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Bayou Business Download: Air Travel, Car Sales and What They Tell Us About the Economy

Published Feb 04, 2022 by A.J. Mistretta

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In this episode of Bayou Business Download, we're talking about transportation. What do the latest figures on air travel through Houston's two airports and local vehicle sales tell us about our economic recovery?  We're joined for this first discussion of 2022 by Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski.

In this episode we cover: 

  • Airport traffic's resurgence, with 40 million travelers in the first 11 months of 2021, compared with just 18 million a year earlier. 
  • What's driving the increase in air travel and what's held back a more complete recovery in traffic.
  • Why vehicle sales are a barometer of economic health 
  • How many vehicles sold in 2021 and how that compares with previous years

Bayou Business Download is presented exclusively by: 



Fifth Third Bank



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International Business Month: Intl. Air Travel Through Houston on the Rebound

Houston is the only Texas city with two international airports and one of only a handful of such cities across the country. That’s meant big business for George Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports through the years, with the two facilities and their carriers serving well over 60 international destinations in 36 countries around the world.  But the pandemic ground much of that to a halt. In January 2020, the Houston Airport System logged more than 33,000 international passengers a day. That dropped to fewer than 100 passengers a day in March and didn’t really begin to recover until late in 2020.  As a major gateway to Mexico, Houston’s airports have benefited from that country’s more lax COVID protocols that have prompted U.S. passengers to flock south of the border. As of March of this year, traffic from Houston to Mexico was up nearly 120% compared with pre-pandemic levels. However, broader long-haul traffic from Houston to destinations in Europe, East Asia and South America remains about 40% below pre-pandemic levels.  In 2021, the Houston Airport System handled 7.3 million international passengers, a major improvement from the 3.9 million who traveled through the local airports in 2020. But that was still well below the levels experienced pre-pandemic when the system handled 12 million international passengers in 2019. By March of this year, international passenger traffic was about 27% below the monthly totals in 2019 and officials expect the gap will continue to narrow in the months ahead barring a major resurgence in infections and a resumption of tighter protocols.  Anticipating continued growth, capital projects at the airports are in the works to improve the passenger experience and traffic efficiency. At Bush Intercontinental the IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program is reimagining parts of the facility, including a Terminal D renovation, construction of a new pier and a new processing facility for international departures with automated features. Parts of the redevelopment will be complete in 2023 with the remainder slated for 2024.  Over at Hobby Airport, the Houston City Council recently approved $20 million in funding that will help the airport’s largest carrier, Southwest Airlines, expand its footprint. Southwest will foot most of the $250 million cost to construct seven new gates on Hobby’s west concourse. Southwest will operate six of the gates and Hobby will be able to designate which airlines can use the seventh gate. The ambitious plan is the largest at Hobby since the completion of the international terminal in 2015. The new project is in early stages and officials say there’s no clear timeline yet for completion. Get more details on international business through Houston at a our State of Houston’s Global Economy event on May 20. You’ll also receive the Global Houston publication, which includes an analysis of international trends affecting this region and our top trade partners around the world. 
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Houston House Spotlights Tech and Innovation at SXSW

