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Mayor Turner Addresses COVID Response, Resiliency and More in 2020 State of the City

Published Oct 22, 2020 by A.J. Mistretta

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner discussed the City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic concerns and efforts to grow the next generation of local companies in his 2020 State of the City address.  

“As we move forward through these unprecedented times, the City’s foundation is strong; the City itself is resilient; and the City’s future is bright,” Mayor Turner said. 

The Mayor delivered his fifth State of the City address, hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership, on October 22. He said while each of those speeches has been special in different ways, “this one, during an unprecedented year, is significant while we are in the midst of a global pandemic, social and civil unrest, economic instability and a highly charged election season.”

The city has battled the COVID-19 pandemic on several fronts over the last seven months, from leveraging new public health resources to developing small business assistance programs. Mayor Turner praised the Houston Health Department for leading “one of the most remarkable responses to the pandemic in the country.” The department has established numerous free testing sites and hired more than 300 contact tracers to help stop the virus’ spread.  

In April, Mayor Turner tapped former Shell Energy CEO Marvin Odum to lead Houston’s COVID Response and Recovery. That same month he launched the Houston Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force to provide resources and education to the city’s vulnerable and at-risk populations. 

So far, the Mayor said, the task force has: 

  • Distributed 1.3 million masks
  • Made more than 4,000 food and supply deliveries
  • Created the successful Mask Up! Campaign
  • Hosted several virtual town halls to provide support and resources to those facing mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic

The City of Houston also created a rental assistance program for residents and established a $20 million fund for grants to small businesses.

Addressing the convention and meetings business that contributes considerably to the local hospitality industry and helps fund city promotion, Turner said nearly 200 conferences and conventions have been cancelled or rescheduled since March—a $332 million economic hit. Houston First Corporation, the agency charged with booking conventions and marketing the city as a destination, has managed to rebook 23 out of the 24 citywide conventions that were planned during the period for future dates. 

“This was a critical and proactive response that will provide economic resiliency in the years to come, yet the impact for 2020 and into 2021 will be significant for our hospitality community,” the Mayor said. 

In February, the City launched Resilient Houston, a framework for how Houston should address future challenges and sudden shocks, from transportation infrastructure to natural disasters. Two months later, the city unveiled its first ever Climate Action Plan with a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. The Mayor said more than 5,200 individuals participated in the inaugural Climate Action Week to help kick off implementation of that plan. These efforts followed the late-2019 launch of Evolve Houston, a public/private partnership with NRG, Shell, CenterPoint, the University of Houston and Houston Sustainability Office to accelerate electrification of private and commercial fleet vehicles in the city. 

Mayor Turner said that this year the City received its latest hazard mitigation grant from Federal Emergency Management Agency to help combat flooding. It’s the fourth and final grant the City sought to complete large scale flood mitigation projects in the most vulnerable areas. 

Turning to efforts to grow Houston’s technology and innovation ecosystem, Mayor Turner pointed to several announcements this year that have positioned the City to increase entrepreneurship and digital skills. 

  • In September, the Rice Alliance announced the creation of a new clean energy accelerator to help create a new generation of young entrepreneurs focused on our energy future. 
  • In June, Greentown Labs, the nation’s largest climatech incubator out of the Boston area, announced plans to open a Houston incubator next year in the 16-acre Midtown Innovation District. The 40,000-square-foot Greentown Houston will have space for up to 50 emerging companies. They announced Greentown Houston's inaugural members in October. 
  • The City has also expanded its digital alliance with Microsoft through the tech company’s Accelerate program. The program is designed to address economic recovery through skilling both underserved communities and re-skilling the many Americans impacted by COVID-19.

“Houston is a City that continues to transform, to innovate and to be an example for the rest of the country on how to be diverse, welcoming and inclusive,” Mayor Turner said. “As we gradually take steps to reopen, we recognize that the full recovery will take several years, but when we work together, we put ourselves in the best position to manage the virus and rebound from it.”

In opening the event, Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey said 2020 has proven to be among the most difficult years in Houston’s history. "The COVID-19 pandemic, the fall of the oil markets, renewed alarm over racial injustice—these issues and others have presented considerable challenges for our city and others around the country,” Harvey said. “But time and again, I’m amazed by the resiliency and perseverance of Houstonians to rise to the challenge.  Throughout these last seven months, Houston has shown the world what it’s made of—working to fix broken systems, growing new industry sectors, and creating a better quality of life for all who call this place home.” 

