Hobby Airport was one of five airports selected nationally to use a new facial recognition software. Image via fly2houston.com

International travelers coming in and out of Hobby Airport are being processed now completely with facial recognition as of last week. The technology is expected to shorten wait times and streamline safety.

"Hobby Airport has taken a big leap into the future of travel," Houston Aviation Director Mario Diaz says in a news release.

Houston was one of the five airports picked by Homeland Security — and the only in Texas — to have Simplified Arrivals, a full biometric entry and exit for international passengers going through United States Customs and Border Protection inspection checkpoints.

"Simplified Arrivals will enhance the travel experience for more than a million international passengers traveling through Hobby Airport every year," Diaz continues in the release. "This is an important step to realize our goal of becoming a 5-star airport."

Houston Airport Systems first introduced biometric technology with Southwest Airlines in November 2018, and before that, George Bush Intercontinental Airport first started using facial recognition technology in 2017. Since 2018, this biometric facial technology has recognized 250 imposters nationally who attempted to enter the U.S. with legal travel documents that belonged to a different person, according to the release.

The new technology is expected to speed up the checkpoint process. Image via fly2houston.com

Travelers will encounter the technology at their primary inspection point. They will taker a photo, which will then compare that image to previously provided photos of that traveler — like passport and visa photos. Travelers under the age of 14 or over the age of 79 can opt out and be process manually. United States and Canadian citizens may also opt out.

"CBP is committed to working with our partners to ensure that the travel system is secure and efficient," Houston Director of Field Operations Judson W. Murdock II says in the release. "The speed, accuracy and reliability of facial comparison technology enable CBP officers to confirm a traveler's identity within seconds while further enhancing the customer experience."

These new photos of U.S. citizens taken at the checkpoint will be deleted within 12 hours, while photos of foreign nationals will be stored in a secure system.

"It takes a village to make something like this happen," says Saba Abashawl, director of external affairs at HAS, in a promotional video. "At the end of the day, we end up providing unparalleled customer service."

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3 Houston suburbs lead sleigh full of cities with biggest holiday budgets

shopping spree

If you live in The Woodlands, Sugar Land, or League City, you may be making a holiday shopping list as long as a stocking and checking it more than twice.

These three Houston suburbs rank among the 10 U.S. cities with the fattest holiday budgets, according to a new study from personal finance website WalletHub.

The Woodlands ranks third nationally, at $3,073, while Sugar Land comes in fourth ($3,023) and League City lands at No. 10 ($2,778). Pearland ranks 13th ($2,669) and Missouri City appears at No. 80 ($1,499), while Houston ranks 372nd ($783).

“To help consumers avoid post-holiday regret, WalletHub calculated the maximum holiday budget for each of 570 U.S. cities using five key characteristics of the population, such as income, age, and savings-to-monthly expenses ratio,” the website says.

A suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth wraps up the No. 1 spot on the national list. Flower Mound, according to WalletHub, boasts the most Santa-friendly budget among all the cities: $3,427. Flower Mound ranked second last year ($2,973) and third in 2019 ($2,937).

Seven other DFW cities unwrap rankings in the top 100:

  • Allen, No. 12, $2,688.
  • Frisco, No. 30, $2,133.
  • Plano, No. 33, $2,044.
  • Richardson, No. 43, $1,857.
  • Carrollton, No. 56, $1,698.
  • North Richland Hills, No. 76, $1,544.
  • Irving, No. 89, $1,439.

The two biggest cities in North Texas are on the Scrooge-y side: Fort Worth appears at No. 257 ($920), and Dallas ranks 365th ($787).

In the Austin area, the holiday budgets are more on the lean side, like Santa on a diet:

  • Cedar Park, No. 48, $1,770.
  • Round Rock, No. 134, $1,200.
  • Austin, No. 188, $1,049.

Meanwhile, the San Antonio area’s two entrants on the list feel like they’ve earned lumps of coal:

  • New Braunfels, No. 196, $1,034.
  • San Antonio, No. 371, $783.

“In general, consumers are ready to spend and to have social experiences both within and outside the home. This spurs consumption in multiple categories, including food, décor, apparel, and gifts. This trend toward increased spending is mitigated by lingering COVID health concerns, including reticence to shop in physical stores, gather in groups, and travel,” Barbara Stewart, interim chair of the University of Houston’s Department of Human Development and Consumer Sciences, tells WalletHub.

The National Retail Federation predicts a record-shattering holiday season for retail sales, growing between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent over 2020 to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion. Meanwhile, professional services firm Deloitte envisions a 7 percent to 9 percent spike in holiday spending this year versus last year. Commercial estate services provider pegs the projected increase at 8.4 percent.

