Hey, big spenders of The Woodlands and Sugar Land. Photo courtesy of Holiday Shopping Card

It appears that delivery drivers (and Santa) will be hauling sleighs full of gifts to homes in The Woodlands and Sugar Land this holiday season.

A new study from personal finance website WalletHub ranks The Woodlands and Sugar Land sixth and seventh, respectively, in the country for cities with the biggest holiday budgets. WalletHub estimates that consumers in The Woodlands will ring up an average of $2,729 in holiday spending; Sugar Land residents will spend $2,728.

Other Greater Houston-area suburbs on the list include League City, No. 15 at $2,501, and Missouri City, No. 98 at $1,264.

Elsewhere in Texas, Flower Mound came in second for holiday spending; residents there will ring up an average of $2,973. Only Palo Alto, California, had a higher amount ($3,056) among the 570 U.S. cities included in the study, which was released November 17.

The five factors that WalletHub used to come up with budget estimates for each city are income, age, savings-to-expenses ratio, income-to-expenses ratio and debt-to-income ratio.

Flower Mound consistently ranks at the top of WalletHub's annual study on holiday spending. Last year, the Dallas suburb came in at No. 3 (budget: $2,937), and in 2018, it landed atop the list at No. 1 (budget: $2,761).

Aside from Flower Mound, five cities in Dallas-Fort Worth appear in WalletHub's top 100:

  • Richardson, No. 36, $2,002
  • Frisco, No. 53, $1,684
  • Plano, No. 59, $1,594
  • Carrollton, No. 71, $1,492
  • North Richland Hills, No. 95, $1,303

Two cities in the Austin area also make the top 100: Cedar Park at No. 73 ($1,472) and Austin at No. 99 ($1,259).

Austin's No. 99 ranking puts it in the top spot among Texas' five largest cities. It's followed by Fort Worth (No. 306, $718), San Antonio (No. 394, $600), Dallas (No. 399, $596), and Houston (No. 436, $565).

Harlingen is the most Scrooge-y Texas city: The estimated $385 holiday budget puts it at No. 560 nationwide.

Overall, Americans predict they'll spend an average of $805 on holiday gifts this year, down significantly from last year's estimate of $942, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Outlooks for U.S. holiday retail sales this year are muted due to the pandemic-produced recession. Consulting giant Deloitte forecasts a modest rise of 1 percent to 1.5 percent, with commercial real estate services provider CBRE guessing the figure will be less than 2 percent.

"The lower projected holiday growth this season is not surprising given the state of the economy. While high unemployment and economic anxiety will weigh on overall retail sales this holiday season, reduced spending on pandemic-sensitive services such as restaurants and travel may help bolster retail holiday sales somewhat," Daniel Bachman, Deloitte's U.S. economic forecaster, says in a release.

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Out of the largest 100 cities in the country, Houston ranks high up on the list that evaluated personal financial distress of citizens. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Houston ranks No. 3 on list of cities with the most people in financial distress amid COVID-19

money problems

During the pandemic-produced recession, debt and loans are weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of Houstonians.

A study released this week by personal finance website WalletHub found Houston ranks first among the country's 100 largest United States cities for online searches about debt and first for online searches about loans. Overall, Houston ranks third for financial distress, behind first-place Las Vegas and second-place Chicago.

To examine where Americans are struggling the most financially, WalletHub compared the 100 largest cities across nine key metrics. Factors taken into consideration include average credit score, number of bankruptcy filings between June 2020 and June 2019, and online searches regarding debt and loans.

Aside from sitting at No. 1 for interest in debt and loans, Houston ranks:

  • No. 9 for share of people with accounts in distress in September
  • No. 9 for average number of accounts in distress in September
  • No. 12 for average credit score in September

WalletHub defines a distressed account as one for which payments have been reduced, skipped or delayed.

Among Texas cities, Houston has a lot of company in WalletHub's top 10. San Antonio appears at No. 4, Dallas at No. 5, Austin at No. 8, and Fort Worth at No. 10. In all, the ranking includes 13 Texas cities. Irving demonstrates the most financial stability of the 13 cities, according to WalletHub, with its financial stress ranking at No. 72.

As with almost every U.S. city, Houston has been whacked by the recession. In September, the metro area's unemployment rate stood at 9.6 percent, up from 8.1 percent the previous month. Compared with the state's three other major metro areas, Houston's September unemployment rate was the highest. The September jobless rate was 6.4 percent in Austin, 7.4 percent in Dallas, 7.6 percent in Fort Worth, and 7.8 percent in San Antonio. The statewide unemployment rate was 8.3 percent, while the nationwide unemployment rate was 7.7 percent.

