Paying bills is more and more taxing. Getty Images

By now everyone has heard plenty about the nine-letter word that’s on everybody’s mind these days — inflation. This reflects a rise in prices, for everything from gas and groceries and cars to health care, coupled with a decline in buying power.

In August, the U.S. inflation rate stood at 8.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from a four-decade high of 9.1 percent in June. For Houston consumers, though inflation remains above the U.S. rate. And it turns out, Houston is saddled with one of the highest inflation rates among major U.S. metro areas.

Houston’s inflation rate jumped 9.5 percent from August 2021 to this August, according to a new study from personal finance website WalletHub. That means prices for a host of goods and services climbed 9.5 percent from August 2021 to this August.

By the numbers, our near-term inflation rate inched up by 0.10 percent, per WalletHub.

Taking into account the short-term and long-term spikes in Greater Houston’s inflation rate, the region ranked 10th on WalletHub’s list of the metro areas where inflation is increasing the most. In all, 23 major metro areas appear in the ranking.

The Phoenix area ranks first. Its inflation rate in August reached 13 percent, the highest rate of any metro area in the WalletHub study. The short-term change in the inflation rate was 0.80 percent.

The only other Texas metro on the list is Dallas-Fort Worth, which sits at No. 5. In the DFW metro area, the inflation rate jumped 9.4 percent from August 2021 to August 2022. Residents in DFW have seen the inflation rate grow 1 percent in August compared with the previous two months.

WalletHub points out that several factors are pushing up the inflation rate, including the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukrainian war, and labor shortages.

“The government is hoping to continue to rein in inflation with additional aggressive interest rate hikes this year, but exactly how much of an effect that will have remains to be seen,” WalletHub notes.

John Harvey, a professor of economics at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, tells WalletHub that he believes hiking interest rates is a bad approach to easing inflation.

“There is no logical reason that lowering the overall level of economic activity (the goal of the higher interest rates) actually helps in situations like this. Furthermore, the only kind of inflation it could possibly address is the good kind,” Harvey says.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Texas clocks in among 5 hardest-working states in America, study shows

labor of love

With a nod to disco diva Donna Summer, Texans work hard for the money.

A new study from personal finance website WalletHub puts Texas at No. 5 among the hardest-working states, down one spot from No. 4 in last year's study. Ahead of Texas are, in descending order, Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

To determine where Americans work the hardest, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 10 key indicators. Those factors include average number of workweek hours, share of workers with multiple jobs, and annual number of volunteer hours per resident.

Boosting Texas on this list is the state's average number of workweek hours. The Lone Star State ranks fourth in that category.

Texas also ranks high for the following:

  • Share of workers who leave vacation time unused (No. 11).
  • Share of workers who are "engaged" (No. 5).

Texas ranks low for the share of workers with multiple jobs (No. 46) and the employment rate (No. 39).

More than 13.2 million Texans were employed in July in the state's civilian workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That month, the statewide unemployment rate stood at 6.2 percent. The civilian workforce includes people who are inmates, agricultural workers, and federal employees, but not those who are active-duty military personnel.

In July, Gov. Greg Abbott lauded the state's "young, growing, and skilled workforce" for helping forge a "diversified and resilient economy."

"The Texas economy is booming. Businesses are investing in the Lone Star State at a record pace because we've built a framework that allows free enterprise to flourish and hardworking Texans to prosper," Abbott said.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston innovator receives $5M to establish new center that explores crystallization process

crystal clear initiative

A new hub at the University of Houston is being established with a crystal-clear mission — and fresh funding.

Thanks to funding from Houston-based organization The Welch Foundation, the University of Houston will be home to the Welch Center for Advanced Bioactive Materials Crystallization. The nonprofit doled out its inaugural $5 million Catalyst for Discovery Program Grant to the new initiative led by Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Professor of Chemical Engineering, who is known internationally for his work with crystals that help treat malaria and kidney stones.

“Knowledge gaps in the nascent and rapidly developing field of nonclassical crystallization present a wide range of obstacles to design crystalline materials for applications that benefit humankind, spanning from medicine to energy and the environment,” says Rimer in a news release. “Success calls for a paradigm shift in the understanding of crystal nucleation mechanisms and structure selection that will be addressed in this center.”

The Welch Foundation, which was founded in 1954, has granted over $1.1 billion to scientists in Texas. This new grant program targets researchers focused on fundamental chemical solutions. Earlier this year, the organization announced nearly $28 million in grants to Texas institutions.

"Support from the Welch Foundation has led to important advances in the field of chemistry, not only within Texas, but also throughout the United States and the world as a whole,” says Randall Lee, Cullen Distinguished University Chair and professor of chemistry, in the release. “These advances extend beyond scientific discoveries and into the realm of education, where support from the Welch Foundation has played a significant role in building the technological workforce needed to solve ongoing and emerging problems in energy and health care.”