“The outlook for the holiday season looks very bright,” says Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “The unusual and beneficial position we find ourselves in is that households have increased spending vigorously throughout most of 2021 and remain with plenty of holiday purchasing power.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from diversity and inclusion tech to sustainable plastics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Phillip Yates, founder of Equiliberty

Phillip Yates joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss two initiatives he's launching to support diverse founders in Houston. Photo courtesy of Equiliberty

Houston is currently celebrating its first Black Entrepreneurship Week, thanks to local entrepreneur and lawyer, Phillip Yates, who founded Equiliberty — a tech company focused on connecting and supporting entrepreneurs of color.

BEW has put on several opportunities — from the Black Market, which will allow people to shop local Black merchants, to a special Giving Tuesday event to support Black-focused nonprofits in Houston. Specifically, Yates wants to target a multi-generational crowd — that's what's goring to drive lasting changes.

"When you have a wealth initiative, you can't just talk to the parents or the youth — you're still going to have a missing link there," Yates says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining the week's wealth challenge that will reinforce this idea. Click here to read more.

Chris Quintanilla, chief sales officer at Mexcor International

This Houston company created its own in-house tech infrastructure — led by Chris Quintanilla — to stay competitive within the alcohol distribution industry. Photo courtesy of Mexcor International

When Chris Quintanilla wasn't happy with his company's software, he built it himself. Mexcor International is a Houston-based importer and distributor of wine, spirits, and other types of alcohol. On his own, Quintanilla has developed 46 dashboards that supply details about things such as wine and beer inventory, contacts for account managers, product catalogs, and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the sales team.

Quintanilla says in-house creation of this system aligns with Mexcor International's culture of "wearing multiple hats" to move the business forward, demanding in-house innovation on the tech front.

"If you want to see something happen, you have to grab the bull by the horns and do it yourself," he says. "We are a medium-sized company. We just hired a true IT person in the last two or three years. We don't have million-dollar budgets for big IT departments. We kind of figure it out as we go." Click here to read more.

David Hudson, founder and CEO of Circulus

Houston-based Circulus, which just received a $100 million credit facility, focuses on innovative plastics recycling. Photo via circulus.com

Circulus Holdings secured a $100 million credit facility from Riverstone Credit Partners, which has an office in Houston. This "green" loan is aimed at supporting environmental sustainability.

David Hudson, founder and CEO of Circulus, says in a news release that the credit facility "enables Circulus to rapidly develop a broad network of facilities and further the company's commitment to sustainable manufacturing. We look forward to supporting green-based jobs and preserving our environment for future generations."

Circulus, a portfolio company of Houston-based private equity firm Ara Partners, recently opened its first plastics recycling facility. The 110,000-square-foot plant is in Riverbank, California, near Modesto. It employs 45 people. So far, other Circulus plants, each of which will be larger than the California facility, are planned for Alabama, Oklahoma, the Midwest, and the Northeast. Click here to read more.

Elon Musk taps into Texas workforce for out-of-this-world bartender gig

DRINKING ON THE JOB

Can you mix a mean margarita? Are you capable of slinging a superb Aperol spritz? If so, Elon Musk wants you to become a "spaceport mixologist."

Musk's SpaceX, which builds and launches rockets, is hiring a "passionate, experienced" mixologist for its "spaceport" near Brownsville. The ideal candidate possesses at least two years of "superior" mixology experience at resorts, bars, and full-service restaurants, including the ability to pair drinks with themed menus.

Among other duties, the mixologist will prepare drinks, including handcrafted cocktails, and will ensure "consistency and compliance with the restaurant's recipes, portioning, and waste control guidelines."

The new mixologist will concoct alcoholic beverages for SpaceX's launch facility in Boca Chica, a Texas Gulf Coast community about 20 miles east of Brownsville. The job posting indicates the mixologist will work on the culinary team serving the SpaceX workforce.

According to Austin-based job website Indeed, the average mixologist in the U.S. earns $13.53 an hour. The SpaceX job posting doesn't list a salary, but you've got to imagine Musk — by far the richest person in Texas — would fork over more than $13.53 an hour for a spaceport mixologist.

By the way, in case you're not a master mixologist, SpaceX also is looking for a sous chef in Boca Chica. The sous chef will be tasked with cooking up menus that emphasize seasonal items and "creative" options. The chef's duties will include sourcing high-quality ingredients "with a focus on local, sustainable, and organic items."

Musk, who spends much of his time in Austin, is developing what the Bloomberg news service describes as an "empire" in Texas. Aside from the SpaceX facility, Musk-led Tesla is building a vehicle manufacturing plant just east of Austin and is moving its headquarters here. If that weren't enough, the Musk-founded Boring Co., which specializes in developing underground tunnels, lists 20 job openings in Austin on its website. In addition, SpaceX tests rocket engines at a site in McGregor, about 17 miles southwest of Waco.

"Texas has had its share of characters over the years, and many have been larger-than-life, wealthy risk-takers who came from elsewhere," Waco economist Ray Perryman tells Bloomberg. "There's still a wildcatting mentality here, and there's still a mystique about Texas that Elon Musk fits well."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.