Time to Grow

Houston entrepreneur encourages improvement during a difficult time

VPC founder Claudio Gutierrez. Courtesy photo

Flexibility has always been a core component of Valens Project Consulting, but the unpredictable last year — as COVID-19 has ravaged the economy and oil industry, especially — has strengthened that vital skill even more.

"As the lockdown loomed and predictions of a closed economy foretold the massive loss of business, I was ready to hunker down and expect the loss of 100 percent of our customers," says VPC's owner and founder Claudio Gutierrez. "But by May, VPC had lost only a quarter of our customers, and by September we were down by just 50 percent — not nearly the disaster I had been prepared for."

Gutierrez understood that this situation was ultimately temporary, and when they were able to, these accounts would return as customers — with no hard feelings from his end.

Instead, VPC focused on what it could do to improve its own operations during the pandemic, and top of the list was growing the staff. Since the worst of the lockdown, VPC has expanded its permanent engineering resources in a variety of disciplines, including electrical engineer, process engineer, and reservoir engineer.

Its industries have expanded, too. VPC started out mainly in the engineering field, taking on project management, process improvement, cost reductions, and more on a contract basis.

Now, after a slight COVID delay, it has expanded its base of fabrication and industrial distribution companies to include those offering disaster relief (such as temporary emergency housing), automation companies, and construction companies.

VPC is even venturing into public projects, with a few in partnership with Harris County currently in the works.

Gutierrez also focused on the value of face-to-face meetings by traveling to seek out new markets, and now supports projects in Florida, Washington, and Louisiana. Next on the docket: expanding outside the U.S. and into Latin America.

But until these global plans can be realized, Valens Project Consulting has been organizing virtual activities and developing a podcast presence. You might have spotted them on LinkedIn, where Gutierrez's personal network has grown significantly and VPC has been adding followers daily.

The importance of in-person networking has not been lost on Gutierrez, however. He makes sure all precautions are in place for both his staff and clients, and that everyone's safety is top of mind.

"I've become an advocate for in-person meetings," he says. "I don't want virtual meetings to become 'the new normal.'"

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Visit the website learn more about Valens Project Consulting or its offshoot, Potens Energy.

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Building Houston

 
 

According to a report, Houston has grew its tech workforce more than other major metros over the past year. Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

When Americans think of tech hubs, Silicon Valley or even Austin may initially come to mind. However, Houston appears to be making a play for tech-hub status.

Citing data from career platform LinkedIn, the Axios news website reports that Houston has seen a healthy influx of tech workers since the start of the pandemic. In fact, Houston ranks second among 14 major U.S. labor markets for the number of relocating software and IT workers between March 2020 and February 2021 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Miami grabs the No. 1 spot for the gain in software and IT workers (up 15.4 percent) between the two periods, with Houston in second place (10.4 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth in third place (8.6 percent), according to the LinkedIn data.

"Young engineers and recent college graduates see Miami, Houston, and Philadelphia — not San Francisco, New York, or Seattle — as the hot new places to jumpstart a technology or creative economy career," Axios notes.

At the bottom of the barrel sits the San Francisco Bay Area, which suffered a loss of 34.8 percent when comparing the arrival and departure of software and IT workers. Interestingly, Austin experienced a loss of 8 percent in this category.

The shift from traditional tech hub to emerging tech hub is likely to continue as employers and employees alike further embrace remote work. A survey commissioned in April by the nonprofit One America Works found 47% of tech workers had moved during the pandemic. In addition, 3 in 10 tech workers anticipate living somewhere different than they did during the pandemic.

The CompTIA tech trade group says the Houston metro area is home to 243,908 tech workers. The Houston area's tech workforce grew 12.3 percent from 2010 to 2019, according to the group.

"Houston has been a center for world-changing innovations in energy, life sciences and aerospace for over a century. With science and engineering breakthroughs ingrained in the fabric of Houston's economy, the region has become a thriving hub of digital technology talent and companies thanks to our access to customers and expertise," says a report released in March by the Greater Houston Partnership.

One employer taking advantage of that talent is Bill.com. In 2019, the digital payments company opened a Houston outpost — the company's first office outside Silicon Valley.

"Though the city's technology industry is still developing, it offers a breath of fresh air compared to overcrowded late-stage tech markets like Austin and Denver. Ultimately, the breadth and depth of Houston's talent pool and the neighboring educational pipelines made it an ideal location for a second home," Vinay Pai, senior vice president of engineering at Palo Alto, California-based Bill.com and a Rice University graduate, wrote in April 2020 on LinkedIn.

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