Newsflash

Economy on Rise

houskylineWhile the Federal Reserve's survey of economic conditions released on January 5 revealed some positive signs that the rest of the country is pulling out of the recession, local economic experts say Houston was already on the road to recovery months ago. The Fed’s report included optimistic highlights, such as an anticipated increase in hiring in 2011, along with better-than-expected holiday sales figures, a boost in U.S. factories’ production, a growing demand for automobiles and high-tech equipment.

The Fed's report also indicates U.S. businesses no longer fear a double-dip in the recession, as opposed to how they responded to surveys conducted over the summer. 

“Houston started to see improvement in the economy as far back as the late spring and early summer of 2009,” said Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership. “Some of the indicators were the Purchasing Manager’s Index, which started to improve in March; the rig count started to improve in June; airport passenger traffic began to rise in August; and automobile sales started to  improve in December.”

New jobs expected
Nationally, a fourth-quarter poll of companies by the National Association for Business Economics brought good news on hiring, reported in late January. Of 84 companies surveyed,  half reported that they expected to increase jobs in the next six months. That figure is up from less than a third in the first quarter of 2010. The GHP’s 2011 Employment Forecast suggests the region will add 23,300 private sector jobs in 2011, but the improvement will be tempered by the loss of 5,100 public sector jobs, for a net gain of 18,200 jobs. The numbers have been improving for a year.

“We did not see real improvement in the job numbers until February 2010,” Jankowski says. “The low point in employment in the Houston region was January 2010. Starting in February, it began trending up.”

“We’ve added more jobs over the last 12 months than we have previously. We are at a higher level of employment than we were last year,” Jankowski says. “Throughout the recession, there were two sectors that never lost jobs: one is oil and gas exploration and the other is health care. From the peak to the trough, through the worst part of the recession, the Houston economy actually added about 2,000 jobs in oil and gas exploration. If you look at health care, we actually added about 21,000 jobs.” 

Holiday retail sales up
While the rest of the country's retailers reported strong holiday sales, Jankowski is cautious about evaluating how the local market fared until the Comptroller's official report is released, and those numbers are typically nine months behind, he says. However, a fairly accurate indicator is sales tax collections, which were up 13 percent in Houston in November 2010, and that stat suggests holiday shoppers were not afraid to open their pocketbooks this past season. “That's still down from November 2008,” he adds. “In Sugar Land for the same period, they were up 5.6 percent and 7.6 percent in Pearland. 

Real Estate
After six months of declining sales, the Houston residential real estate market also closed 2010 with signs of improvement, according to the Houston Association of Realtors. Prices of single-family homes continued to rise and positive sales activity was recorded in three of the five segments of the housing market, with the $150,000 to $250,000 segment experiencing its first growth since last May. The average price of a single-family home edged up 2.2 percent from December 2009 to $221,613,  while the December 2010 single-family home median price rose 4.0 percent from one year earlier to $157,500. Foreclosure property sales reported in the Multiple Listing Service declined 14.3 percent in December compared to one year earlier. The multi-family housing market also has a very optimistic outlook, according to Holly Minter, executive vice president in CBRE’s Capital Markets Debt and Equity Finance Group.

“Apartments seem to be leading the recovery here in Houston,”  said Minter. “The year 2010 ended up being a really good one  for multi-family housing.”

Demand for new apartments is really high right now, especially with the anticipation of job growth, she said. Only 2,000 new units are expected to be delivered in 2011 and 2012, and CBRE's research indicates that as many as 50,000 new jobs may be created. Estimating that one apartment is leased for every four jobs created, there will be a demand for at least 10,000 units, Minter said. CBRE’s reports on commercial real estate indicate levels of new construction remain low, but predict build-to-suit activity may increase in 2011 as companies address expansions or upgrades. The overall vacancy rate of commercial space dipped slightly in the fourth quarter of 2010, to 6.5 percent compared to 6.7 percent in the third quarter. 

Optimism and Work Ethic
“There’s nothing structurally wrong with Houston’s economy,” says Jankowski. “We don’t have to reinvent our business model. We know how to find and produce energy. We know how to build refineries and chemical plants and roads and bridges. We know how to handle international trade. All we need is for the economy to start growing again.” 