One of the main drivers of Houston's high unemployment rate is the ongoing slump in the U.S. oil, gas, and chemical industry. A report released October 5 by consulting giant Deloitte showed the nationwide sector shed 107,000 jobs from March to August.

"We will never see oil and gas employment get back to where it was in December 2014. Employment in the industry today is pretty much where it was in 2006," Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Houston Partnership, said in June. "Energy has been real good to Houston. It's still a big part of our economy, but we cannot rely on it like we have in the past."

A September report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas noted that the Houston area is in recovery mode, but the pace has slowed, mostly due to weakness in the energy sector. The report says "that while Houston's recovery is likely to continue, it will lag the state."

The report adds that the Houston area had recovered 33 percent of pandemic-era job losses as of August, compared with 42 percent across Texas and 48 percent nationwide.

Of course, the pandemic recession also has hammered the hospitality industry.

During his State of the City address on October 22, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said said 196 meetings, conferences, and conventions in the city had been canceled or rescheduled since March. The result: an estimated economic loss of $332 million. The city's hotel occupancy rate stands at a meager 44 percent, according to Turner, with the rate for downtown hotels at only 17 percent.

The pandemic's impact during the rest of 2020 and into 2020 "will be significant for our hospitality community," the mayor said.

Despite the downturn in the energy and hospitality sectors, Turner and others feel optimistic about what's ahead for Houston.

"As we gradually take steps to reopen, we recognize that the full recovery will take several years, but when we work together, we put ourselves in the best position to manage the virus and rebound from it," Turner said. "As we move forward through these unprecedented times, the city's foundation is strong, the city itself is resilient, and the city's future is bright."

Texans know hard work, a study shows. Photo by Tom Werner/Getty Images

Texas punches in as one of the hardest-working states in U.S., says study

workin' hard

Hey, Texas. Kick up your feet and give yourselves a pat on the back. You deserve it. The Lone Star State has been named one of the hardest-working states in the country.

In a study released August 31 just ahead of Labor Day, personal finance website WalletHub ranks Texas fourth on its list of the hardest-working states, behind North Dakota at No. 1, Alaska at No. 2, and Wyoming at No. 3. In last place: West Virginia.

Texas held the No. 4 spot in WalletHub's 2019 rankings, too.

For the study, WalletHub compares the 50 states across 10 key indicators. Those factors include average hours worked per week, share of workers with more than one job, and volunteer hours logged per person. Texas clocks in at No. 4 this year for the highest average number of hours put in during the workweek — its best ranking among the 10 key indicators.

The study of hardest-working states comes as a new WalletHub survey shows about one-third of Americans are worried about job security.

"Women are less likely than men to be concerned about job security, even though recent data shows that women are losing their jobs at a greater rate than men during the COVID-19 pandemic," WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez says.

The survey also finds that about half of Americans say they've worked harder since the coronavirus pandemic began.

"Middle-class Americans were the most likely to say they have worked harder, followed by high-income and then low-income Americans," Gonzalez says.

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A new study ranks Houston as the country's 10th most ethnically diverse large city. Getty Images

Houston named a top 10 big city for ethnic diversity by new study

BAYOU CITY BRAGGING RIGHTS

Houston prides itself on its diversity — and rightfully so. A new study ranks Houston as the country's 10th most ethnically diverse large city.

Among 501 U.S. cities, Houston also ranks 28th overall and first in Texas, according to the study, released February 11 by personal finance website WalletHub.

To come up its ranking, WalletHub measured three key indicators of ethnic diversity: language, ethnicity and race, and birthplace. Houston ranks 25th for language diversity, 36th for ethnic and racial diversity, and 244th for birthplace diversity.

This finding differs from a study by Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research that found Houston was the most ethnically and racially diverse metro area in the U.S. as of 2010. Why the disparity? The WalletHub study looked at data for the city of Houston, while the Kinder Institute study examined data for the entire Houston metro area.

The new finding also differs from a broader WalletHub study published in April 2019. In that study, Houston was crowned the most diverse city in the U.S., based on socioeconomic, cultural, economic, household, and religious diversity. Ethnic diversity is only one component of that ranking.

"Houston is the most diverse city in the United States. But diversity alone is not enough — we must always strive to be more inclusive," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted in December 2019. "As your mayor, I know that diversity and inclusivity are what makes us strong. And I will always work to build one complete Houston."

However you slice it, Houston leads the pack in Texas for ethnic and racial diversity. Here's how other major cities in the Lone Star State fare in the new WalletHub study:

  • Arlington, No. 38
  • Plano, No. 46
  • Dallas, No. 47
  • Fort Worth, No. 62
  • Austin, No. 73
  • San Antonio, No. 136

While Austin and cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area don't rank particularly high in the WalletHub study, Austin and DFW do show up on a recent list of the country's most racially diverse metro areas.

