An interview with Michelle Hundley – Vice President of Public Affairs – The Economic Alliance Houston Port Region (Texas, USA)
A Port Centre project is currently being studied at Houston. It is being run by the Maritime Museum, which is preparing to join AIVP’s Port Centre Network. Michelle Hundley presented the Port of Houston’s social and environmental integration projects at the AIVP 13th world conference at Nantes in 2012. Back in Houston, she proposed the idea of a Port Centre, which fascinated the port and the port community.
Since then, Michelle has joined the Economic Alliance as vice-president for public affairs, and she continues to follow the Port Centre project. The aim of the Economic Alliance is the economic and social development of the Houston maritime and industrial region; it also runs training and awareness projects relating to careers in ports and logistics.
Here is a detailed look at the different projects run by Economic Alliance, the Port of Houston, the Maritime Museum and other organisations working for better social and economic integration of the port into the life and the port region of Houston.
AIVP: Economic Alliance Houston Port Region is a non-profit economic development corporation, whose main purpose is to market and grow the Houston Ship Channel economy. You are also working on developing careers and opportunities available for students in all kind of maritime, logistical and industrial sectors. What are the socio-economic stakes of the Houston region today in terms of jobs and training and how would you describe the collaboration with the port authority and the local businesses and industries to improve the situation?
Hundley: In 2012, the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region facilitated business activities to create nearly 1,500 new jobs and over $1.5 billion of capital investment to the Houston Port Region. The momentum has continued into 2013 which to date the Alliance reports three wins accounting for $755 million in investment and over 250 new jobs.
The estimated capital investment in the state of Texas is $70 billion between 2012 and 2015, with projected capital investment in the Houston Port Region alone estimated at $35 billion. The next 3-5 years will see an added 111,700 jobs in construction, not to mention the concurrent expansion in the maritime, petrochemical, and logistic jobs market.
This welcome growth is exacerbating the existing shortage of skilled labor already prevalent in our region. Many area stakeholders recognised the need for positive action to ensure those who live in this community would be poised to step into these well-paying positions. The harsh truth is that if companies cannot fill these jobs from within the talent pool of our region, they will be forced to import talent from the outside translating into a huge missed opportunity for East Harris County.
Seeking to avoid duplication of efforts, and to leverage area assets effectively, Chad Burke, President and CEO of the Economic Alliance, saw the need to pull stakeholders together in a coordinated effort. Thus, the Workforce Development Committee was born with Dr. Allatia Harris of San Jacinto Community College and Niels Lyngso of West Gulf Maritime Association as co-chairs.
The committee has already begun to pull together a speakers bureau and develop presentations aimed students, their parents, counselors, and teachers to market the opportunities and lay out career pathways in the maritime, logistics, petrochemical and civil service arenas.
More information on Workforce Development Committee
AIVP: You took part in the AIVP World Port City conference organised in Nantes (France) last June 2012. Back then, you were still working for the Port Authority of Houston. You shared with the Port Authority the concept of the Port Center, one of the topics developed during the AIVP conference. How did they react? What made them decide to go further? Could you tell us more about the governance and the different milestones of the project?
Hundley: I was honored to be a part of the AIVP World Port city conference last year and learned a great deal about many things. Thank you again, for the opportunity to participate as a guest speaker. In terms of the Port Center concept, when I returned from the conference and shared what I had learned about Port Centers with leadership at the Port Authority, the idea was immediately embraced. At that time, the Port Authority was looking for additional opportunities to reach out to communities within and around its operational footprint. In addition, the timing was perfect for two different but related reasons. (1) The Houston Maritime Museum (HMM) was also beginning a search for a new location to grow and locate on or near the Houston Ship Channel; and (2) the east end of the city of Houston had recently announced plans to improve the quality of life in the area closest to the Port of Houston including redeveloping the area to include sidewalks, bike paths and public transportation. These synergies converged at the right time and the opportunity to develop a Port Center through the HMM emerged.
