The Woodlands ranked No. 24 out of 343 U.S. cities. Photo via thewoodlands.com

In a surprising turn of events, it's not Houston proper that's earning recognition for its job market, but The Woodlands. The north Houston suburb boasts the No. 24 best job market in the nation, according to a new report by SmartAsset.

The study examined 343 U.S. cities across six main data points from 2021 and 2022, for which the most recent data is available: A city's unemployment rates; median income to housing payment ratio, commute times, the percentage of remote workers, the percentage of employed residents with health insurance, and income growth between 2019-2022.

The report discovered that The Woodlands has a 4.8 percent unemployment rate, and its residents' median earnings landed at $73,079 annually. The average housing costs in The Woodlands make up 28.7 percent of an individual's yearly income, which can be estimated at about $1,750 per month.

Remote-work flexibility was another major consideration in the study. Working from home means no real commute time, as long as you don't count the time it takes to get out of bed and walk into the home office. Unfortunately for The Woodlands, a majority of workers are commuting to their jobs, and only 24.5 percent of employees work remotely.

For those who do need to drive to-and-from work, a separate SmartAsset study on remote workforces discovered the average commute time in The Woodlands is about 27 minutes long.

Houston fell far behind in the report, landing at No. 272 out of 343 total U.S. cities. The city's unemployment rate is only 5.9 percent, but its residents' median earnings barely tip over $38,000 a year. Only 11.5 percent of Houstonians work from home, and their housing costs account for 39.4 percent of their total income.

Houston ranked outside the top 20 best cities for tech workers earlier in 2024, further highlighting a significant downward shift in the employment atmosphere for the region.

"With costs of living skyrocketing in recent years and the demand for different skill sets changing, job seekers must be resourceful to find opportunities that best suit them," the report said. "This could mean relocating for higher income, an improved work-life balance, growth potential or benefits."

Other Houston-area cities that made it in the top 200 in the report are:

  • No. 99 – Sugar Land
  • No. 113 – Pearland
  • No. 172 – League City
The full report and its methodology can be found on smartasset.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The study's findings are shedding light on further growing financial stress and affordability struggles throughout the U.S., likely heightened by inflation and cost of living increases. Photo via Getty Images

Here's what it takes to be a middle class earner in Houston in 2024

by the numbers

No one wants to hear that they aren't making enough money to be considered "middle class," but those income ceilings are getting more difficult to maintain year after year across the Houston area. And a new report has revealed The Woodlands has the No. 10 highest income ceiling for American middle class earners in 2024.

According to the 2024 edition of SmartAsset's annual "What It Takes to Be Middle Class in America" report, middle class households in The Woodlands would need to make between $91,548 and $274,670 a year to be labeled "middle class." Additionally, the suburb's median middle class household income comes out to $137,335 a year.

The report used a variation of Pew Research's definition of a middle class household, stating the salary range is "two-thirds to double the median U.S. salary." To determine income limits, the report analyzed data from the Census Bureau's 2022 one-year American Community Survey. New to the 2024 report, SmartAsset widened its analysis of income data from 100 to 345 of the largest American cities.

The Woodlands' middle class income thresholds are egregiously higher than the national average, the study found.

"In a large U.S. city, a middle-class income averages between $52,000 and $155,000," the report says. "The median household income across all 345 cities is $77,345, making middle-class income limits fall between $51,558 and $154,590."

Sugar Land was right behind The Woodlands, ranking No. 13 out of all 345 U.S. cities, with households needing to make between $88,502 and $265,532 a year to maintain their "middle class" status.

In a shocking turn of events, Houston plummeted into No. 254 this year after ranking among the top 100 in SmartAsset's 2023 report. At the time, a Houston household needed to make between $37,184 and $110,998 a year to be considered middle class. But the latest findings from the 2024 report show the necessary salary range to maintain a middle class designation in Houston is now between $40,280 and $120,852 a year.

The study's findings are shedding light on further growing financial stress and affordability struggles throughout the U.S., likely heightened by inflation and cost of living increases.

"As a middle-class American, there is some expectation for living a lifestyle of relative comfort," the report said. "But as costs have increased significantly over the last few years, the middle class is now feeling a squeeze in their finances."

