Regions and Neighborhoods: Fortifying a Resilient Economy with Trade, Tourism and Tech in Galveston
Ranked as one of the best places for young professionals to live in 2020, Galveston is home to a major academic health sciences center and is a significant trade hub for the region.Â Located just 50 miles southeast of Houston, the historic beach townâs economy is driven by a diverse range of industries, from tourism and education to health care. Galveston welcomes more than 20,000 commuters each day, as well as millions of visitors and tourists each year. We chatted with Jeffrey Sjostrom, President of the Galveston Economic Development Partnership, about the islandâs economic prosperity and ongoing development.Â
How does Galveston contribute to the fabric of the greater Houston region?
Galveston Island is a coastal barrier island that provides the first line of defense from coastal storms impacting our region. Our largest employer, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), is home to the Galveston National Laboratory, one of only two in the country dedicated to biodefense and bioterrorism. The Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG) is one of only six federal maritime training academies in the United States. The Port of Galveston is Texasâ premiere cruise port terminal;Â our robust tourism industry welcomes over 7 million visitors per year, and growing, onto the Island. These and a host of other historic, natural and human resources contribute to the overall strength and diversity of this dynamic region.
What are some unique characteristics that really set this area apart?
Within 30 to 45 minutes of downtown Houston, Galveston is strategically positioned as an intermodal transportation hub for rail, water, air and road assets. Galveston Island has seen an economic resurgence fueled by investments in parks, neighborhoods and infrastructure. Historically, Galveston has always been a city of "firsts."Â Innovation and entrepreneurship are at the very core of Galvestonâs resiliency that continues to be displayed through the years.
Describe the business community in Galveston. What are some of the most active industry areas?
Maritime, tourism and education/health care industries drive Galvestonâs economy. These industries, coupled with a very strong financial/insurance sector, as well as a concentration of small businesses, yield positive economic momentum driving Galveston forward. Galveston County has a robust economy that is enhanced through emerging technologies in aerospace, petrochemical assets, biotech and life sciences, as well as maritime, marine, resiliency and environmental initiatives. These have resulted in approximately 50 emerging tech companies across the county and the growth of an emerging technology ecosystem.
What attracts most businesses to relocate or expand in Galveston? Â
Location, quality of life, accessibility for telecommuting, historic and natural resources, proximity to Houston and regional connectivity. In addition to these characteristics, Galveston is a city that has a base population of approximately 50,000 residents, but is a community that operates with a daily population center of 75,000 to 100,000 people. Galvestonâs base population is expanded with daily commuters who work on the islandâalmost 40,000 jobsâown second homes on the west end, are college students attending UTMB, TAMUG and Galveston College, or are one of the 7 million visitors per year.Â
Whatâs been the biggest recent change that has propelled the efforts of the Galveston Economic Development Partnership? Â
The mission of the GEDP remains focused on growing Galvestonâs employment and tax bases. Most recently, UTMB enhanced its relationship with the GEDP through the UTMB Customs House Emerging Technology Incubator. Significant initiatives are underway collaboratively between UTMB, the GEDP and beyond. Locally, and regionally, Galveston City and County are driving toward a new level of awareness and activity in the emerging technology sectors. Â
How has Galveston worked to meet the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic? Â Â
Collaboratively, proactively and with purpose. Â As a result of prior events, Galveston is blessed with an educated and prepared framework for confronting natural disasters and catastrophic events. Â
In March of last year, Galvestonâs community banks came together to relaunch their model business recovery loan program, created after Hurricane Ike in 2008, to make financial resources available to Galveston and Galveston County businesses. When the SBA unveiled the EIDL and PPP loan programs, our lenders rose to the challenge and extended their services throughout the business community.
The City, Galveston Island Park Board, the Port of Galveston, Scholes International Airport at Galveston and our educational partners and others immediately went to work on contingency plans and concentrations on growing out from the pandemic. Â
UTMB continues to play an exemplary role in serving Texans duringÂ this time. Consistent and trustworthy messaging increased our areasâ confidence throughout this pandemic. UTMB managed students, patients, researchers, faculty and the general public in an unprecedented way. Their excellence was on full display and their value to our entire region cannot be over-emphasized.
What are 4 to 5 signature spots to visit? Any hidden gems people need to know about?Â
Signature spots consist of our beaches, the Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center, attractions, the golf course, Pleasure Pier, the cultural arts scene, events, festivals, restaurants, Downtownâs Strand area and more.
Some of our hidden gems are the Penguin Encounter at Moody Gardens, the worldâs tallest water coaster at Schlitterbahn Park, touring the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa and the dolphin tours.Â
Whatâs the most exciting thing on the horizon for Galveston right now?
The return of cruise ships, events and festivals, a new âNational Security Multi-Mission Vesselâ (NSMV) for the cadets of the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, the return of the historic rail trolleys and beach nourishment projects.
Whatâs missing from the conversation about Galveston?
As quoted by our Mayor, Dr. Craig Brown, and the Chair of the GEDP, Mr. Keith Bassett: âGalveston continues to exemplify a resilient community that is positioned to grow out of this pandemic with boundless opportunities ahead!â
Learn more about Galveston and explore the greater Houston area.