Rimer and Lee are joined by the following researchers on the newly announced center's team:

  • Peter Vekilov, Moores Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Alamgir Karim, Dow Chair and Welch Foundation Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering;
  • Jeremy Palmer, Ernest J. and Barbara M. Henley Associate Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Gül Zerze, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Francisco Robles Hernandez, professor of engineering technology.

The University of Houston also received another grant from the Welch Foundation. Megan Robertson, UH professor of chemical engineering, received $4 million$4 million for her work with developing chemical processes to transform plastic waste into useful materials.

“For the University of Houston to be recognized with two highly-competitive Welch Foundation Catalyst Grants underscores the exceptional talent and dedication of our researchers and their commitment to making meaningful contributions to society through discovery,” Diane Chase, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, says in the release.

University opens its newest, largest campus research facility in Houston

research @ rice

As the academic year officially kicks off, professors have started moving in and Rice University has opened its largest core campus research facility, The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science.

The 250,000-square-foot building is the new home for four key research areas at Rice: advanced materials, quantum science and computing, urban research and innovation, and the energy transition. The university aims for the space to foster collaboration and innovation between the disciplines.

"To me it really speaks to where Rice wants to go as we grow our research endeavors on campus," Michael Wong, Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, whose lab is located in the new facility, said in a video from Rice. "It has to be a mix of engineering and science to do great things. We don’t want to do good things, we want to do great things. And this building will allow us to do that."

At $152 million, the state-of-the-art facility features five floors of labs, classrooms and seminar rooms. Common spaces and a cafe encourage communication between departments, and the top level is home to a reception suite and outdoor terrace with views of the Houston skyline.

It replaces 1940s-era Abercrombie Engineering Laboratory on campus, which was demolished in 2021 to make way for the new facilities. The iconic sculpture "Energy" by Rice alumnus William McVey that was part of the original building was preserved with plans to incorporate it into the new space.

The new building will be dedicated to its namesake Ralph O'Connor on Sept. 14 in Rice's engineering quad at 3 p.m. O'Connor, a Johns Hopkins University grad, became a fan Rice when he moved to Houston to work in the energy industry in the 1950s.

The former president and CEO of the Highland Oil Company and founder of Ralph S. O’Connor & Associates left the university $57 million from his estate after he died in 2018. The gift was the largest donation from an estate in Rice's history and brought his donations to the university, including those to many buildings on campus and endowments and scholarships, to a total of $85 million.

“How fitting that this building will be named after Ralph O’Connor,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches said in a statement last summer. “He was a man who always looked to the future, and the future is what this new engineering and science building is all about. Discoveries made within those walls could transform the world. Anybody who knew Ralph O’Connor knows he would have loved that.”

The dedication event will be open to the public. It will feature remarks from DesRoches, as well as Rice Provost Amy Dittmar, Dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences Thomas Killian, Chair of the Rice Board of Trustees Robert Ladd and Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering Luay Nakhleh. A reception and tours of the new building will follow.

New certificate course trains a ready workforce as biotech companies in Pearland take off

Top of the Class

Biotech companies in Pearland are thriving, with big names such as Lonza, Millar Inc. Inc., and Abbott all experiencing tremendous growth in recent years.

The only challenge to this success is the increased demand for a faster workforce pipeline. Fortunately, the Pearland Economic Development Corporation (PEDC) has a solution.

PEDC has partnered with Alvin Community College (ACC) and Lonza to create a two-level Biotechnology Certificate Course designed to address the need for a better-equipped entry-level workforce.

This initiative offers two options to quickly train individuals for employment in the biotech field: Level 1, a six-week commitment for Biotech: Material Handler; and Level 2, a twelve-week commitment for Biotech: Lab Technician. Each level consists of 64 contact hours, with lectures delivered online and labs and assessments conducted on-site.

Alvin Community College is offering this course, which commenced on August 21, under its Continued Education and Workforce Development (CEWD) department. This department provides programs that incorporate current and new technical courses, training partnerships with businesses and industries, and other opportunities for individuals to acquire and upgrade skills or pursue personal enrichment.

Before this initiative, the region's two- or four-year programs were only graduating a dozen or so individuals. Early discussions focused on how to expedite workforce development through a local community college's certificate program. Alvin Community College was prepared to respond to the local workforce's needs.

PEDC played a pivotal role in establishing an advisory committee comprised of industry partners responsible for vetting the Biotechnology Certificate Course curriculum. Industry partners included the University of Houston Clear Lake (UHCL) at Pearland, Lonza, Millar Inc., Merit Medical, and the nonprofit organization BioHouston.

These partners are invaluable as plans continue to expand these certification programs.

Given the ever-increasing demand for a biotechnology workforce in the Pearland area, the future wish list includes expanding the certification program to other education partners.

For more information about the Biotechnology Certificate Program at Alvin Community College, visit this link.