And, as signs are now pointing toward that growth in 2011. Meanwhile, although  no one can draw a conclusive line between Houston's ability to rise above the recession and the innate optimism and strong work ethic of its population, statistical evidence confirms the latter in Rice University’s annual Houston Area Survey for 2010. 

“We do the survey in February of each year, and so last February, things were not so good,”  says Dr. Stephen Klineberg. “There were no great signs of economic recovery around the country. There was growing economic anxiety.” Still, the response to one question on the survey stands out. “The fundamental ideological question says, ‘If you work hard in this city, eventually you will succeed,’” Klineberg explains.

An astonishing 87 percent of respondents agreed with that statement. 

“It does reflect a kind of a can-do spirit,” Klineberg says.

Ask the same question of the rest of the nation and the response is typically about 50 or 60 percent agreement, says Jankowski. “One reason people come here is they know that if they work hard, it will pay off. It sounds kind of corny, but in a way, the American dream still exists in Houston.” 

TIRR improving lives

ZW2L7533Shortly after the tragedy in Tucson, eyes turned to Houston at the news U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords would be completing rehabilitation at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research Memorial Hermann.

TIRR has long been recognized as one of the nation’s leading rehabilitation hospitals. TIRR is one of only six hospitals in the country to be designated as a Model System by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research for its Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Programs. The 119-bed facility serves as a teaching hospital for Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Medical School. 

A range of disabilities are treated at TIRR, including brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple trauma and amputation, and offers rehabilitative care for people dealing with a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Since 1959, TIRR has “changed lives by improving outcomes, offering hope and maximizing independence for those impacted by disabling injury or illness.”

Brain injuries can occur as a result of trauma, as in Rep. Giffords’ case, a tumor, disease or stroke. Dr. Gerard Francisco, Chief Medical Officer at TIRR and a member of Rep. Giffords’ treatment team, notes that each part of the brain is responsible for a particular ability, such as moving, thinking, speaking or swallowing. Survivors of these injuries suffer impairments of speech, sight or movement because the areas of the brain that control these functions have been damaged. Dr. Francisco says many of the patients at TIRR have a combination of impairments because multiple areas of the brain have been affected by trauma. 

Once admitted, patients are assigned a treatment team of doctors, nurses and therapists who works together – each individual therapy session facilitates the goals of the other therapists. It is a concerted effort between the various therapists; comprehensive interdisciplinary care is the standard at TIRR. Patients have various sessions each day.

The physical therapist works with the legs. An occupational therapist is charged with the needs of the upper limbs are met and working with patients on activities of daily living — brushing teeth, dressing, combing hair and showering. Speech pathologists are in charge of assessing and treating problems with swallowing and speaking. Other therapists support these, including music therapists, neuropsychologists and recreation specialists.  

Dr. Francisco elaborates with the example of music therapy.

“The music therapist might work with a speech therapist in helping the patient speak better. Even though the speech center of the brain is on the left side, the right side of the brain, which responds quite well to music, can be stimulated by music and help with recovery of the part damaged on the left side,” he said.

Dr. Karen Hirschi, professor of pediatrics and molecular and cellular biology at Baylor College     of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the NIH Quantum Project, a collaborative effort of scientists at Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine and several United Kingdom institutions aimed at researching regenerative medicine for brain trauma. 

“We are trying to develop strategies to promote parallel regeneration of blood vessels and nerves, which are needed for functional repair of the brain,” she said. “If you can regenerate these, you can perhaps restore functional deficits that happen when tissue is lost.” 

In the rat model, the research team has been able, through cell therapy and bioengineering strategies, to regenerate the tissue in fluid-filled cavities of the brain that result when part of the brain dies and withers after stroke. Dr. Hirschi says the success of these findings in human subjects would possibly restore function that had been lost by injury and improve a patient’s quality of life. Each patient is unique and, based on the injuries, care needs will be different, and his treatment program customized specifically for him.

The average hospital stay for brain injury patients is between one to six weeks, depending on needs. TIRR also trains family members and caregivers so when patients go home, they will be able to carry out the rehabilitation program started at the hospital. 

“Rehab doesn’t stop once the patient has been discharged from the hospital,” Dr. Francisco said. “Rehab is a long-term process, and any hospital stay is just one phase of that process.”

Football player Kevin Everett received treatment after suffering a spinal cord injury in 2007. Paralyzed from the neck down when he arrived at TIRR, he can now walk.

