Good for Business

A multibillion-dollar oil industry and fast-growing sectors such as biotechnology and healthcare are among the forces driving economic growth in Houston — the city ranked No. 1 on BLACK ENTERPRISE’s 2001 “Top 10 Cities for African Americans to Live, Work, and Play.”

“The entrepreneurial spirit in Houston is alive and well,” says Rachel Graham. A former aide to Mayor Bill White’s deputy chief of staff, Graham is now marketing director for tbk Holdings Inc., which owns the breakfast klub and Reggae Hut restaurants.

According to the Small Business Administration, more than 76,000 small businesses in the Houston area employ about one in four area workers and represent a payroll of approximately $20.2 billion.

With 60 degree-granting local universities, colleges, technical schools, and institutes, the Houston area boasts a well-trained workforce. In 2005, Popular Science magazine ranked the city second in the nation in use of technology in education.

Business and housing costs are 11% and 26% below the national average, respectively, making the city a magnet for a number of corporate giants headquartered here including Continental Airlines, ConocoPhilips, Marathon Oil, and Waste Management Inc.

Arts and culture also thrive in this city, says Graham, a member of Houston’s African-American Cultural Marketing Initiative. The city’s nearly 13,000 theater seats are second in number only to New York City’s. The Ensemble Theatre, the country’s largest African American-owned theater company, is in Houston, as is the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum. Graham says, wryly, “It’s not just cows and the oil industry.”

Here are her recommendations for the city’s slickest highlights:
1 Hotel Icon (220 Main St.; 866-320-8574; offers upscale accommodations, including what Graham describes as “the sexiest bathrooms in the city.” The hotel’s bar serves top-drawer libations such as Louis XIII Cognac for $200 a shot.
The Magnolia Hotel Houston (1100 Texas Ave.; 888-915-1110; is small and intimate, with a ballroom adjacent to a split-level lobby.

Chef Mark Cox of Mark’s American Cuisine (1658 Westheimer Road; 713-523-3800) creates authentically inspired international dishes with American touches. Available for private parties, the restaurant offers more than 250 wine selections.
For live jazz and blues in a chic setting, visit The Mercury Room/Boaka Bar (1008 Prairie St.; 713-225-6372). “It’s a great place to stargaze. The Boaka Bar has a gothic, Russian castle feel, while the Mercury Room is more fashion forward.”

2 Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (5216 Montrose; 713-284-8250; is a forum for international, national, and regional artwork as well as exhibitions, lectures, and educational programs.
Project Row House (2500 Holman; 713-526-7662; features 10 shotgun houses renovated as vibrant art studios and exhibition spaces.