John McMurry's popular pre-med textbook, Organic Chemistry, under an open license to honor his late son, Peter, who passed away in 2019 after losing his battle with cystic fibrosis.

“The author, John McMurry, granted us the ability to publish the 10th edition openly,” Anthony Palmiotto, director of higher education at OpenStax, tells InnovationMap. “So, the most widely used organic chemistry textbook went from being one of the most expensive undergraduate texts on the market (almost $100), to a free and open text, making this a watershed moment for OER.”

This school year, OpenStax is adding 16 academic institutions onto its platform, including Georgia State University, Southwest Texas Junior College, Texas A&M University-Commerce, University of San Diego, and more. It's the largest batch of new schools OpenStax has onboarded in a year, Palmiotto says in a news release.

Founded to increase access

Richard Baraniuk, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University, founded OpenStax. Photo via rice.edu

OpenStax founder and director Richard Baraniuk, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University, started the OER publisher in 1999 to remove financial barriers and make educational resources more widely available. Much like increasing access to McMurry’s Organic Chemistry, the goal is to continue to support both learners and educators by providing easily accessible and well-developed materials.

“Our mission is to support all learners in their educational pursuits by providing access to high-quality education,” Palmiotto says. “Richard Baraniuk founded it initially as a way for faculty and others to get their material and their knowledge in the form of textbooks and other learning materials to students.

“And then born out of that, we started this robust textbook development and course material development program where we put out the highest-quality materials we can in a way that fits the way courses are taught. Meaning convenience and scope and sequence and other needs that instructors must use textbooks. So really the access was really the start of it, increasing that and lowering barriers to education, and then a lot flowed from that.”

OpenStax’s library of OER titles, which are published under a Creative Commons Attribution license, are free and easily accessible on the go and usable on any device in multiple formats, including digital and PDF.

Funded by philanthropic supporters, OpenStax normally works to openly access five or six books per year, working mostly on introductory courses. Most recently, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board funded the publisher to do a series of nursing books, eight in total.

“Before the nursing books, we were doing business books,” Palmiotto says. “Murry’s book builds out our science offerings, so we're thinking about the different areas that students take that can be barriers for them to move up in education and succeed. From there, we’ll continue to think about how a free textbook can help students through that process.”

Tapping into tech

Currently, OpenStax has over 7.5 million users in the formal education space, primarily in higher education introductory courses, as well as grades K–12. Photo via openstax.org

In addition to nursing, OpenStax is working towards releasing books in data science and computer science, including programming, workplace software and, eventually, artificial intelligence.

“AI is a big deal to us,” says Palmiotto. “We're thinking about it a lot, and in the books themselves, we're incorporating as best we can how AI plays into Data Science, Computer Science and Python Programming those. We’re thinking about how AI could be used and will impact programming, for example. But the AI landscape is changing as we go, and that's another reason we don't just put out the books, we maintain them.

“So, we can continually update them. Once we publish, six months later, we can publish updates or additions to reflect what's happening in courses or in professions or in the workforce to reflect how AI is being used as new software is released and so on.”

As OpenStax continues to build on its OER title database, they are using multiple methods of outreach to reach as many people as possible. Currently, they have over 7.5 million users in the formal education space, primarily in higher education introductory courses, as well as grades K–12.

“Over 140 countries are using our material,” says Palmiotto. “We're not as easily able to track how many students have used our material in all those other countries. But that's not the point, we want to put it out there. We know it's being used. We want to help as much as possible. But it is being used in all those countries and in different ways. Some people are translating it. Some people are using it in English. Some people are breaking it up. It just depends on what they need.”

Evolving the industry

OpenStax repeatedly receives feedback from users worldwide that appreciate the openness and availability of their books. Photo via openstax.org

As much as OpenStax is a disrupter to conventional textbook publishers, they would rather work in partnership with publishers like Murry’s former house Cengage rather than outright replacing them.

“What we've tried to do with those publishers is actually partner with them and say, we know that textbook prices were too high,” says Palmiotto. “Some of them partnered with us, Cengage, Riley, some of the other publishers, like Macmillan, incorporate our textbooks into their platforms so that instructors and students have that flexibility even with those publishers.

“Not every publisher wants to do that. That's their choice. But what we've tried to do is say ‘let's make an ecosystem.’ That's what we call it and let them participate in this movement that open education has become.”

With their textbooks on an open forum, it might seem that OpenStax texts would be susceptible to hacking or other unauthorized changes. But, according to Palmiotto, there’s a safeguard to that.

“We keep the standard version,” he says. “That's why a lot of people keep using it because they know that the version that we provide will be the most up-to-date version. But it is openly licensed. So, if we see that a school wants to teach the course in a slightly different way or if they want to recombine two different books to make a different course, take biology and make human biology, or take philosophy and make ethics or something, they can do that.

“But we still retain the standardized version that we redistribute and make sure that that's the high-quality one that people can look to. So nobody is getting back to our version and changing it, but they do have the opportunity to change their own.”