Representative Giffords’ family chose a rehabilitation facility that would provide her the best rehabilitative care for her injuries. Members can rest assured knowing her care is in the hands of some of the world’s leading rehabilitation medicine physicians. 

TIRR also offers a child/adolescent rehabilitation program, specialized treatments, including a wheelchair seating and mobility program, a physician and specialty clinic and an outpatient facility.

For admission information, call 713-797-5942 or go online to www.tirr.org.

Jane Cizik Garden Place

jane_cizikThe Women’s Home dedicated its newest facility, The Jane Cizik Garden Place, on January 13. The 87-unit, sober living apartment community is located in Spring Branch and serves women who live alone on a modest income. While The Women’s Home has provided temporary housing to women in crisis since 1957, The Jane Cizik Garden Place has extended the reach of the agency to include permanent housing for women who have completed the program.

Among the numerous attendees at the dedication were Mayor Annise Parker, City Council Member Brenda Stardig and the facility’s namesake, Jane Cizik. 

Cizik has been a volunteer at The Women’s Home for over 35 years. She began in the 1970s by teaching the women in the center how to sew. Soon thereafter, she was asked to become a board member, and began taking on more responsibilities. In the 1980s, she was the chairman of one of the home’s first capital campaigns. She served three years as board president and currently sits on the advisory board.

During the capital campaign for the Garden Place, Cizik’s husband, Robert, saw the opportunity to honor his wife’s long-time dedication to The Women’s Home. 

Cizik said, “One of the giving opportunities during the capital campaign was for the naming of the building. My husband was the one said, ‘Why don’t we do this? You have spent so much of your time and lifeblood with this home, it would be appropriate to have a part of it named after you.’ My jaw dropped and then I said, ‘Well, that would be lovely.’

”When Cizik spoke at the dedication, she said the feeling of  seeing her name on the building when she got out of her car was indescribable. During her short speech, she expressed her pride for the place and the agency. 

Later, she said, “I’m so proud of everyone at The Women’s Home for staying true to what they do best, to their mission. It just makes my heart warm to see that it has continued all these years with the same focus; and they haven’t spread themselves too thin to make the Home less effective. The Women’s Home is truly a gem in our community.”

Community is the cornerstone of the agency and the new facility. Most of the $11.1 million raised for the Garden Place was donated by private citizens like the Ciziks. However, Houston contributed $2 million, and Harris County gave another $1 million. 

In her remarks during the dedication, Mayor Parker emphasized that representatives from The Women’s Home went about the project for the new building in the right way to become a member of the Spring Branch community. Before they even broke ground, they had meetings with the neighbors, worked through their fears, addressed their concerns and showed them what was coming.

The result is a three story, gated community built around a large garden courtyard. The courtyard features a zen path, benches, topiary, sculptures, a fountain, and a patio with tables and chairs. The exterior of the building complements the gardens and mimics the sky with its pale blue and yellow paint.

In addition to the patio and gardens, the facility has a large common room, meditation room, computer lab, exercise room and laundry facilities. The single occupancy apartments range in size from 550 to 650 square feet. They feature major appliances, ceiling fans, mini-blinds, hardwood-like flooring and large walk-in closets. The rooms are all non-smoking, but residents are permitted to smoke in a large, screened gazebo in the courtyard. The building is also in the process of being Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified.

Though guests are required to sign in at the front desk, residents maintain their autonomy by freely entering and exiting through side gates around the property. The facility has around the clock monitoring and an on-site manager. Enrichment programs and other services are implemented. 

The goal of The Jane Cizik Garden Place is to serve as a model for supportive housing throughout the U.S. The Women’s Home has purchased the lot next door and plans to expand the facility, possibly to include family housing.To learn more, visit www.thewomenshome.org. 

Duvall to appear at benefit

Robert_DuvallHoustonians will be saddling up February 23 and riding on over to the Hilton Americas Hotel for an evening featuring a live interview with legendary actor Robert Duvall, celebrating the Texas epic mini-series Lonesome Dove and benefiting Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Festivities begin at 6:15 p.m. and continue on until 9:30 p.m.

The Academy Award, Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner will take the stage to share memories of his role as character Augustus “Gus” McCrae, in a live interview conducted by Bob Schieffer, moderator of Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer and former anchor of the CBS Evening News. 

Houston philanthropists Lester and Sue Smith will chair the seventh annual Evening with a Legend dinner, presented by Wells Fargo.

