Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Could Houston get Google? converting the 59 Spur to a linear park, housing crisis drives socialism, millennials are driving, Houston is the future, and more

Apologies for the delay between posts - I've had some busy travel recently. Before getting to this week's items, a couple thoughts on the City's consideration of turning the Bagby and Brazos portions of Spur 527 off 59 into a park.  I live in Midtown, so this affects me directly. I've managed to adapt ok to losing the Brazos exit since the bridge closed for repairs - Louisiana is inconvenient but works - but losing Bagby's southbound entrance is a bigger deal.  I've thought quite a bit about this.  At first I was totally opposed, then I figured I could live with it via Smith and Louisiana but still moderately opposed (even with the benefits of Bagby traffic reduction).  I do think it will substantially negatively affect some of the businesses along Bagby and Brazos that rely on drive-by traffic like Spec's, CVS, and especially the new Midtown Whole Foods (which is already struggling in what was previously a food desert), as well as thousands of commuters that connect between 59 and 45 (which, in turn, will make the already-messy 59-45-288 interchange even worse).  In fact, I'd argue the optics look pretty bad: sacrifice the commutes of a lot of working-class folks on the north and east sides commuting to jobs in the southwest so a few wealthy white people in gated Courtlandt Place can have a pocket park. Not a good look. And I think it is very likely that a City-maintained linear pocket park will turn into a homeless camp (sad, but that's the reality these days) - something I hope the neighbors have considered in their support.  They may come to really regret it...

Updated story.

On to this week's items:

“If we keep forcing them to pay for housing and parks, they will go to Houston or Austin.”
I think the advantages for a Google office here would be pretty strong. Tons of oil-and-gas tech/IT talent that’s easy to poach, a city willing to do anything to land them, plus deep expat communities from nations all over the world that could handle some global functions (esp. Latin America).  It would also work well if Google is considering any health care plays, with the world's largest med center right down the way in the innovation corridor.
 Another thought is, what if you wanted to have a US office where you could bring H1B visa talent from all over the world, and they would be able to afford to live there as well as find a comfortable expat community from their nation? Houston would be a great location for that: huge Asian, Latin American, African, Middle Eastern, and even European communities - many from the long history of the global oil industry here.
Boomer Socialism Led to Bernie Sanders 
Government policies limit millennials’ prosperity, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser argues. Will they realize more of the same isn’t the answer?
“The right answer for this is not universal basic income.  The right answer is freedom. Allow people to use their property the way they want to use it.”
"New supply is one reason the median home price in Texas is currently $207,301, while in California, it’s nearly triple that, $605,280. California’s drought in new home production has been caused in part by land-use regulations and the state’s myriad environmental laws.
 A Zillow-backed survey of economists and housing analysts predicted that in 2020, Texas’s relatively affordable big cities (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and especially Austin) will outperform the market average in home value growth, while overpriced California metros like San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles will fare poorly.
The California housing situation, on the other hand, is a multifaceted mess. Prices have skyrocketed. A new apartment in San Francisco costs an average of $700,000 to build—including materials, labor, and land—triple the cost of a decade ago. The average value of a home in Los Angeles County is $635,000—almost double the median price in Austin and nearly triple the median price in Dallas—and many neighborhoods have seen average prices more than double in the last decade. According to the United Way, one in three Californians, or 3.3 million families, don’t have incomes to meet their basic cost of living, and most struggle with high housing costs. The state’s 150,000 homeless residents represent a quarter of the nation’s homeless population. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates it would cost “in excess of $250 billion” to provide affordable housing for all of the state’s 1.7 million rent-burdened households."
Finally, watch this if you can"No Passport Required" on PBS did an episode on West African food and culture in Houston, and it is absolutely fascinating. Will make you proud of our city. Links to Houstonia and Houston Eater stories
"When I came to Houston I did not know what to think. Leaving, I see the future." - Marcus Samuelsson, PBS "No Passport Required"

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


At 7:07 PM, February 12, 2020, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no way in h*ll that Google or any major tech firm is going to site a tech-oriented (not sales) office in Houston. Houston doesn't even register in the top 20 cities for tech opportunities

Houston does a little better in the Dice survey, but the definition of tech jobs could include energy or medical tech, which doesn't interest tech firms. If you add Plano and Irving to the Dallas number, DFW is way ahead of Houston. (It is unclear if cities with tech jobs like Frisco and Richardson are in the Dallas/Plano numbers).