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted Houston House at SXSW, a two-day activation program led by innovation leaders and startup founders, from March 13-14. With over 630 attendees over the two days of programming, Houston House delivered a diverse set of panels discussing venture capital funding, equitable energy transition, commercial aerospace and more! If you didn’t get a chance to attend our panels, here’s a glimpse of the conversations surrounding the advancements happening in Houston. Click to expand Day 1: Sunday, March 13 Funding the Next Generation of Diverse Founders Felix Chevalier., Co-Founder, Urban Capital Network Denise Hamilton, Work Futurist and CEO, WatchHerWork Jesse Martinez, Investment Partner/Venture Partner, Resolved/ VamosVentures Houston House’s kickoff on March 13 offered a space for startups and technology to converge. The big question for startup founders is often “where do I begin?” The answer is funding. The panel discussed how founders can overcome challenges when it comes to securing funding. “For founders, you have to pack your bags and get out there, like SXSW. Walk around the street, go to free shows, or stand at the hotel lobby. The opportunity is out there to meet people to whatever your objective might be.” —Felix Chevalier, Co-Founder of Urban Capital Network “I am a solo founder and I remember I met with multiple technical co-founders, but I was told because ‘you’re a black woman you’ll never be able to raise the money.’” —Denise Hamilton, Work Futurist and CEO of WatchHerWork Despite setbacks, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed startup businesses back on track. “After the pandemic, you eliminate the geographical boundaries. I can be in Miami, in Silicon Valley, but I choose Houston for its unlimited resources and talent.” —Jesse Martinez, Investment Partner, Resolved Ventures & Venture Partner, Vamos Ventures Game Changers: The Rise of Sports Tech David Gow, CEO, Gow Media & SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. Chris Buckner, CEO, Mainline Lori Burgess, Chief Operating Officer, Beasley Esports Ashley DeWalt, Managing Director, DivInc The booming technology market has expanded to new horizons, including collegiate esports and the advancement in wearable technology. The panel discussed the growth in collegiate esports investments by Houston-based universities like University of St. Thomas and University of Houston. Historically, strong young gamers with elite teams have skipped college and gone directly to pro. “In the next 3-5 years, schools will dive into esports to attract those top-tier students and match the full rides football players are given.” —Lori Burgess, COO, Beasley Esports “Houston is a great home for entrepreneurial innovation. We have an opportunity to create a VC sports tech company that will follow up with all stages to capture and engage a sports tech capital hub.” —David Gow, CEO, Gow Media The Commercial Space Age is Here Dr. Douglas Terrier, Associate Director of Vision & Strategy, NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration R. Matt Ondler, CTO, Axiom Space Tim Crain, Chief Technology Officer, Intuitive Machines Arturo Machuca, Director, Ellington Airport and Houston Spaceport (Houston Airport System) With Houston Spaceport’s expansion and improvements, Houston will be the first major metropolitan area in the U.S. to create an environment available to private companies wishing to use a spaceport. The mission is to create a focal point for aerospace innovation with a collection of aerospace companies that will lead the U.S. to transition from government-driven to commercial-driven space programs. “When I think about the Houston Spaceport and think about the summer of 2015 when we got our license, fast-forward a couple years and now we’re building the largest space station--I can just begin to imagine what Houston will bring to the table in the next 5 years.”  -–Dr. Douglas Terrier, Associate Director for Vision and Strategy at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Medtech Transforming Healthcare Industry Joanna Nathan, Manager, New Ventures, Johnson & Johnson Center for Device Innovation James Reinstein, President & CEO, Saranas Inc. Kevin Coker, President & CEO, Proxima Clinical Research, Inc. As home to the largest medical city in the world, Houston is at the forefront of advancing life sciences. Innovation drives collaborations with medicine and cutting-edge technology leveraging resources of enterprises to develop life-saving solutions.  From microbiome engineering to antibiotic resistance, Kevin Coker, President and CEO at Proxima Clinical Research, Inc., commented that, “synthetic biology is going to make a huge difference and cost will decrease in the upcoming years as medical device technology continues to advance. 