It may seem strange to suggest that a city the size of Houston, a city 6.5 million strong, could be considered a secret, but at the national level, it just may be. In fact, the Bayou City has everything one could want from a major metropolitan area, and then quite a bit more. A humming economy, top flight schools, plenty of culture and activity, a banquet of sports and athletics, acres upon acres of green spaces, and beaches just down the road – Houston ticks all of the boxes, which is why it is among the fastest growing cities in the nation.
A Capital of Commerce
Houston’s economy has long been part of the city’s larger story, and it still is. As a commercial powerhouse, the Bayou City has weathered withering economic conditions time and time again. During and following the Great Recession of the late 2000s, Houston continued to add jobs at an impressive rate and there’s no sign of the growth slowing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Houston’s job growth was double the nation’s average from July 2012 to 2013, and has doubled the jobs it lost during the Great Recession.
But what powers the Houston economy? An assortment of industries, and here’s a snapshot:
- Since the city’s founding, the oil & gas industry has been its chief asset, so much so that the classic, rugged oil derrick is practically synonymous with the city’s early years. The technology has changed, the industry has changed, but Houston still counts nearly 4,000 energy-related businesses within its borders, including 40 of the country’s publicly traded energy firms.
- Houston’s Medical Center is among the most sophisticated medical complexes in the world. It’s also the largest, with 21 hospitals, eight research facilities, three medical schools, a pair of pharmacy schools, eight academic facilities and seven nursing schools. There’s a reason why people from all over the world travel to Houston for treatment, and the Medical Center is that reason.
- There are more than 1,000 IT companies in Houston as well, and with more than 300,000 jobs in the information and technology sector, Houston is the Silicon Valley of the Southeast.
- They don’t call Houston Space City for nothing, as the legendary NASA has been integral to the city’s identity for decades. NASA still maintains its largest research and development facilities in Houston, along with its primary training and mission control facilities.
- The Port of Houston is the country’s busiest, ranking first in international imports, first in exports and a close second in total tonnage, compared to New York’s port.
- Houston is home to the third most Fortune 500 headquarters in the country, behind only New York and Chicago.
Houston is still the Energy Capital of the World, but its economy is multifaceted and thrumming.
World Class Schools for World Class Students
The economy is what draws professionals, but it’s the city’s excellent schools that draw students. Beyond its hundreds of elementary and secondary schools, Houston maintains a network of respected universities. They include:
- The University of Houston, which has served as the premier state university in the state since 1927, and annually enrolls more than 40,000 students. Its enrollment numbers have been on the rise for years, and projects to exceed 50,000 annually within 10 years, according to the school’s enrollment data.
- Rice University has been around even longer, and is both a top research school and one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. Its median undergraduate class size is 14, so students are never lost in the crowd.
- Houston is also home to several top medical schools, including the Baylor College of Medicine, which also holds the distinction of being the most affordable private medical school in the country.
- Even the community college systems are bigger in Houston as well, as the Houston Community College System is the fourth-largest in the nation.
A Center for Culture
Of course, there is more to life than just work and school, and when it’s time to take in a little culture, Houston can provide enough options for a lifetime. The Bayou City is just one of five cities in the U.S. that has permanent resident companies in all primary performing arts, which are:
- The Houston Grand Opera
- Houston Ballet
- Houston Symphony Orchestra
- Alley Theatre
All are world class organizations, but there is much more. There are thriving community and folk art centers all over the city, including multicultural and multilingual culture centers. Houston, after all, is the most diverse city in the nation, and nearly 90 languages are spoken within the city limits, confirmed by the 2010 U.S. Census.
The Houston Museum District is yet another point of pride for the city, with more than 20 museums and cultural centers offering excellent scientific, artistic and historical exhibits. Among them are the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, both of which are counted among the elite science and art museums of the world. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts dedicates more than 300,000 square feet of space for its exhibits, which number more than 63,000. By square footage, it’s one of the ten largest art museums in the country.
The Museum District welcomes millions of visitors every year (The Houston Zoo sees more than 2 million visitors alone annually) and the city’s museums also offer free days for families looking to fill up an afternoon.
An Area for Athletics
Part of the reason that Houston’s museums are so developed is because there is a real drive to improve every aspect of the city. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rapid creation of green spaces in the Bayou City. Houston already has Memorial Park, which is the largest urban park in Texas, and is set to add thousands of acres of parks and trails over the next five years. By 2020, about 2/3 of all Houstonians will live within 1 1/2 miles of greenspace, a project that ensures families and outdoor enthusiasts always have a place to meet and play. And for those that want to escape the city occasionally, Houston is an easy drive to Galveston Island, a popular destination for people seeking fun in the sun and surf.
And no metropolitan is complete without a few sports teams bringing the city pride. For Houston, it’s the Texans, Rockets, Dynamo and Astros, all of which are competitive year in and out and play in modern, beautifully designed venues. Minute Maid Park, NRG Stadium and the Toyota Center are all great places to catch a game, and offer family friendly special events and promotions.
Houston may still be a closely guarded secret for much of the country, but for the 6.5 million that wake up every day in the Bayou City, they enjoy one of the nation’s greatest cultural and commercial centers.