These are tough economic times. If you have a job, you are worried about losing it. Those who are out of work are facing tough competition as they try to find new employment. Knowing this, I have made it a priority to highlight job creation and implement new programs that can, hopefully, help.
The most influential of these new programs is Hire Houston First – a new City of Houston ordinance that encourages the use of local companies and the hiring of local workers for taxpayer-funded projects. The new city law allows the city to grant preference to local businesses in awarding certain contracts when the local firm’s price is within five percent of the lowest bid from an out-of-town company. It’s more important than ever for our tax dollars to stay in the community where they can support local businesses and the jobs they provide. Hire Houston First provides the city with discretion, where appropriate, without negating our responsibility to wisely manage the dollars entrusted to us. It’s a way to maximize the local economic impact of our governmental spending.
Of course, economic development and job creation go hand in hand. With that in mind, Houston is offering incentives that often bridge the gap for projects that are right on the edge of being feasible and attractive for bank financing. It is easier to keep jobs than create new ones. Through negotiated incentives, we were able to keep a major dairy processing plant from moving out of Houston. We also secured new middle-class housing and major retail development in the inner-city with similar tools. Houston has recorded close to a billion dollars of new investment and more than 12,000 jobs that are tied directly to our incentives.
Small businesses are the backbone of the Houston economy, providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of our residents. The entire city benefits when they grow and prosper. The city’s Office of Business Opportunity (OBO) has revamped the certification application to make it easier to compete for city work. We have a new certification hotline which companies can call to learn about the certification process and requirements and check the status of their applications. There are new standard operating procedures for the certification process that have internal and external controls to ensure that applications are processed expediently and a new Fasttrack Certification for companies that are already certified with other organizations.
Longer term, I envision partnering with private companies and education institutions to facilitate training and education programs to help businesses grow, allowing them to compete at every level of city procurement. An example of the benefits of this is the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, brought to Houston in early 2011. The initiative – a partnership with Goldman Sachs, the City of Houston, Houston Community College and several other organizations includes a $20 million commitment to provide loans to help local small businesses and $5 million in program and capacity-building grants to local partner organizations. The first 53 graduates completed the program in the fall of 2011. They learned how to be business leaders, not just business owners.
I am also interested in pursuing more international opportunities that I know can generate new jobs – specifically in the biomedical and energy-related areas. My interest was sparked by a recent trip to Israel sponsored by the American Jewish Committee’s “Project Interchange.” I am frustrated that while Houston is home to one of the largest medical centers in the world performing cutting-edge research and treatment, Houston and the Texas Medical Center are not spinning off companies from locally developed research and treatment protocols.
If there are new drugs developed, we want them to be manufactured here. If there are new treatment protocols rolled out, we want them to come from Houston. If new medical devices are invented we want them to be marketed here. There are currently 2,000 Israeli start-ups searching for venture capital, and they are looking at the U.S. for investors. I want to utilize the resources available at the Texas Medical Center and elsewhere in Houston to try to facilitate some match-making.
Houston is leading the nation out of the recession, recovering all of the 121,000 jobs it lost and we are the first of the 12 largest markets in the U.S. to reach this point. There are several reasons: First, the region lost a smaller portion of its employment during in the recession, leaving less ground to make up. Second, the oil and gas industry is once again booming and the Texas Medical Center experienced job growth. Employment in oil and gas extraction passed its pre-recession peak in June of this year. Third, the region continues to draw residents from other states – some with jobs, some looking for jobs and others looking to start businesses here. This population growth is driving the demand for consumer goods and services plus creating jobs and opportunities along the way.
I am confident our growth will continue because we just have too many positive attributes for it not to continue. Our cost of living is 9.7 percent below the nationwide average and our business costs are below the U.S. average, substantially lower than many major global cities. We are an entrepreneurial city with a can-do attitude. We get the job done!
Annise Parker is one of only two women to hold the title of Mayor of Houston. She has served as mayor, a city council member and as City Controller. Mayor Parker is the only person in Houston history to hold all three offices.