DFW held the No. 11 spot in the Bloomberg news service's 2018 ranking of racial diversity among the 100 largest U.S. metros, while Austin stood at No. 19. Houston bested both of those areas, though, landing at No. 5.

Austin and Dallas didn't perform as well in a racial and ethnic index compiled by U.S. News & World Report.

The index shows the racial and ethnic diversity of Dallas actually slipped 3.4 percent from 2010 to 2018, with Austin's diversity declining by 0.10 percent. The decrease was 2.6 percent in San Antonio and 1.2 percent in Houston, the index shows.

The diversity picture was brighter in other Texas cities included in the U.S. New & World Report index, which measured racial and ethnic diversity in U.S. cities with at least 300,000 residents. Arlington saw its racial and ethnic diversity rise 3.6 percent from 2010 to 2018, with Fort Worth at 1.8 percent.

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The report dug into Houston colleges' affordability, social environment, and academic and economic opportunities. Courtesy of Rice University

See how Houston fares on report on best college cities

MAKING THE GRADE

As high school seniors decide where to attend college, they examine degree programs and campus amenities, calculate job prospects, assess school spirit, and consider location. To help make the decision a bit easier, personal finance website WalletHub crunched the numbers on more than 400 cities across the U.S. to determine 2020's Best & Worst College Towns & Cities in America — and Houston appears near the top of the class.

The report, released on December 9, examined 415 cities across the U.S. and broke them down into three categories: large city (more than 300,000 people), midsize city (125,000 to 300,000 people), and small city (less than 125,000).

To determine the best and worst college cities, WalletHub used 31 metrics, each assigned a different weight, in three key areas: academic and economic opportunities (50 points), wallet friendliness (25 points), and social environment (25 points).

Houston, with a score of 56.89 ranked No. 18 among big cities and No. 30 among all cities. Houston's highest marks came in social environment, where it earned No. 27. Houston ranked 72nd in wallet friendliness and a surprisingly low 254th in academic and economic opportunities.

The title of best college city in Texas — and the U.S. — goes to Austin. The Capital City not only took the top spot among large cities, it also ranked first on the overall list.

With a score of 66.49, Austin's best grade, unsurprisingly, came in social environment, where it ranked No. 2. (With its beaches and perfect weather, only San Diego fared better.) Austin scored a rather middling 196 in wallet friendliness, but it ranked a solid 54th in academic and economic opportunities.

Elsewhere in Texas, Dallas ranked No. 23 among big cities and No. 55 on the overall list. Big D had a total score of 54.89. Its highest grade came in social environment (46), followed by academic and economic opportunities (186) and wallet friendliness (236).

Neighboring Fort Worth earned the 86th spot overall, 36th among big cities. Fort Worth earned an overall score of 53.4 and clenched the 125th spot in social environment, 126th in academic and economic opportunities, and 256th in wallet friendliness.

San Antonio earned a score of 54.37, securing the 65th spot overall and the 29th spot among big cities. It earned high scores in social environment (24) and wallet friendliness (83) but fell hard in the academic and economic opportunities category (343).

Joining Austin on the combined list are Orlando (No. 2); Scottsdale, Arizona (No. 3); Tampa (No. 4); Ann Arbor, Michigan (No. 5); Seattle (No. 6); San Diego (No. 7); Las Vegas (No.8); Salt Lake City (No. 9); and Provo, Utah (No. 10).

So where is the worst college town? That unpleasant distinction goes to Germantown, Maryland. The Washington, D.C. suburb is joined by Kendall, Florida (No. 414); Shreveport, Louisiana (No. 413); Bridgeport, Connecticut (No. 412); and New Rochelle, New York (No. 411).

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The Woodlands and Sugar Land go big for the holidays. Photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images

These Houston suburbs top the list of biggest holiday spenders in U.S.

BIG SPENDERS

Santa Claus is coming to two Houston suburbs in a big way. A new study by personal finance website WalletHub estimates the typical holiday shopping budgets in The Woodlands and Sugar Land will be some of the highest among U.S. cities.

To come up with its ranking for holiday spending per person, WalletHub compared 570 U.S. cities across five metrics: income, age, debt-to-income ratio, monthly income-to-expense ratio, and monthly savings-to-expense ratio.

The Woodlands ranks seventh in the U.S. with a budget of $2,833; Sugar Land, with a budget of $2,386, comes in 13th.

