2020 Greater Houston Partnership Meeting: Real Solutions for Amazon, Energy, and EducationFebruary 14, 2020 | By Wayne O'Neill
January 18, 2018, marked a dark day for the Houston business community. On this day, Amazon announced the finalist cities for their much ballyhooed “Amazon HQ2” location. Shockingly, Houston was not on the list of 20 finalists.
But we’re Houston. We’re the fourth-largest city in America — soon to be third-largest. We have a diverse population and we’re business-friendly to Corporate America. Didn’t Amazon read our slogan: “Houston is Where Business Thrives.” How did we get snubbed?
Two years later, the sting is still real. We’re all still sensitive to this snub. But, the lingering pain needs to lead to action to make sure something like this does not happen again.
During the 2020 Greater Houston Partnership Annual City Meeting held on January 22, Houston’s business community came together to get real about why our city was snubbed and to identify solutions for future opportunities.
After taking a hard look in the mirror, the conclusion from business leaders, civic leaders, government leaders, and thought leaders in Houston is that key areas of Houston have not been developed enough to attract the likes of major new business opportunities such as Amazon HQ2.
Specifically, our city has not focused on the Midtown area of Houston at the ideal pace.
And, it’s not just business development. It’s education.
Houston Education (HISD) Left Behind
One of the most impactful statistics from the annual meeting is that Houston ranks 32 out of 35 major cities for bachelor’s degrees. Furthermore, only 32 percent of residents in Houston proper have a Bachelor’s degree from a college or university.
The combination of underdevelopment in Midtown and the picture of HISD being left behind has hurt our city’s appeal to large corporations looking to plant their flag in the heart of our city.
Greater Houston Partnership 2020 Board Chair Bobby Tudor laid out how important collaboration is to develop Midtown, including the Medical Center, Rice University, and other areas. This requires a deeper commitment to development from stakeholders in this corridor.
Education plays a part because education drives economic development and growth. This has ramifications beyond the Amazon snub to an even bigger picture of how Houston can remain competitive if we’re not producing a highly-educated and skilled workforce to fill critical jobs.
Houston’s Energy Position Needs Education Support
The big picture for Houston is retaining our position as the Energy Capital of the World. This is the tide that raises all boats for our city.
But, the challenge for our city, according to Bobby Tudor, is addressing a dual challenge of meeting the demand for energy on a global level and being environmentally-conscious.
The room wasn’t expecting a conversation about climate change, but Tudor made a clear point that Wall Street is factoring environmental issues into how they view energy companies. And if Houston isn’t driving the car of climate awareness and action, then we risk a much larger snub than Amazon HQ2.
“The economic vitality and growth of our region’s economy is inextricably tied to the energy industry,” Tudor said before noting that Houston partners and stakeholders “should use our convening power to rally our companies, political leaders, and fellow citizens to position Houston as the city that will lead this energy transition.”
“Houston business leaders have a responsibility to lead the transition to a cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable, lower carbon world. We need to be the driver, not the passenger.”
Our city needs a more educated workforce that can contribute ideas, be innovative, and identify solutions to support this dual-purpose goal of retaining energy status in a clean, environmentally-friendly manner. This won’t happen without strong educational support.
The Next Workforce Holds the Key to the City
The tipping point is that millennials and Generation Z are set to become the majority of the workforce, replacing Baby Boomers that are aging out and retiring. Are younger workers entering the workforce with the ideal education, skills, and experience to fulfill critical jobs?
Statistically, the answer is no. And, Corporate America is moving at a pace faster than we can address the challenge.
That’s why meetings such as the Greater Houston Partnership Annual Meeting are critical to bring together stakeholders from our city to find workforce solutions.
One key solution is to create a more expansive collaborative environment beyond the traditional approach.
We need to bring together the likes of Bobby Tudor, Dr. Robert Robbins (president of the Texas Medical Center), Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, HEB president Scott McClelland, development companies, and business leaders to identify ways to build up Midtown and the Medical Center, support HISD through new education and vocational programs, strike the balance of energy growth and energy consciousness, and ramp up project delivery.
Accelerating the speed of project delivery can be accomplished through concession funding. This is necessary to get the right people together to move Houston forward through projects that tap into the needs, wants, and desires of the younger population to have a community-like experience.
Ultimately, the goal is to keep Houston’s educated Millennial and Generation Z population in Houston after graduation while also attracting more younger workers from across the country and globe to come to Houston to live, work, and play.
It’s a process, and it will take time for HISD-driven education to start driving economic growth in our city. But, through a more collaborative environment and through multiple stakeholders coming together to support projects, we can make sure another Amazon HQ2 snub doesn’t hit us across the face again and we continue to lead the way for the energy industry.