Central Houston Inc. – Innovation and Growth Coming Fast to CBD
HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – Creating an innovation ecosystem was the focus of the annual meeting of Central Houston, Inc. a 30-year-old collaborative devoted to optimizing opportunities in downtown Houston. On Friday, more than 930 downtown businessmen and women, plus an all-women string quartet converged in the grand ballroom of the Hilton of the Americas to hear the latest updates on the Innovation Corridor, which includes Jones on Main in the 700 block out past the former Sears location on South Main.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett observed, “Not to take away anything from past events, but to me, this is the most exciting one of all. Now we are talking about what do we really want to be when we grow up? I remember when downtown Houston was a retail center, with Sakowitz, Foley’s, Neiman-Marcus and then Houston transitioned to purely office, with the major oil companies all downtown. Now, the older oil company buildings are lofts and highrises and we are here discussing an innovation corridor. The transition is fascinating to me. It’s really important that we have an organization like Central Houston to make sure we get it right. Central Houston is really central to this entire region. I am excited to see what comes out of it and make sure that Harris County helps in any way it can.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner
On an absolutely picture perfect morning, Emmett joked about how he and Mayor Sylvester Turner often “show up when the weather is really bad,” referencing their partnership in times of hurricane preparedness and recovery.
Mayor Turner acknowledged his great partnership with Emmett in dealing with hurricanes and also mentioned Emmett’s passion about solving some of the county’s mental health issues. “We were together a couple of weeks ago for the opening of Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center, which provides an alternative to jail for low-level, non-violent offenders,” said Turner. The center is located at 1215 Dennis.
Mayor Turner said he relied on Central Houston for their input in improving the functionality of downtown street grid and the interplay between trains, buses, cars and bicycles. He looks forward to reimagining Park & Ride to operate seven days a week.
Central Houston fosters collaboration with the City, County, METRO and downtown property owners to collectively visualize and ensure the most vibrant future possible. They create an open dialogue to recruit new employs to downtown. “As exciting new workplaces come online, downtown will become more attractive,” says Bob Eury, President of Central Houston, Inc.
The Kauffman Index ranks Houston’s business climate as #1 in the state for startup activity, and Chief Executive Magazine named Houston as #1 in the state for business, for ten years in a row. In that vein, the panel discussion Friday zeroed in on innovation in startups, the need for mentorship and accelerators for entrepreneurs and how to best facilitate growth for these new technologies.
President Bob Eury noted there are now 8,865 residents in downtown Houston, 70,000 residents living within two miles of downtown and 8,300 hotel rooms, with more and more companies targeting Houston as their destination for meetings. Last year, they launched Plan Downtown as a standard for urban living and growth. The plan has moved forward swiftly, maximizing once in a lifetime opportunities for civic growth.
Panelists included Jennifer Bonnett, entrepreneur-turned-entrepreneurial ecosystem builder from the Innovation/Entrepreneurship for the Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA); Adam Enbar, CEO and co-founder of Flatiron School, which is located in Jones On Main, the redeveloped 708 Main location where WeWork operates in the Innovation Corridor. The Flatiron School is one of the country’s top coding boot camps; John Harthorne, Founder and CEO of Mass Challenge, a startup-friendly accelerator out of MIT, moderated by Barbara J. Burger, PhD, President of Chevron Technology Ventures 9CTV), the arm of Chevron which addresses innovative, externally developed technologies that strengthen Chevron’s core business operations.
Reactions from the audience included:
“I loved John Harthorne’s analogy to the start-up companies as babies that need to be nurtured,” says Ann Taylor, Senior Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Midway Companies.
“I think that the CBD is making all the right moves. The major growth is north (i.e Capitol Tower and Chronicle site) along with the east side. Look at Eado and what it has become in a short period of time,” said Warren Savery, senior vice president at CBRE. “The amenities and life downtown have changes so dramatically over the years. It will only get better.”
“It was exciting to hear about the new ventures that are being promoted and developed for entrepreneurs,” says John Loughran, President of Acme Party & Tent. “Long has our city been a hotbed for creative and talented entrepreneurs who have to leave Houston for Austin, Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, Seattle, and others. Now, not only will we have a network of mentors, but also a resource for developing these individuals into viable and successful entities. We look forward to seeing Houston added to list of “Hotbed” cities for creative people.”
Central Houston’s new leadership: The new chairman is Scott Prochazka with Chevron, following Anne Taylor from DeLoitte. Vice Chair is Jonathan Brinsden, CEO of Midway Companies and Alex Jerrett, CFO with Camden Property Trust will serve as treasurer.