June 24, 2008
Good news comes in threes

When was the last time you read three simultaneously-published positive pieces about Houston in the national press? I'm thinking "never", but maybe my memory just doesn't stretch back far enough. Here they are:

Newsweek: Houston, We Have No Problems

Chicago Tribune: Houston doesn't have a problem

Washington Post: Houston's pipelines of prosperity

It's not all good - the Newsweek piece has way too much stereotyping, all three focus too much on how well luxury goods are selling, there's zero mention of Houston's many cultural amenities, and I could live a long time without needing to see the name "Halliburton" mentioned in an article like these. But it's much friendlier than what you usually see in the national media about Houston, even if it is a bit over the top. Lisa Falkenberg for one isn't quite as sanguine:

Compared with the dire reports of layoffs and foreclosures and food bank spikes in other parts of the country, Houston is a great story. Except for the few facts that keep getting in the way.

Just last week, data released by the Texas Workforce Commission indicated a slowdown in key non-energy sectors, including construction, manufacturing, retail trade, and professional and business services.

While Houston-area employers created 58,300 new jobs -- or an increase of 2.3 percent -- during the past year, that's the slowest year-over-year increase since June 2005. Initial claims for area unemployment benefits were up 12.3 percent in May compared with a year ago.

While the half of Houston's economy dependent on energy is benefiting from a comfortable energy-based cushion, the other half is vulnerable to the same forces affecting cities elsewhere.

Fuel costs were among the factors that drove Continental to cut flights and jobs -- and into an alliance with United. Another Houston-based company, AIG, the world's largest insurer, is undergoing management changes after losing billions in investments linked to risky mortgages and other debt.

The idea that Houston is floating along in a protective, petroleum-filled bubble and is immune to the economic struggles the rest of the country is facing is flawed. Or, in the words of economist Barton Smith, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston, it's "wrong, wrong wrong."

"It bothers me," he said of the overly glowing media attention.

"The bottom line is we are slowing down. We have been slowing down for almost a year," he said.

Not everyone agrees with Falkenberg's dash of cold water, but I think she has a point. Barton Smith was sounding that alarm here over the weekend. He's quoted, though not saying anything like this, in the Post article. All three pieces give some mention to other, non-rosy things about the state of our fair city, but the tone in each is positive to the point of glowing.

But on the other hand, so what? We've gotten more than our share of bad press over the years, in ways that were equally overblown. Hell, the universe still owes us one for inflicting us with The Crooked E. So if we're the beneficiary of a few puff pieces, and if they make people want to move here - assuming they can sell their current houses, of course - that's fine by me. Whatever draws people here in the first place, they usually figure out pretty quickly there are plenty of other reasons to like it here.

So check these articles out, and send the links to your non-Houstonian friends. Then send them links to things like the Art Car Parade and the Catastrophic Theater and Pride Texas and whatever else you've got to make sure they know it's more than just the jobs. Houstonist has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 24, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

I read Lisa's article, and think she is somewhat on the right track. What concerns me is the emphasis in the "positive" articles on all the high-cost, luxury stuff - as if they are really trying to stir up feelings of resentment (which would also explain the tie-in to Halliburton.) Remember also that we had a recent tie-in back to Enron (the articles about the "Enron loophole"), which might also be an attempt to arouse passions against Houston (and, by association, Big Oil.)


Posted by: EdT. on June 24, 2008 5:57 PM