2022 HBJ The Woodlands Means Business panel discusses industry diversity, community culture and outlook – Houston Business Journal – The Business Journals

The Woodlands keeps growing, both in population and in companies, many of which are relocating to the Howard Hughes-developed master-planned community and township 30 miles north of downtown Houston.
Founded in 1974, the community has grown to more than 114,000 residents as of the 2020 U.S. Census. Its largest industries include energy, health care and education.
For its Nov. 10 “The Woodlands Means Business” online event to discuss the township’s economy and what’s ahead, the Houston Business Journal invited four panelists representing real estate, oil and gas, health care and overall business.
Haley Garcia, broker, Haley Garcia Group, Compass Real Estate
J.J. Hollie, president & CEO, The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce
Peter Huntsman, president & CEO Huntsman Corp.
Debbie Sukin, regional senior vice president and CEO, Houston Methodist-The Woodlands Hospital
Giselle Greenwood, editor-in-chief, Houston Business Journal
What is the current real estate marketing temperature in The Woodlands and the surrounding areas right now?
Haley Garcia: If we watch the news or the local media, it might seem as though the real estate sky is falling and we’re in crisis. However, that’s really not the case in The Woodlands. We stay on top of our stats really closely. And for reference, right now at any given time within the past couple of months, The Woodlands has between 200 and 220 homes available for sale within all price ranges. And prior to the pandemic, we really stayed pretty strong, between 500 and 600 homes available at any given time. So, our limited inventory is still keeping The Woodlands market very strong and healthy. Within our region, the hyper local real estate market is very accurate and on point in our area. So, if you go to other areas in the country, they definitely are feeling more of an impact, as interest rates are on the rise. But locally and within the Houston markets, where you have the desirable pockets related to education and schools and within driving proximity to where their place of work is, they’re staying really healthy so far.
The Woodlands has attracted several new headquarters this year. Will this trend continue?
J.J. Hollie: The Woodlands has been rated for a few years in a row now as the No. 1 place to live in the entire country and I see us continuing that trend. And one thing (is that the) Class A office space market has changed with Covid. We have work-from-home, and just that whole climate has changed. But one way we see The Woodlands being different in the next decade-plus is how we diversify. Back in the ‘80s, the entire Houston region was all about oil and gas. And just last year, we saw in The Woodlands, our major employers, their percentage of employees, that health care overtook oil and gas for the first time. And I see technology and innovation being a big player as that moves along. And we’ve got great organizations like the Ion, like the Cannon, that are working to incubate innovation and incubate technology companies.  And people forget that we have the (Texas) Medical Center in Houston, but every hospital, every medical facility in the Medical Center is also represented in The Woodlands. That is going to still be a vibrant part of our community. And people forget about the Johnson Space Center. Health care and the space industry are both heavily dependent on technology. And I see that growing and changing and just helping to diversify our workforce and continue to keep our economy strong.
Houston Methodist The Woodlands opened a new tower this year. What lessons were learned building this new expansion during Covid-19?
Debbie Sukin: This was a $250 million endeavor that was well underway. We absolutely needed the additional beds for lots of different reasons. One of the things we deployed during Covid and really accelerated at Houston Methodist was our center of innovation. We really used this as our time to accelerate our innovation. And one of those was with Amazon as well as with our Alexa devices. Given that patients were unable to see their families in the same way, in ICUs and on the patient care floors, we had been working with Alexa devices in our center of innovation, and we went ahead and deployed them into all of our ICU rooms and our patient care rooms. And one of the things we began to practice with them is not only being able to do certain functions, like ordering their meal off of our typical diet-appropriate menus, that are delivered to their door without actually having to interact with someone, being able to utilize our Alexa devices to do nurse call, again without having to touch any device but use voice for those who have the ability, being able to utilize the Alexa devices for calming and really to address some of the mental health aspects, given all of the anxieties. That’s just one example. The other thing I’ll share with you that I’m really excited about – it’s been an absolute hit in our patient care tower – is we opened up what’s almost similar to an Amazon Go. It is a 24/7 on-the-go food market – just like at the airport, when you walk up, you get something and you scan it and you pay for it with your Apple Pay or your credit card – that not only our guests have access to and can use, but now our employees that work on the night shift have access to quality food. Another thing that we were really excited about was opening up our child care or child development care center here on our campus. And we were one of the first ones outside the Texas Medical Center to do that, at least for the Houston Methodist system. 
What’s your outlook for The Woodlands?
Garcia: I really think that we will (continue this real estate growth). Our education opportunities here are a big driver when families look at moving to The Woodlands. That just continues to grow. I also think that something that we don’t talk about a lot is our land scarcity in The Woodlands. As far as residential housing and new construction (goes), we are almost done. And so when a community like ours becomes filled and we have no more space to actually build new homes, our values continue to appreciate. In the past 20 years, we’ve really held strong at a solid 3% to 5% appreciation year-over-year until the past few years where we’ve taken some really big jumps. And I think that our land scarcity and our community growth, when you couple it with what might happen as far as an economic downturn and interest rates as it relates to the housing market, I really think we’re going to stay very strong and healthy, and it hasn’t slowed down so far. I have buyers call almost daily asking to invest in residential real estate in The Woodlands. So, I personally think we’re going to have a balance, and it will remain strong and things will just kind of balance out.
Peter Huntsman: As I look into the next five or 10 years, how do we really keep focused on keeping the unique community that it is and are we going to really put our resources, do we put as much behind science and languages as we do the local football programs? And do we continue to try to attract the best and the brightest, not just the gaudiest and the richest? I think those are going to be some of our challenges, and at the same time, they’re really going to be some of our opportunities, because this isn’t about how many homes we can cram into the area, it’s really got to be about what’s the quality of life? And how do we provide that quality of life across multiple income (levels) and across a diverse population. 
Hollie: As we go forward, I think the biggest issue that we’re focused on, if I had to choose just one, it would be water. (If) we don’t have water, we don’t have anything else. And I’m talking about droughts (and) I’m talking about floods. We have to look at how we handle surface spot water versus groundwater. Groundwater is the aquifer that’s below the ground, that we drill down and we pull out, that we are careful not to pull out too much water because that causes the aquifer to compact and it causes subsidence. It lowers our ground level, and it increases the propensity to flood, which is a huge concern for us. We have to be smart about what we do about our aquifer, and about how we guarantee and obtain surplus water rise from Lake Conroe, from Lake Livingstone, from other places like that. Because, frankly, if we don’t have water, we don’t have great corporations like Huntsman. We don’t have a great medical community with hospitals like Methodist. Haley would not have homes to sell because people would not buy them. So that’s one of the big things we’re focusing on as a chamber: How are we going to handle water? How are we going to make sure we have it and not only the next 10 to 15 years, but 50, 80 and 100 years? Because it’s really a foundational issue for all of us.
This recap has been edited for length and clarity. 
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