On Thursday, October 21st I attended my first Realtor H-Town Day at the Omni Hotel in Houston where the Realtor community gathered to learn about the direction of our city. We heard from many fabulous guest speakers about the past, present, and future of Houston. H-Town Day gives Realtors a sense of the basic history in our community, the type of growth Houston is expecting in the near future and how that will impact real estate, and we examine the various areas of Houston and what it entails. Currently, we have 92 Consulates, 22 Foreign Banks, and over one fifth of our residents are foreign born. We have over 3,000 international companies, and over $167 Billion in trade. Our diverse city has over 86,300 engineers and over 31,000 employed in the chemical field. Presently, Bush Intercontinental Airport is the 8th biggest airport for passengers (48.5 MM in 2009.) It is the 11th biggest international hub for air cargo. It currently has 11 international carriers and 10 domestic carriers. Our city of Houston covers 600 square miles and it is a wonderful place to live.

Our first speaker was Olga Rodriguez, the Vice President of Economic Analysis for the Port of Houston. The Port of Houston is the largest shallow ship channel with 9 foot average depth and 52 miles from Houston to the Gulf of Mexico. It could be considered Houston’s largest asset, requiring constant maintenance by the Corp of Engineers. The Port of Houston offers service between Houston and over 1,000 other world ports. We have the largest petrochemical complex in the world. The port has 220 million tons of cargo passing through. The Port of Houston has 150,000 barges, 7,700 ship calls per year, and it’s the 7th largest U.S. container port. It offers 785,000 jobs related to ship channel activity. It generates $3.7 Billion in state and local taxes and $118 Billion in economic impact. The net operating income is up 42% and net income up 172%. Exports now exceed imports and sixty five percent of all major project cargo comes through Houston. The Port of Houston is an expert at moving cargo as large as a two story home. Since 1914 the port has been a powerful engine propelling growth in Houston and the port continues to improve. Six hundred twenty five million dollars in capital improvement is planned for 2010 and 2011. In 2009 there was $200MM in capital improvement projects under way. The port currently handles 70% of all the containers in the U.S. Gulf.

How does all this affect the housing market in Houston? They are projecting a population growth from 2030 to 2040 in the Houston area due to the port growth. Currently, 75% of cargo moves by truck, but expanded trade will come when rising fuel costs push more cargo to rail. They are currently exploring opportunities for freight rail corridors. As the port grows, Houston will grow. We have the room to grow in our area with land available in and around the city limits. The port is always looking for new opportunities to propel our city forward. Current exploration is being done for a freight rail district, adding another port in Galveston on Pelican Island, and pursuing cruise line opportunities. Another growth indicator for the Houston Port, and ultimately the city, is the completion of the Panama Canal expansion in 2014. Trade with Asia continues to increase and has been the fastest growing cargo for the last 10 years.

Our second speaker was Dr. Richard Wainerdi, the CEO and COO of the Texas Medical Center. He spoke about Monroe D. Anderson and the foundation that began what we know to be the world’s leading cancer center, M.D. Anderson. It is the largest and best cancer center in the world. Also part of the Texas Medical Center is Texas Children’s Hospital (largest pediatric hospital in the world where no child is turned away) and Balyor Medical Center. Today Texas Medical Center is a complex with 49 centers with 105,000 people working there. It is a city of health. When measured in square footage it is currently the 12th largest down town in the U.S. There are 22 buildings under construction and it will become the 8th largest downtown in the U.S. after completion. Houston’s healthcare is a booming business with about 95,000 employees. Healthcare added 19,700 jobs during the 2009 depression. The medical center is located on 14,000 acre and uses as much power as downtown Houston as a whole. It is located in the South Main Area along with Rice University, Reliant Stadium, 3rd Ward, Texas Southern, and University of Houston, where there are museums, Herman Park, and nice affordable housing.
Shifting gears, Dr. Wainerdi spoke about the future of healthcare now that we are facing Obamacare. In the future, less money will be coming to the providers, $100 Billion will be charged to providers, and medical practice will change. We don’t know exactly what will and won’t be covered. There are not enough doctors to go around under this new plan.

The positive news is that the new healthcare bill does increase the support for research and education and preventative medicine. Dr. Wainerdi stated that one third of the people come to the Medical Center due to self inflicting illnesses and we can get rid of this cost (examples are violence, cancers from smoking, liver damage due to drinking, not wearing seat belts, etc.) In order to prevent these self inflicting illnesses, we need more positive behavior in our society like arts, sports, space exploration, and military endurance. He made no doubt that over the next five years we will be finding a new way for our health care system.

We heard from Courtney Tardy, Director of Historic Neighborhood Resources at Greater Houston Preservation Alliance on City Preservation. She touched on the Historic Preservation Ordinance that has been a huge issue in Houston over the past few months.

During lunch Congressman Al Green spoke briefly to the Realtor Community.

After lunch we learned about city development with Beth Wolff, GHP Board Member and member of the City of Houston’s Planning Commission.

You cannot study Houston without learning about the Energy Corridor. Andy Hendricks, President of Schlumberger Drilling and Measurements spoke about the Energy Corridor. The energy corridor runs from Interstate 10 and West Houston to Downtown to Katy. Over thirty percent of U.S. jobs are in oil and gas extraction. Over thirteen percent of the U.S. jobs are in oil field services and wind energy.

Dan Bellow, the Immediate Past Chairman of the GHP and Chairman of Opportunity Houston also spoke to us. Houston is definitely not a one economy city. We have electronics, technology, engineering, software development, healthcare, oil and gas, chemicals, and much more.
We got a county update from Harris County’s Judge Ed Emmett. Houston is the third largest city in the U.S. with many constituents. He discussed that there are city finances to attend to, the jail which is the largest mental health center in Houston, Houston City Hospital System, Joint Processing System, and much more.

Overall, the day was filled with a wealth of information from speakers with diverse backgrounds that help Realtors understand where we are today, where Houston is coming from, and where Houston is going in the future. Bottom line is this – Houston is a great place to live, work, retire, and grow up. Houston offers something for everyone. There’s no depression here!