Monday, February 25, 2013

Houston dominates America's growth corridors and makes the case for the world's highest standard of living

The Manhattan Institute has just released a new report by Joel Kotkin on "America's Growth Corridors", which outlines four key corridors that are still growing strongly in an otherwise anemic U.S. economy: the great plains, the Gulf coast, the inter-mountain west, and the manufacturing belt of the southeast.  Houston figures into the report quite prominently as the largest city among the four growth corridors.  If you don't want to read the whole pdf, I recommend searching on "Houston" to find the key elements.  Here are some of my favorite Houston excerpts:
In Houston, for example, the massive Texas Medical Center is now the largest concentration of medical facilities in the world. [It] now ranks as the country’s 12th-largest business district in terms of square feet, ahead of downtown Los Angeles, with plans to expand so that it will rival Philadelphia’s (the seventh-largest) in size by 2014. 
Houston, the clear center of the Third Coast economy, has emerged as one of the country’s megacities. Over the past decade, Houston has had one of the largest increases in employment of any major metropolitan area—up 15 percent between 2000 and 2011.
Houston, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Tampa have seen stronger rates of growth in the numbers of educated people moving into their areas, more so than such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Houston and Dallas already have a higher rate of international immigration than such traditional magnets as Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia. A recent Rice University study found that Houston now surpassed New York as the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse area. 
Today, Third Coast ports Brownsville, Tampa, and Houston have some of the highest rates of foreign immigration in the nation. Traditionally, this migration has come largely from Mexico and Latin America, but newcomers are increasingly arriving from Asia as well. Over the past decade, Houston’s Asian population has expanded by 160,000, or 70 percent, and the city is now home to the eighth-largest Asian population in the nation. Houston’s Asian migration is growing 50 percent faster than migration flows to such established Asian hubs as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
When adjusted for cost of living, wage earners in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, as well as most corridor cities, earn much more than residents of New York or Los Angeles.
This is particularly notable in Houston, which has had one of the strongest increases in manufacturing over the past decade of any major city
The region is now home to several of the country’s leading ports, led by Houston and New Orleans, which also boast the first- and second-fastest growth in custom district traffic among the top five districts, outpacing New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit.
In the future, many Third Coast ports will likely increase trade with Asia. The scheduled 2014 opening of an expanded Panama Canal, with double its current capacity, will likely shift some Asian trade from America’s West Coast ports to its Third Coast. Houston will likely benefit most; the city expects a 15 percent jump in Asian trade after the canal expansion project is complete. In contrast to ports in the Northeast and California, virtually all the Third Coast ports—and many on the southeast littoral as well—are in the process of large-scale expansions.
But, by far, the most important and interesting tidbit in the report is the chart at the bottom of page 15:

As you can see, Houston simply dominates it at #1 with $75k (!!).  DFW and Austin are a distant second and third at $63k, and they fall from there.  This is reinforced by a similar statistic in a recent City Journal article on the Texas Growth Machine (hat tip to Jessie), which notes:
"Adjusted for cost of living, Texas’s per-capita income is higher than California’s and nearly as high as New York’s. Factor in state and local taxes, and Texas pulls ahead of New York."
This further backs my argument that Houston has the highest standard of living in the U.S. (and likely the world) among major metros.

Of course the dominant factor in cost of living is housing, so this strongly validates Texas' free market approach allowing supply to meet demand (if avoiding the housing crash didn't already prove that point).  And Houston's very substantial $12k advantage over even other Texas cities points to the incredible value of no-zoning in keeping housing and other costs of living low (including commercial office and retail costs).  For more on how that works, check out my Opportunity Urbanism op-ed here.  And that leads me to end with this awesome graphic that I just love (hat tip to Josh).

UPDATE: I'm often sharing the linklove with CultureMap, but they're not sharing back :-(

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, February 17, 2013

WSJ does Houston, accolades, segregation, and more

The queue of smaller misc items has been growing quickly, so let's get to a few of 'em...
» Booming energy sector contributes to broader job gains.
» Major companies relocate operations to create headquarters in Houston.
» Oil price volatility and future of the Keystone XL pipeline project can have significant implications. 
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas, climbed 12 positions to fourth place. Driven by oil and gas exploration and supporting industries, the metro’s long-term job growth was eighth-highest in the nation. For the year that ended in May 2012, the same statistic clocked a 3.5-percent gain—15th best in the U.S. This metro’s energy business yielded a tremendous ripple effect throughout the regional economy. While the core industry created nearly 7,000 jobs in 2011, another 30,000 were spawned to support its growth. Among them were positions in administrative, professional, and technical services; machinery and fabricated metal product manufacturing; and nonresidential construction. 
Houston’s virtues as a base for business—a favorable regulatory climate, extensive trade and distribution infrastructure, and strategic location along the Gulf of Mexico—retain their appeal. Planning to consolidate its operations in and around Houston, energy giant Exxon Mobil is building a campus on 385 acres that will eventually house more than 10,000 employees, and BP will relocate portions of its San Francisco and Chicago operations to Houston. That will boost demand for office space as well as the area’s employment base. Other companies are doing the same.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, February 11, 2013

Planning's biggest problem, Houston's growing popularity, and more

A followup to my post from a couple weeks ago opposing comprehensive planning: My biggest problem with comprehensive planning (among several) is that, in theory, it's a balanced and enlightened approach that works out appropriate density by neighborhood and that the infrastructure can support, but what seems to happen in reality in cities all over the country is that it becomes a cudgel for NIMBYs to oppose any and all development. All comprehensive planning includes extensive public input.  Ultimately, it changes land use from a market process to a political process (the bosses of the planners), and politicians will always respond to vocal neighborhoods.  And the neighborhoods get more vocal the more they realize they can kill anything they don't like, especially any density.  Far from leading to vibrancy, it leads to stagnation.