The Lester and Sue Smith Foundation will generously match every dollar raised at the event, which benefits pediatric genomic cancer research conducted at Texas Children’s Cancer Center, the Number 1 pediatric cancer center in Texas as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.Guests will hear personal stories from Duvall and relive the epic story of two former Texas rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana. Duvall has stated in several forums, including on CBS Sunday Morning, that his role as Augustus “Gus” McCrae was his personal favorite.

All proceeds from An Evening with a Legend benefit research at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Children come to the cancer center from across the nation and around the world for state-of-the art treatments, many of which are unavailable elsewhere.

To learn more about Texas Children’s Cancer Center, visit www.txccc.org.For more information about An Evening with a Legend, visit www.texaschildrens.org/legend. To reserve a table, please call Jayne Dumolt at 832-824-6818. Tables start at $3000; individual tickets are $300 each.

Stuck on Sticky Notes

StickyNotes2People often ask: Where do you get ideas for your columns? Well, this one came to me during the cool down after my step class. In between calling out commands to stretch our calf muscles, our young instructor, Sabra, lamented that she’s starting to forget things. 

“I’m now dependent on sticky notes to keep my life in order,” she groaned as we relaxed the biceps in our upper arms.

She feared her gray matter was having too many gray moments.  

Nervous laughter swept through the class of 20, all over the age of 30-something. In between exhales, I smiled and gave her a knowing nod. I’ve survived for years thanks to sticky notes, to-do lists and e-mail reminders. My motto: The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory. 

I’ve made peace with having to write everything down. In fact, I had to write down the idea for this column as soon as I got home from class, or I would have forgotten it. Many in my circle of girlfriends share this malady. We’ve discovered as life gets busier, it’s harder and harder to remember simple things. We rack our brains to recall the name of an actor we saw in a movie last night. Wonder if we left the milk on the counter. We forget where we put car keys, cell phones and, sometimes for a moment or two, even our kids. 

I used to fret about losing my memory, but I don’t any more. With age-earned wisdom, I liken sporadic forgetfulness to a baseball catcher’s overload. With a job, a husband, kids, dogs and a book club, there are simply too many balls to snatch. The less urgent stuff – buying stamps, taking out the trash or fertilizing the roses — occasionally drops out of my mitt. That’s not a sign dementia is my next stop on the train ride of life. 

There’s no shame in relying on a system — even if it’s made up of colorful scraps of paper — to help you remember to turn off the flatiron or pick up poster board at the drug store. There are lots of mornings I jot down a to-do list before I’ve gotten out of bed. I stash a pad and pencil in my nightstand drawer for that reason. Random notes to remind me to: e-mail Cathy about a book I just finished, figure out what movie theaters are near Houston before I buy a gift card for my nephew or pull the pot roast out of the freezer so we can eat before eight tonight.

So, what if I can’t remember the name of Dan Brown’s newest book (The Lost Symbol) or the collective term for a group of turtles (a dole). I’ve already apologized to my teammates for our third place finish in last month’s trivia challenge. I should have remembered the book title. I don’t think I ever knew the turtle term, though.

For decades my head’s CPU has been bombarded with information. My computer-like brain is always on the job, processing data gathered from my thousands of days on this earth. When I was 12, it was so much easier. I barely had a decade of life under my belt. Twelve years of fact and fiction to keep straight. Maybe three contemporary U.S. Presidents and four Beatles to remember. There was lots of room in my head to memorize state capitals, multiplication tables and words for a spelling test. Homework was my brainteaser.

If there was something important I needed to do, my Mom reminded me. Back then I had maybe 50 people in my life, including schoolmates, aunts, uncles and TV characters. Nowadays, more folks than that follow me on Twitter. 

As the years pile up, so does the minutia. Names, places, computer programs, all vying for a spot in the mind’s filing cabinet. It’s an ongoing battle to determine what’s worth remembering, what can be retrieved by a Google search and what to delete from your cerebral hard drive. No one keeps track of everything. And why would we want to when there are notepads, calendars and other memory-saving shortcuts at our beck-and-call? 

More power to those of us who’ve joyfully embraced our yellow and pink sticky notes as a white flag of surrender. We fight back by keeping our minds sharp and our pencils sharper. There was one more thing I was going to add, but I forgot what it was. Guess I should have written it down.

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