How Houston Beat the Oil Bust

By Steven Shapiro

Houston will surprise you. The city has been referred to as a modern day Ellis Island, where more than 145 languages are spoken. The sprawling metropolis known for traffic and Tex-Mex is also home to next year’s Super Bowl and has one of the most diverse populations in the nation. Its economy is thriving despite a decline in oil prices, which once crippled the city.

In the early ’80s, Houston was riding high on oil. In 1980, 82 percent of all the jobs in the city were tied to the oil business. When the bottom fell out, Houston’s economy took a major hit.

“We paid a huge price,” says Houston’s newly elected mayor, Sylvester Turner.

Today, despite another oil downturn, Houston is much better positioned to ride out the storm.

“We learned our lesson,” says longtime Houston Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman.

“We have diversified our culture, our industries, our economy. We’re past the oil economy dependence.”

Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric headed to the Bayou City for the latest stop in her series “Cities Rising: Rebuilding America” and took a close look at the industries that are driving the city today.

The Texas Medical Center alone accounts for 106,000 of the city’s jobs. The largest medical facility on the planet is also home to the country’s top cancer hospital, MD Anderson, which is using cutting-edge treatment known as immunotherapy.

“Immunotherapy is really changing the way we treat cancer patients across the board,” Dr. John Heymach, chairman of the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology at MD Anderson, told Couric.

Kami Steele, a 44-year-old melanoma patient, told Couric she’s confident in the care she’s receiving. “This is truly a place of hope and healing,” she said. “It’s an amazing place.”

Houstonians also take a great deal of pride in their diversity.

“You can find different languages, different types of people, different colors, different sizes,” says Ammi Arevalo, a Houston resident and volunteer at the nonprofit Neighborhood Centers, an organization that assists the city’s low-income, primarily immigrant population with education, job training and financial services. Arevalo picked up the required skills to open her own cafe.

“You’re getting a seat at the table because you’re working hard and contributing something,” says Angela Blanchard, the president and CEO of Neighborhood Centers.

One of Houston’s best-known chefs, Chris Shepherd, owner and executive chef of Underbelly, told Couric the city’s diversity makes his job easy

“We can highlight all these different cultures through our food.”

Shepherd tells his customers to visit other area restaurants before returning to Underbelly because “that’s Houston,” he says.

“Everybody works together really well here. I want everybody in this city to succeed.”