Here’s what it takes to be middle class in other Houston-area cities:

  • No. 34 – Atascocita: between $71,748 and $215,266 a year
  • No. 39 – League City: between $69,904 and $209,734 a year
  • No. 45 – Pearland: between $69,990 and $206,992 a year
  • No. 211 – Conroe: between $43,814 and $131,456 a year
  • No. 273 – Pasadena: between $38,048 and $114,156 a year

Middle class income thresholds within the top 10 U.S. cities
The Woodlands wasn't the only Texas city to earn a spot in the top 10. Frisco, a suburb outside of Dallas, ranked two spots higher to claim No. 8 in the national comparison of U.S. cities with the highest income thresholds to be labeled middle class.

Middle class households in Frisco need to make between $97,266 and $291,828 a year, with the median household income at $145,914, according to the report.

Unsurprisingly, half of the top 10 cities with the highest middle class income ceilings are in California. The report found households in four of the five cities could be bringing in over $300,000 a year in income and still be classified as middle class.

California’s overall high cost-of-living means residents in the No. 1 city of Sunnyvale would need to make between $113,176 and $339,562 a year to be labeled middle class. Sunnyvale overtook Fremont for the top spot in the report in 2024.

The top 10 cities with the highest middle class ceilings are:

  • No. 1 – Sunnyvale, California
  • No. 2 – Fremont, California
  • No. 3 – San Mateo, California
  • No. 4 – Santa Clara, California
  • No. 5 – Bellevue, Washington
  • No. 6 – Highlands Ranch, Colorado
  • No. 7 – Carlsbad, California
  • No. 8 – Frisco, Texas
  • No. 9 – Naperville, Illinois
  • No. 10 – The Woodlands, Texas

The full report and its methodology can be found on smartasset.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Woodlands is the U.S. city with the No. 10 biggest holiday spending budget in 2023, and a few other Texas neighborhoods rank highly as well. The Woodlands Mall/Facebook

Houston suburb ranks No. 10 for holiday spending

shop 'til you drop

Santa and his elves get busier with every passing year, but sometimes even Kris Kringle has to use his black card to get the job done. And according to a new study by Wallethub, Santa's gonna be working overtime to fulfill the orders for residents of The Woodlands this holiday season.

The personal finance experts have determined The Woodlands is the U.S. city with the No. 10 biggest holiday spending budget in 2023. Shoppers in the affluent Houston suburb are expected to spend $3,316 this festive season.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, The Woodlands' estimated population of 114,436 had a median household income of $130,011.

This is The Woodlands' first time in the holiday shopping spotlight. The Houston suburb ranked a much lower – No. 71 – in last year's report with an average spending budget of $1,733. Way to step it up.

The nearby city of Sugar Land is a returnee, and moved up one place from No. 15 last year into No. 14 this year. The average holiday budget for a Sugar Land household is $3,210.

Houston fell into No. 209 this year with an average household holiday budget of $1,296. Houston skyrocketed away from its previous rank as No. 366 in 2022 with an average spending budget of $890.

Six other East Texas cities landed in this year's report on the heftiest holiday budgets:

  • No. 31 – Pearland ($2,566)
  • No. 34 – Missouri City ($2,517)
  • No. 234 – Beaumont ($1,244)
  • No. 238 – Pasadena ($1,237)
  • No. 407 – Conroe ($935)
  • No. 438 – Baytown ($872)

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio, and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Shoppers will have to keep a closer eye on their bank accounts this year while they search for the best gifts for their loved ones. Many consumers are running out of savings accumulated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Yao Jin, an associate professor of supply chain management at Miami University.

To combat overspending, Jin suggests setting hard budgets based on personal financial circumstances and develop a list of "must haves" rather than "nice to haves."

"Holiday times are festive, and retailers know that festivities can boost mood and lead to a propensity to overspend," he said in the Wallethub report. "In fact, that is also why retailers tend to have more generous return policies to both alleviate concerns of unwanted gifts and buyer’s remorse. The key to avoiding holiday overspending is for consumers to take the emotions out of the decision, to the extent possible."

Other Texas cities that made it in the top 100 include:
  • No. 3 – Frisco ($3,546)
  • No. 5 – Flower Mound ($3,485)
  • No. 22 – Allen ($2,964)
  • No. 30 – Plano ($2,566)
  • No. 44 – Cedar Park ($2,354)
  • No. 56 – McKinney ($2,165)
  • No. 67 – Carrollton ($1,928)
  • No. 71 – Austin ($1,877)
  • No. 77 – Richardson ($1,809)
  • No. 95 – League City ($1,733)
  • No. 99 – North Richland Hills ($1,706)

The report and its methodology can be found on wallethub.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Photo courtesy of Kemlon

One business reveals how relocating to Pearland has paid off — and then some

Growing and Thriving

The city of Pearlandhas been ramping up its assistance and support for local businesses over the last several years, but it's long been an ideal choice for companies seeking a place for their companies to grow and thrive.