After more than a decade in the space, OpenStax repeatedly receives feedback from users worldwide that appreciate the openness and availability of their books.

“We have some great stories of different learners from all over the world that are non-traditional students facing barriers,” says Palmiotto. “And having a free textbook and not having to choose between food and their book or courseware makes a huge difference in their lives. If they have this flexibility in what they have to purchase, most people appreciate that choice.”

Texas earns healthy rating as 2nd best state for nurses, Forbes says

health care heroes

With a global pandemic in the rearview and an aging workforce reaching retirement in larger proportions, strong healthcare is becoming increasingly crucial in the United States.

Nurses are in great demand throughout the nation and can make significant impacts in a state like Texas, which was just named the No. 2 best state for nurses in a study by Forbes Advisor.

Texas currently employs more than 231,000 nurses, the second-highest number in the country behind California's 325,620 nurses. Florida rounds out the top three with more than 197,000 nurses employed.

There are several factors to keep in mind when considering a career as a nurse, but one has been in a lot of recent discourse: the salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says nurses in the U.S. earn a median salary of $81,220 per year. While healthcare company Trusted Health places a Texas nurse's annual salary at $74,540 - lower than places like Florida and California, adjusted cost of living can make Texas more attractive.

"Salary is a significant factor in any professional’s career decisions, but it’s not the only one to weigh when deciding where to work," the report's author wrote. "You should also consider job availability, economic demand, and licensing processes before settling on a place to grow your career."

Regarding job availability, Projections Central estimates there will be a demand for more than 16,000 nursing positions in Texas between 2020 and 2030 - the second-best job outlook in the U.S.

Texas is also part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which can help nurses transfer their licenses from other states.

"NLC members grant RNs multi-state licenses, which allow them to practice in any NLC-participating state without jumping through the hoops of meeting a new state’s specific licensing guidelines," the report says. "NLC nurses can offer their skills to another compact state in the event of a crisis and provide telehealth services across compact states."

The full report can be found on forbes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator explores importance of belonging within the modern workforce

guest column

Even in a highly digital, globalized world, the essence of business remains the same: a vibrant tapestry of people working together towards a common goal.

Regardless of how fractured business focus can become, people are at the center of everything that brings business success. And people all share in our fundamental human need to belong to something greater than ourselves and to experience a sense of community, support, and affiliation with others.

The intricacies of human connection underpin our collective drive for unity and purpose, which becomes profoundly disrupted when an organization loses sight of prioritizing its employees. To prevent the Great Disconnect from further eroding our people and forestalling the perils of losing their best and brightest people, leaders must cultivate a deep understanding of, and commitment to, fostering organizational belonging.

The recent groundbreaking study by the team behind Deutser's Institute for Belonging, incorporating the perspectives of nearly 15,000 employees, crystallizes this sentiment. Our results overwhelmingly indicate that an employee's sense of belonging outstrips both their perception of organizational culture and their salary as key determinants of engagement, satisfaction, and overall performance. Previously, employers believed the inverse to be true. This is a significant shift in the attitudes of the workforce.

Unless leaders devote considerable energy, time, and resources towards nurturing an organizational culture of belonging, they may risk depleting their most valuable asset: their people. This article delves into the intricate details of our research and the consequent implications for leadership, aiming to provide a blueprint for leaders to build an inclusive and empowering workspace.

In another of our studies with 275 employees, a staggering 90 percent affirmed the importance of experiencing a sense of belonging at work. Broadening our research to an expansive sample of 14,709 employees across diverse industries and roles, we found an undeniable correlation: individuals who experienced a sense of belonging exhibited significantly higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and effort. The most striking understanding about this work was that belonging predicts satisfaction, engagement, and commitment to the organization over and above employees’ views of the culture or strategy.

As leaders, we’ve seen a decades long placement of culture and strategy at the top — but it is belonging that really drives performance. Another adjunct study, employing an experimental design with 71 employees, validated that employees would willingly forego higher compensation and be more inclined to stay at an organization that nurtures their sense of belonging. In sum, organizations and leaders stand to gain substantially by investing in nurturing connections, empowerment, and unity among their teams.

In our survey research, conducted with a sample of 14,709 employees, we used a five-dimensional measure of organizational belonging, encapsulating:

  1. Acknowledgment and appreciation of individual opinions.
  2. Fostering a strong sense of team unity.
  3. Opportunities for professional growth within the company.
  4. Optimal alignment between job responsibilities and individual skill sets.
  5. Trust in leadership’s commitment to their welfare.

Although there are many definitions out there, we define belonging as where we hold space for something of shared importance. It is where we come together on values, purpose, and identity; a space of acceptance where agreement is not required but a shared framework is understood; where there is an invitation into the space; an intentional choice to take part in; something vital to a sense of connection, security, and acceptance.

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Brad Deutser is the founder and CEO of Deutser, a Houston-based consulting firm, and author of BELONGING RULES: Five Crucial Actions that Build Unity and Foster Performance. Isabel Bilotta is managing consultant and head of learning and innovation at Deutser's learning initiative.