Lessons Learned in Houston
 
Published Friday, July 5, 2013
by Staff

The Charlotte Chamber's Inter City Visit to Houston has come and gone but the lessons learned in Texas will no doubt have a lasting impact. Chamber CEO and President, Bob Morgan summed up thoughts in a letter to the editor of today's issue of the Charlotte Business Journal (seen below). Local leaders and trip sponsors shared their key takeaways during a final panel discussion in Houston that was captured in the following video. Perhaps most exciting though was the flurry of tweets exchanged during the three day trip. More than 600 conversations were generated. To recap the excitement in the Twitterosphere, we created a slideshow to highlight some of the commentary during the trip. Click on #CLT2Houston to see.

 

A Letter to the Editor of the Charlotte Business Journal:

The Charlotte Chamber’s 58th Inter City Visit took place to Houston last week.  This was our fifth visit since 1956 to what is today the fourth largest city in the United States and the one that creates more middle class jobs than any other.

Houston’s economy begins with energy, which accounts for roughly half the economy.  Texas is blessed with abundant gas and oil resources. Tremendous wealth is created and many people are employed in every step of the energy production chain with Houston serving as a refining and distribution hub to much of the rest of the country. 

Energy generated philanthropy has funded diversification into other areas such as healthcare.  The Texas Medical Center is a single campus - think Ballantyne - of 15 hospitals, three medical schools, four nursing schools, and others, who employ more than 90,000 people.  It is an incredible concentration of health care services. And while there is no evidence to suggest that Houstonians are healthier than the rest of us, people from throughout the world are attracted to their high quality, cost competitive healthcare, therefore contributing significantly to the Houston economy.

The Port of Houston is another key part of the story.  More foreign tonnage flows in and out of their port than any other in America.  They are well positioned to take advantage of their geographic proximity to the Panama Canal and will be a hub for the distribution of products made in Asia to the Midwest and both coasts.  This is directly relevant to Charlotte as the Norfolk Southern Intermodal Rail Yard nears completion at the Charlotte Airport.

And, while energy is dominant, Houston works hard and intentionally to diversify its economy in other ways too, most especially by promoting minority owned businesses, entrepreneurs and international companies. Colleges and universities play a key role.

Houston’s political and social culture is distinctive. The population is dramatically diverse and global.  Philanthropists, more often than not from the energy sector, are expected to lead in the funding of cultural assets. Growth is gospel. The mayor, an openly gay female Democrat, boasts proudly that they have no zoning. It is true that in Texas, everything is big, including the sprawl. The level of collaboration between the public and private sectors is impressive. Leaders from all backgrounds seem to like and enjoy each other.

Houston has leveraged its political clout well. Think NASA and the federal expenditures that it brings to their economy.  And yet, Houston is entrepreneurial in the funding of transportation infrastructure.  They use a sales tax to fund transit and are at least a decade ahead of North Carolina in the use of tolls to build new roads and add capacity to existing highways.      

These trips are great learning experiences and there continues to be much to learn from Houston. They are also a reminder that, in the words of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, there is no place like home.

 

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