One major reason is its location, which was certainly a draw for multi-discipline energy and manufacturing company Kemlon Products.

Kemlon's vice president of engineering, Chris Ring, says relocating to Pearland in 1998 was a strategic move — one that has definitely paid off.

"We're located only four miles south of William P. Hobby International Airport, and are accessible to customers and employees via State Highway 35 and Beltway 8," says Ring.

Kemlon's 120,000-square-foot headquarters on State Highway 35 secured it as the first major high-tech manufacturing company to relocate to Pearland.

Since then, the Pearland Economic Development Corporation (PEDC) has assisted Kemlon with expansion efforts, providing incentives and helping it acquire 23.5 acres purchased from the City of Pearland, as part of Catalyst No. 2 Business Park North outlined in the State Highway 35 redevelopment strategy.

But that's not all. Pearland’s affordability was another reason the company chose the city, along with exceptional schools and a potential employee base.

In 2021, PEDC conducted a survey of all businesses in the community to gain a better understanding of their needs. The survey found that 92 percent of business owners felt that Pearland is a great place to live, work, and operate a business, and more than 80 percent of survey respondents gave excellent or good marks to Pearland as a place to do business — higher than the national comparison.

With such satisfied employees and the support and incentive to continue to grow, Kemlon has now invested more than $10.8 million in the community and employs more than 120 people on its 30-acre campus.

"Many of our customers are from outside the Houston area, and especially abroad," Ring says. "As soon as these customers enter Pearland from Beltway 8, it is evident they are entering a quality community that has quality businesses."

Sugar Land and Pearland are experiencing a bit of a boom when it comes to population. Photo courtesy of Sugar Land Town Square

2 Houston-area suburbs named among the fastest-growing cities in America

ranking it

Two of the fastest-growing spots in the nation are right in Houston's backyard. Personal finance website WalletHub has crowned Sugar Land and Pearland among the 30 fastest-growing cities in the U.S.

WalletHub published its list of America's fastest-growing cities October 14. To come up with the list, the site compared 515 cities of varying sizes on 17 key measures of both growth and weakness over a seven-year period. Cities were judged in areas such as population growth, economic gains, and unemployment declines.

Sugar Land, No. 21 among all 515 cities, also claimed the No. 13 spot for midsize cities (100,000 to 300,000 residents) with the highest growth. Pearland ranked No. 27 overall and came in No. 17 among midsize cities.

Sugar Land also earned the No. 1 ranking in WalletHub's "sociodemographics" category, and, in the category for highest population growth, Sugar Land tied for No. 1 overall with Frisco and McKinney, plus three cities outside Texas.

The title of fastest-growing city in Texas goes to Frisco. The DFW suburb claimed the No. 5 spot overall and ranked No. 3 among midsize cities. Frisco also tied for No. 1 in the category of highest job growth (6.88 percent); McKinney shared that ranking.

Two other Texas cities made WalletHub's top 30: Round Rock, No. 10, and Austin, No. 15.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston-based sustainable chemical manufacturing secures $213.6M to support new facility

scaling up

Houston-based Solugen has secured financing from the U.S. Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office to support its mission of producing clean chemicals.

The LPO's $213.6 million loan guarantee will go toward the construction of the company's 500,000-square-foot Bioforge Marshall facility in Southwest Minnesota, which broke ground in April and will produce bio-based chemical products to be used in wastewater treatment, construction, agriculture, and the energy sector. According to Solugen, the facility is expected to reduce annual carbon emissions by up to 18 million kilograms.

"American manufacturing is at a turning point, and we are proud to have the opportunity to work with the DOE in bringing critical chemical production capabilities onshore to communities like Marshall," Gaurab Chakrabarti, CEO of Solugen, says in a news release. "By scaling cutting-edge technologies, we are meeting domestic demand for innovative solutions and setting global standards for sustainable biomanufacturing."

The new facility, originally announced last year, is expected to go online in the fall of 2025 and will create up to 100 temporary construction jobs as well as 56 full-time manufacturing jobs once the facility is up and running.

"Today’s announcement reflects President Biden’s commitment to building a thriving bioeconomy that benefits all Americans and ensures the United States leads the world in emerging biomass industries," the DOE writes in its announcement.

