Monday, October 26, 2009

Rice's chairman on Houston and its challenges

Jim Crownover, former McKinsey director and current chairman of the board at Rice University, spoke at event last week and made some interesting comments on Houston. He discussed some of the incredible growth Rice has seen in recent years, and expressed hope for the Baylor merger. The benefits to Houston of the Jones Business School at Rice were also outlined, including:
  • $1 billion annual contribution to gross area product (that includes salaries of all alums)
  • $345K impact per alum in Houston
  • The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has helped launch over 230 startups by connecting them to $500 million in funding.
But he also listed the four major challenges Houston faces in the next decade:
  1. K-12 education
  2. Energy - will we maintain leadership? He thinks Rice can help here with a balanced approach of policy, economics, and technology.
  3. Health care - will we maintain leadership? Federal health care reform and Baylor's decline from financial problems are key issues here.
  4. Mobility/transportation: congestion growth and energy price increases will continue and our density is unlikely to change in a meaningful way, making mass transit a very difficult problem to address.
He didn't offer solutions - just said these issues need top-to-bottom focus. But he did express optimism about Houston's ability to unify and address these problems, as compared to northern cities with high legacy problems and costs, and west coast cities with "dis-integration" weaknesses (i.e. a lack of unity in solving problems). I tend to agree that our relative unity is a very important strength, and one we should preserve at all costs - even through feisty mayoral elections...

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