People inherently fear change, especially in their neighborhoods.  In fact, I'd be willing to bet that if you took the central Houston of today, which most people acknowledge has evolved to be wonderfully more dense and vibrant over the last couple of decades, and took it back in time to the 1980s to be the "official comprehensive plan", the residents of the time would have come out in mass protest to kill it.  Ironic.

For an example of the chaos and bitter conflict that can come out of comprehensive planning, check out this month's Texas Monthly story on El Paso's plan.

Moving on to some smaller misc items this week:
"The program works like this: real-time data pertaining to state-owned freeways, city-owned arterials and public transportation systems is gathered and entered into a centralized computer system. This information could drive one of hundreds of diversion strategies designed to keep travelers moving in the event of an incident or congestion."
  • British Airway's High Life magazine profile of Houston.  I really like the creative writing which goes beyond the typical regurgitation of the usual sights, with clever lines like "Houston is to be approached with caution, and respected on impact."  My favorite excerpts:
Houston's profoundly non-Texan Texas is startling. It gets so acute I kind of miss my more caricatured movie-Texas — where Jeff Bridges pulls up his huge-buckled jeans in The Last Picture Show — and start to feel a little cheated, although tell any Houstonian this and they give you a look of triumph: they like to be different. 
Houston has just been placed by at the top of the list of cool places to live. Houston is unique in the United States. It's the only city with no ethnic majority, just an even spread of large populations from Nigeria, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, India and so many others that 83 languages are regularly being spoken in Houston's schools. Where first-time buyers might have thought of California as a clement place to settle and prosper, three years ago they started moving to Houston, drawn to the sun, cheap housing and new jobs in clean energy (the convention centre here is run entirely by wind), all of which started a shift in the city's decades-long reputation as the middle-aged hub of oil and pharmaceutical (huh???) companies. The average age of a Houstonian is now just 34. And yet, it's a very nascent scene. Seven eighths of the people living in Houston don't know it's cool. In fact most people will keep flooring it along Highway 59 arguing the opposite — and it's easy to see why.  ... 
Why are people moving here? He looks at me: 'Why Houston? It's relaxing, it's warm, it has that Southern feel, it's not Dallas, it's cheaper than Austin, it's....'   ... 
I ask him if he thinks Austin is cooler. 'Depends on what you mean by cool,' he says, witheringly, 'but I guess it's definitely hip.'
           "I like Houston very much; it’s very different from Austin where I live part-time. It’s crazy in a way, but I liked that Houston has so much art and no zoning. Houston looks different from other cities. It’s very visual. I loved shooting there and could take pictures all day."
          Finally, I want to end with this amazing cityscape video (watch in full screen HD).  Will somebody do one of these for Houston already?  Or bring Eric Hines here to do it?

          Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

          Monday, February 04, 2013

          Why the feds should allow exports of fracked natural gas

          I've been thinking about this a while, and it seems like such a no-brainer I will be deeply concerned about the future of our country if we don't.  It would mean we as a country can't even make the easy decisions, much less the hard ones.  Here are just some of the reasons:
          1. Produce lots more high-paying domestic jobs to reduce our still-high unemployment rate.
          2. Reduce the yawning trade deficit.
          3. Provide energy security to our allies like Europe and Japan.
          4. Displace coal plants which reduces carbon emissions and climate change.
          5. Bring desperately needed revenue to federal, state, and local taxing authorities.
          6. Studies show it will only barely raise prices with an almost trivial impact on domestic chemical producers.  In any case, the United States will continue to have some of the cheapest natural gas on the planet, and will continue to be very attractive to energy-intensive industries like chemicals.
          See? Did I mention it's a no-brainer?

          UPDATE 2/27/13: now backed by a bipartisan group:
          "Although the panel dodged some fiery debates — such as how to tackle climate change and whether the Obama administration should approve the Keystone XL pipeline — the group was unanimous in saying the U.S. should not restrict exports of natural gas and other fossil fuels
          Trade restrictions would not further “domestic economic interests” or help slash greenhouse gas emissions, the group concluded, and exporting natural gas is likely to result in “only modest impacts” on domestic prices
          The position is particularly notable given the array of business executives and others that developed the 157-page report, including Exxon Mobil Corp. Vice President William Colton, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. executive chairman James Hackett, DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman and Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy program. 
          Manufacturers such as Dupont have benefited from relatively low natural gas prices, and some environmentalists say exports would strengthen ties to another fossil fuel at a time when the U.S. and other countries should be aggressively pursuing alternatives."

          Labels: ,