Bioforge Marshall is a scaled-up version of the company's first project, Bioforge Houston, which has been operating since 2021 and will continue to act as Solugen's research and development and innovation center.

"Scaling our Bioforge platform is not only a technological advancement, but a strategic move to fortify the domestic supply chain for critical chemicals," adds Sean Hunt, CTO of Solugen. "This project will serve as a model for how innovative technologies can revive American industries and maintain our competitive edge on a global scale."

Solugen will be required to meet certain DOE standards to move forward with the financing. Additionally, the company has created partnerships with regional educational and workforce development organizations for training and recruiting.

Founded in 2016, the Houston company has raised over $600 million, per Crunchbase, and clinched unicorn status with a $1 billion valuation in 2021. Last month, Solugen ranked at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, and in 2023, Chakrabarti and Hunt were named winners at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

Houston university awards grant to Texas accelerator to support sports tech

game on

Rice University awarded DivInc. an $800,000 grant this month to support its work in sports technology.

The Texas-based company, which operates numerous accelerators, focuses on BIPOC and female founders working toward social and economic equity through entrepreneurship. The grant from Rice is part of "several financial commitments" the university is making to support inclusivity at the Ion District.

DivInc runs its Sports Tech Accelerator out of The Ion, which recently named its latest cohort for the 2024 Sports Tech Accelerator.

“We’ve been in Houston since 2021, so we’re extremely honored and grateful to partner with Rice University,” Preston James, CEO and founder of DivInc, said in a statement. “Leveraging the top university sports management program in the U.S., Rice’s highly ranked sports medicine and sport analytics programs, we’re providing exceptional value to our portfolio of companies ... Sports tech is a vast and rapidly growing industry that represents a tremendous opportunity for diverse founders.”

Among the 10 companies selected for DivInc's current 12-week sports accelerator are a cash-back powered marketplace designed for the golf industry, a scouting automation software, an artificial intelligence company that collects real-time biometrics on athletes, and others.

Selected founders can receive up to $100,000 and access to curriculum, as well as mentorship from executives from the Houston Rockets, Houston Astros, San Antonio Spurs, Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Mercury Fund, The Collectiv, HTX Sports Tech and more.

“We have strategically created one of the nation’s premier accelerator programs in Houston, Texas, dedicated to supporting BIPOC and women founders driving innovation in the sports industry by leveraging best practices and insights from stakeholders within the sports tech ecosystem,” Ashley DeWalt, DivInc’s managing director of startups and programs, said in a statement.

DivInc also launched its first DWeb for Social Impact Accelerator from the Ion last fall. The 12-week intensive hybrid program sponsored by Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web, supported nine companies, all of whom integrate Web3 technologies into their impact entrepreneurship, and each of the companies selected were awarded a non-dilutive $10,000 grant to use during the course of the program.

Houston e-waste recycling business advances sustainability mission with new accreditation

seeing green

An innovative Houston company focused on sustainable tech recycling has expanded.

CompuCycle describes its unique Plastics Recycling System as the first and only certified, single solution e-waste recycling business. The company's unique process can now break down discarded technology products into single polymers that can then be reused in the manufacturing process.

“Properly managing all components of electronics is a cornerstone of sustainability and environmental responsibility,” Kelly Adels Hess, CEO of CompuCycle, says in a news release. “Making single polymer plastics that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can reuse to produce new electronics or other products, while adhering to international recycling standards, is a gamechanger for domestic companies and those that need their plastics shipped globally.”

As of now, CompuCycle reports that it's the only service in the country that can provide a recycling solution for both metals and plastics in-house. The company has met the Environmental Protection Agency’s two accredited certification standards, e-Stewards and R2 certification requirements, per the release.

“We saw an opportunity to solve an industry challenge by creating the first domestic, sustainable, single-solution e-waste plastics program that reduces the amount of plastic negatively impacting the environment, while also making it advantageous for companies to recycle and reuse. It’s truly a win for everyone involved,” adds Clive Hess, president at CompuCycle.

CompuCycle, which has over a 20-year history, added recycling electronics to its toolkit in 2019. While CompuCycle has focused on responsible electronics disposal since Kelly's father-in-law, John Hess, founded the company in 1996, certain recent events have increased the need to recycle more efficiently.

"China is no longer accepting scrap, which is where a lot of materials would go after it was dismantled," Kelly told InnovationMap in 2019. "That's why we've created this solution to be able to responsibly handle it here in the U.S."

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.