HOUSTON – (Commentary by Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report) – Houston bleeds from Hurricane Harvey. Some 100,000 single-family homes were flooded along with 300,000 cars. Hundreds of merchants, small businesses and restaurants sustained heavy, possibly fatal, blows to their enterprises.
Houstonians are no longer in the emergency room. So we wake up in the recovery room. We open our eyes and try to realize the extent of the damage. The full weight of the economic carnage remains unknown.
Wounded and a little scared, we are taking inventory as we realize the depth of the loss. Less than 20 percent homeowners had flood insurance. Their homes – their principal source of their personal wealth – vanished or at least vast amounts of their assets washed away. They hold tightly to hope.
The fairy tale would go something like this: Jeff Bezos, chairman of Amazon, lived in Houston as a boy. In this happy fantasy, Bezos decides to overlook Houston’s shortcomings and deliver a great gift to Houston – Amazon’s Second Headquarters. It’s a $5 billion injection of growth – 50,000 employees and 8 million square feet of office space. Houston’s economy takes off once again.
Every sensible city in the nation would love to have Amazon’s HQ2 facility. The competition is fierce. Houston is not among the leaders. Not enough of a tech workforce, they say. Mass transit is insufficient, they say.
Maybe this underdog city can overcome the odds. Maybe Houston can catch a lucky break and overcome Denver, Austin and Atlanta and the other places that experts say are vastly superior to Space City.
The surprise victory of the underdog is a frequent theme replayed in Hollywood films or acted out on our athletic fields. We would cheer if Houston wins the Amazon sweepstakes, even more loudly that we would if the Astros win the World Series.
In real life though, it usually doesn’t happen like that. Underdogs usually lose. Amazon probably won’t select Houston. It’s unlikely that Amazon will give the Houston’s economy this much-needed antidote to the hurricane disaster. Story-book endings are rare.
If Houston is passed over by Bezos’ retailing mega force, hopefully the city will take a long look in the mirror. What does Houston have to do to be a winner the next time a huge economic development trophy comes along? What needs to be fixed?
Houston needs a big victory. It’s been too long since Houston smashed a grand slam home run in the economic development game. I’m tired of singles and bunts.
Commentary by Realty News Report editor Ralph Bivins, a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.