In terms of income, the suburbs far exceed the median amount per household in Texas, meaning there's presumably more money in the bank to buy holiday gifts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for The Woodlands stood at $115,083 in 2017, and Sugar Land stood at $108,994. By comparison, the median household income in Texas was $57,051.

Four other Texas cities are in this year's top 30 for holiday spending:

  • No. 3 — Flower Mound ($2,937)
  • No. 6 — Frisco ($2,836)
  • No. 14 — Cedar Park ($2,263)
  • No. 17 — Allen ($2,212)

Not surprisingly, a couple of those cities bear some of the state's highest per-household burdens for credit card debt. According to personal finance website ValuePenguin, the average credit card debt in Flower Mound was $11,715 in 2017, compared with $6,948 statewide, while Allen was at $12,101.

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Texas named a top state for women-led startups

this one's for the ladies

Who runs the world? According to Merchant Maverick's inaugural Best States for "Women-Led Startups'' study, Texas is a great place for women to be in charge.

The Lone Star state cracked the top 10 on the list, earning a No. 6 spot according to the small business reviews and financial services company, which based the study on eight key statistics about this growing segment of the economy. Colorado (at No. 1), Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Montana were the only states to beat out Texas on the rankings—leading the Merchant Maverick team to conclude that "the part of the country that lies west of the Mississippi is great for startups led by women entrepreneurs."

Women-led startups in Texas received $365 billion in VC funding in the last five years, the report found. This is the seventh largest total among U.S. states. Too, about 20 percent of Texans are employed at woman-led firms, which is the fifth highest percentage among states. Roughly 35 percent of employers in Texas are led by women.

A few other key findings that work in female founders' favor: The startup survival rate in Texas is nearly 80 percent. And a lack of state income tax "doesn't hurt either," the report says.

Still there are shortcomings. On a per capita basis, only 1.27 percent of Texas women run their own business. The average income for self-employed women is also relatively low ranking among states, coming in around $55,907 and landing at 31st among others.

This is not the first time Texas has been lauded as a land of opportunity for women entrepreneurs. A 2019 study named it the best state for business opportunities for women. Houston too has proven to support success for the demographic. The Bayou City was named in separate studies a best city for female entrepreneurs to start a business and to see it grow.

Still, as many findings have concluded, the realities of the pandemic loom for all startups and small business owners. The Merchant Maverick study was careful to add: "The pandemic has changed the economic landscape over the past year, and often for the worse.

"This means that not every metric may be able to accurately gauge how a state might fare amidst the pandemic," the report continues. "To help factor in COVID's impact, we included some metrics that take 2020 into account, but it will be a while until we get a full picture of the pandemic's devastation.""

New downtown office tower will rise in bustling Discovery Green

new to hou

A new office tower will soon loom over the popular Discovery Green as the anchor of a new downtown district. Global development and construction firm, Skanksa, announced the new building at 1550 Lamar St. and its anchor tenant on January 13. The new 28-story, 375,000-square-foot Class-A office structure is dubbed 1550 on the Green, per a Skanska statement.

Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright will relocate its Houston office in 2024 and acquire naming rights upon occupancy, according to a press release.

Bound by La Branch, Lamar, Crawford, and Dallas Streets, 1550 on The Green will feature extra-wide pedestrian zones with a canopy of trees, two tenant outdoor roof terraces, and wide views of the surrounding greenery.

International design firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group led the building's design; it is the company's first foray into Texas. BIG's design promises sustainability, energy efficiency, and an "airy" office environment for tenants, a release describes.

Some 7,000 square feet of retail space will greet first-floor guests. Michael Hsu Office of Architecture has been tapped to design the interior amenity spaces; those include a fitness center, rooftop event space and terrace, and community spaces.

The new 1550 on the Green tower is part of a new envisioned district that will be branded as Discovery West. The district will consist of 3.5 acres of mixed-use development boasting restaurants, retail, green space, and "world-class architecture," per a release.

Working with Central Houston Inc., Discovery Green, Bike Houston, the Kinder Foundation, as well as several brokers, Skanska and design firm of record, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, completed the master plan for Discovery West in early 2020.

Skanska has been noticeably active in the Houston office market, specifically with the development of Bank of America Tower, West Memorial Place I and II, and the future Discovery West. The company is behind the acquisition of a buzzy strip center in Montrose. Skanska also plans to multifamily to its Houston portfolio, the firm notes.

"As an organization that prides itself on building what matters to our communities, our team, made up of Houstonians, has been working alongside local stakeholders to develop a plan and a building that will transform this side of downtown Houston while still meeting the needs of the city," said Matt Damborsky, executive vice president for Skanska USA commercial development's Houston market, in a statement.

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