The Mayor addressed other issues including racial justice, homelessness, mental health and street infrastructure in his speech. Watch the full presentation on this page when it's posted later this week. 

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Regions and Neighborhoods: Historic Town of Dayton Poised to See Growth with Opening of Grand Parkway

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The recent completion of northeast segments of the Grand Parkway is spurring economic development in cities surrounding Houston. One of those cities is Dayton, located in southwest Liberty County just 30 miles east of downtown Houston. The historic small town is poised to accommodate growth overflowing from Harris County. By 2035, the population is expected to be 131,000 people in Liberty County. In 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a population of 91,628. Dayton offers people a slower-paced lifestyle and access to outdoor recreational activities. The Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge is a short drive from the city, offering hiking trails, kayaking, boating, fishing and more. Located along Highway 90 and accessible by road and rail, the opening of the Grand Parkway is a gamechanger for the rural area now more easily connected to the greater Houston region. The Partnership spoke with the Dayton Community Development Corporation to discuss what’s on the horizon. What are some unique characteristics that really set this area apart?   The community of Dayton is full of history and charm. Dayton offers the slower pace of a small community, with every amenity available nearby in the country’s fourth largest city, offering a quality of life not easily found in suburbia.  Describe the business community in Dayton. What are some of the most active industry areas?  Dayton has a strong manufacturing sector, but we are seeing growth in the retail sector as well. With the completion of 99 (Grand Parkway), several new developments coming to the area, and access to several major highways and rail services, Dayton is the prime site for both large and small industries.  What does the recent completion of the Grand Parkway mean for the Dayton area? The completion of the Grand Parkway means growth for Dayton! With drive times faster than ever to larger cities, Dayton is becoming a hotspot for development. Our residents and businesses now have easier access to any resource they need.   Are there any other exciting things on the horizon for Dayton?  We have some exciting things coming together in Dayton. We have several new restaurants, including a coffee shop, Wendy’s and Shipley’s along Hwy 90. With new developments, we also have several of our existing businesses expanding. McCoy’s Building Supply is expanding their store off SH 146 to include a distribution center, and Sumiden Wire is expanding their plant as well. We are also seeing an increase in residential developments. We currently have the Village of Westpointe subdivision off Hwy 90 and Waco St. and have several other large residential developments in the works off SH 321, SH 146, and FM 1960.  What attracts most businesses to relocate or expand in Dayton?  Dayton’s quality of life and accessibility set us apart. All roads (and railways) lead to Dayton. Four highways converge in Dayton: US Hwy 90, SH 146, SH 321, and FM 1960, and access is easier than ever with the completion of the Grand Parkway passing through the western portion of Dayton. Union Pacific has recently expanded its rail car capacity by adding 280 acres of storage space. With two major rail-served industrial parks adding over 1,300 acres of land for industrial growth, Dayton is firmly positioned as a logistics and transportation center, which means jobs and economic stability.  What are 4-5 signature spots to visit? Any hidden gems people need to know about?  Downtown Dayton comes alive at The Crossroads Plaza for lunchtime every Friday where a variety of food trucks gather. The Crossroads Plaza is also home to our monthly farmers market and other community events.  Take a #DaytripDayton and visit several murals in the heart of Dayton. We currently have 3 murals featuring the history of Dayton and the scenery of Texas wildflowers showcased in our downtown area.  Take a stroll around the Dayton Community Center grounds and visit the Love Locks Fence! This Paris tradition has made its way to Dayton, Texas. Bring a lock and a loved one to add your own little piece of history.  Visit our stars. Take a scenic drive around our small town to visit all 39 of our hand-painted stars. Whether it’s a large organization or an individual wanting to show support, our stars are spread throughout our community as a show of Dayton pride. What’s missing from the conversation about Dayton? While Dayton is still a small city, we are leaps and bounds from where we were just a few short years ago. With unprecedented growth coming into the area, we are seeing a boom in residential developments and commercial alike. With that, our community is still dedicated to fostering a small-town feel. We are excited about the growth coming our way and to see what the future holds for our community.     
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