Of course, Houston has plenty of chemical, petroleum, mechanical, non-semiconductor electrical engineers. And plenty of skilled medical folks. But this is of no use to a tech employer. Local officials are well aware of this problem, with projects like the Ion underway, but becoming a city suitable for tech employers is going to be a daunting task.

At 8:39 PM, February 12, 2020, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

All fair points, but I still believe there is a substantial base of IT workers in the energy and medical companies. Another thought is, what if you wanted to have a US office where you could bring H1B visa talent from all over the world, and they would be able to afford to live there as well as find a comfortable expat community from their nation? Houston would be a great location for that: huge Asian, Latin American, African, Middle Eastern, and even European communities - many from the long history of the global oil industry here.

At 11:04 PM, February 12, 2020, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a lot of tech jobs and both major and smaller companies here in Houston that are not energy or medical industry. We have already have hundreds or thousands of employees at major tech companies like HP, IBM, Cisco Systems, and MicroFocus, financial tech from JP Morgan, Invesco, and others, home-grown companies like AlertLogic and Pros, legal software companies like Onit, Construction related software like ConstructConnect, airlines with their entire operations run out of Houston like United, security companies like PAS, a new tech unicorn just minted in 2020 in HighRadius, startups like and aviation startups like FlightAware and Foreflight, hosting and utility companies like HostGator, cPanel, and iLand Cloud, data management companies like Riversand, industrial-related software like Arundo Analytics, not to mention energy-related software startups like P97 or medical related software companies like Gene by Gene. There is a whole (somewhat outdated) map of some of this activity here -

The list really does go on and on but I don't want to bore you any further, and there is no Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, or Google with major development presence here. I sort of think - who cares? It is their loss if they do not want to set up shop here - we will be working on cool stuff with or without them. Don't get me wrong I would welcome more major tech companies presence here, but I'm not losing any sleep over it. The entire world is becoming driven by software, so Houston will have lots of software developers and companies with or without the existing software majors.

I think that tech is like most other cool things in Houston - you have to go a little bit out of your way to find it because the city doesn't do a great job of promoting it and things are so spread out here, and a company of 10-200 people or so doesn't even get noticed by most people, and 1000 people from IBM doesn't get noticed either. And we don't just have a 10,000 person office of Facebook people for example. It is instead 5000+ people at HP, 1000 in development at JPMC, Invesco, IBM, Invesco,and maybe 1000-5000 people at United and lots and lots of places with 10-100 developers. And we do have probably 1000s of devs at Schlumberger, Shell, Exxon, and Halliburton and many other energy companies as well which tends to get the focus of the attention from outsiders and Houstonians alike. We also have probably hundreds if not thousands of people working more on the consulting / implementation side or from home for companies like Microsoft and Amazon but still doing software development today in Houston.

Also, ICYMI, we just narrowly missed landing a development center for Microsoft with 500 jobs because North Carolina gave them something like $13 million and Houston gave them next to nothing. See

Finally, just a reminder we are graduating some of the best minds in tech every year at Rice, and just getting a fraction more of these people to stay in Houston post-grad would be a huge win for Houston tech. And thousands more from UH, UT, and A&M that are often happy to return to Houston.

Anyway, we already are a city that is suitable for tech employees, and whomever of Microsoft / Facebook / Apple / Google / Amazon etc. to realize this would be fortunate to be able to utilize some of the talent and advantages that Houston has to offer. And it is only going to continue to get better with Ion and many of the other accelerators and startups that are just getting underway.

At 11:17 PM, February 12, 2020, Anonymous Houston Metro Rail & Transit Development said...

Houston, we have a problem... It's called growing debt (which will exert upward pressure on local taxes and downward pressure on services provided):

As you know, it takes money to maintain and expand publicly owned & operated collective transport services. What cost-reducing innovations might you recommend to make collective transport more cost-effective?

At 8:50 AM, February 13, 2020, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Great stats and links Anon - thanks! Well assessed and totally agree.

As far as debt, it's the pension problem. Turner helped address it, but I think more needs to done - ideally at the state level. We should ban defined benefit plans and move everyone over to defined contribution. Defined benefit always gets abused by politicians and the debt explodes in voters' faces down the road.

At 10:31 AM, February 13, 2020, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you, a pocket park will just turn into another homeless camp. There is already a small camp along Spur 527 already. Plus, how do justify reducing a major artery into the Downtown area? The city is already reducing the traffic flow on the other end of Bagby for theater-goers. All of the traffic that will be moved by these two projects has to go somewhere and probably cause more traffic congestion elsewhere.


Post a Comment

<< Home