3D Systems is looking to manufacture the first human organ in East Downtown Houston, so how much more exciting can it get than that?” Accelerating Innovation in Biotech Jason Bock, VP, Biologics Development, MD Anderson Cancer Center Michael Curran, Associate Professor / Founder, MD Anderson Cancer Center / ImmunoGenesis, Inc. Larry Hope, New Ventures and Business Development, MD Anderson Cancer Center The MD Anderson Cancer Center’s panel discussed next-generation cell engineering for tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) programs. Housing the largest comprehensive cancer center in the U.S., based in Houston, MD Anderson has extensive expertise in developing and manufacturing innovative cell therapies, including groundbreaking work with TILs and setting the proper foundation for biotechnological advancements. “It is my belief that TILs are poised for a significant impact in the field of cancer therapy, and engineering improved TILs is a vital part of advancing this modality.” —Jason Bock, VP, Biologics Development, MD Anderson Cancer Center Click to expand Houston House Panelists. From left: Hossam Elbadawy, Grace Chan, Shawn Cumberland, Vidisha Prasad Day 2: Monday, March 14 Funding the Global Energy Transition Hossam Elbadawy, Managing Director & Technology Partner, SCF Partners Shawn Cumberland, Managing Partner, EnCap Energy Transition Grace Chan, Investment Associate, bp Ventures Vidisha Prasad, Managing Partner, Adya Partners Venture capital experts launched day two of Houston House. Climate change and energy 2.0 have become top priorities for companies with a focus on the hydrogen space. Experts on the panel examined how private and corporate investors continuously seek opportunities in clean technology. “Houston has great resources, including talent, infrastructure, and money, which is what puts Houston at the forefront of the energy transition.” –Grace Chan, Investment Associate at bp Ventures Dream Team: Corporates & Startups in Climatech Andrea Course, Venture Principal, Shell Ventures Dale W., Managing Director, Halliburton Labs Michael W., Senior Investment Manager, Equinor Ventures Dawn James, Director, Global Industry Strategy - Energy & Sustainability, Microsoft The panel explored the collaboration needed for success in the energy transition and voiced consensus that the foundation of corporations with the agility of startups is critical. "It’s true that it’s going to take everybody, this is the ultimate group project.” —Dawn James, Director of Global Industry Strategy - Energy & Sustainability at Microsoft “Particularly in Houston, corporations have the experience, talent, expertise, connections, and facilities that are going to be important to commercialize the technologies of the future.” —Dale Winger, Managing Director, Halliburton Labs Tech Powering the Global Energy Transition Trevor Best, CEO, Syzygy Plasmonics Moji Karimi, CEO, Cemvita Factory Inc. Federico Marques, Founder & CEO, Moonflower Farms Jane Stricker, SVP of Energy Transition and HETI Executive Director, Greater Houston Partnership With the ongoing emergence of energy transition companies in Houston, startups are tackling climate change head on. Comprised of the founders of some of the most promising tech startups, the panel discussed their input in accelerating the global energy transition. “In Houston, we’ve launched The Ion, Halliburton Labs, Greentown Labs, a pretty broad range of incubators creating an ecosystem of innovation just in the last two years that allow for this green energy transition.” —Jane Stricker, Executive Director at HETI “If you’re a climatetech VC and you’re not looking at Houston, Texas, then you’re about to miss out because things are happening in Houston.” —Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics “If I want Houston to become a bio-manufacturing hub, which I think it could be, the city has done a great amount in showing the vision and the will giving a new generation for companies to grow.” —Moji Karimi, CEO, CemvitaFactory Roadmap to an Equitable Energy Transition John Hall, President and CEO, HARC | Houston Advanced Research Center Dana Harmon, Executive Advisor, Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute Jane Stricker, SVP of Energy Transition and HETI Executive Director, Greater Houston Partnership The panel discussion allowed for an open dialogue on the disparity of the economic and human health outcomes related to climate change.  “Climate change has disproportionately affected low-to-moderate income communities the most, so how do we address the inequities? To remain the nation’s leader in energy, Texas must lean into its abundant renewable energy resources and lead the development and manufacturing of technologies that reduce and eliminate the climate and health pollution emitted by fossil fuels in commerce, industry, and vehicles.” —John Hall, President and CEO, HARC | Houston Advanced Research Center “In some of our recent data, what we’ve seen is people will, basically, self-meter energy consumption in Texas in July, August, September, and we do have evidence of heat exacerbated health effects caused by energy insecurity, so not being able to find cooling stations and things like that. There are important health implications associated with energy use, so we need to think about it holistically.” —Dana Harmon, Executive Advisor, Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute The entire Houston House at SXSW program will be available on demand soon.
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