The museum signed a memorandum of understanding with the Port of Houston Authority regarding its relocation on property owned by the Port Authority on the Houston Ship Channel. An expanded Houston Maritime Museum located along the Ship Channel will provide many benefits to the Houston Community. New exhibits on Inland Marine, Offshore Oil and Gas, Logistics, and the Port of Houston will showcase these industries and educate the community on their importance. In addition to more exhibits, the new museum will provide classroom, meeting, and auditorium space to host educational programmes, business meetings, and social events. Lastly, this location will allow HMM developing synergies with the already popular tour boat, the M/V Sam Houston, which draws thousands of visitors to the Port of Houston annually.
This new Port Center is a prime example of the opportunities for collaboration on projects that benefit industry and community in concert. In addition to this partnership, the Port Authority and three other Economic Alliance members have also come together for an additional benefit to the museum and community.
During times of rapid changes to the physical environment of a port, it is important to consider historical preservation along with growth and commerce. As this interview is being provided, the last container crane at the Port Authority’s Turning Basin is being removed. Fortunately, although the body of the crane will be recycled, the Port Authority is honoring the prominence of the crane by donating the operator cab to the Houston Maritime Museum where it will be available to educate the general public and future maritime employees. The Port Authority’s maintenance staff is working diligently to restore the cab prior to turning it over to the museum. The cab is getting a new coat of paint, refurbishing the gears so the cab moves back and forth like it currently does on its hydraulic track. This will enable to use of the operator cab in the museum as a display for students to provide hands on experience with a container crane cab. This effort demonstrates how Houston and its port region, while economically moving forward, also values our culture, unique economy, history and skills. The company contracted to ensure the safe dismantle of the crane and the delivery of the cab – Economic Alliance member Odin LLC in partnership with Iberia Bank, and Brady Chapman Holland and Associates, also members of the Economic Alliance. The Houston Maritime Museum is extremely excited to be the recipient of the Operator Cab for display in the new museum. It offers a unique experience for museum guests of all ages and it will be one of the prime attractions in the new world class Houston Maritime Museum.
I am on the Executive Board of the HMM and at this time we are fundraising for the new building and final details are being discussed with the Port Authority for an anticipated groundbreaking ceremony in November of 2014, coinciding the Houston Ship Channel’s 100 birthday, with completion of the new museum anticipated in 2015.
AIVP: All over the world, ports are subjected to International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS code), making sometimes access to port very difficult for non-authorised persons. Even though, the new location of the Maritime Museum will be inside the Port Area on the Houston Ship Chanel. What do you expect from this location? Was this a proposal made by the Port Authority?
Hundley: As a prior employee of the Port Authority (having served collectively for six years) I know that the security of its facilities and the safety of the people who work at the port and live in the surrounding communities is among the top priorities of the Port Authority.
The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead agency in protecting the waterways and regulating the security of vessels and maritime facilities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the lead agency in cargo security and screening cargo for potential hazards. While the Port of Houston Authority’s main security responsibilities are to maintain a secure perimeter at its terminals, limit access to restricted areas of the Port Authority’s property, and to meet all the regulatory requirements. As a partner in the Houston community, liaison and mutual support of other emergency management agencies is paramount.
The proposed location of the maritime museum is within the footprint of the Port Authority’s current Sam Houston Visitors Pavilion area. Embarking from the Pavilion, visiting sightseers aboard the M/V Sam Houston can enjoy passing views of international cargo vessels, and operations at the port’s Turning Basin Terminal. The 95-ft. vessel holds up to 90 passengers and features air-conditioned lounge seating as well as standing room outside on the boat’s deck.
The M/V Sam Houston has been operating as the Port of Houston’s public tour vessel since its first voyage on July 30, 1958.
As an already identified, public space, the proposed area is not within the restricted area which allows the continuation of accessibility to the public.
AIVP: Finally, you told us about a complementary project called “San Jacinto Historic District”. Can you tell us a little bit more about this initiative and the way it is supported by the industry of the Houston Ship Channel?
Hundley: The San Jacinto Historic District, the fifth largest historic district in the state of Texas, is a collaborative effort that brings together the port region communities of East Harris County and the Ship Channel industries. This effort has resulted in a Master Plan utilising tools such as innovative urban landscaping, unique image enhancement techniques, and strategic economic development focusing on untapped historical resources. The Master Plan emerged after conducting analysis, research, benchmarking and gathering community feedback over a two year period. The Economic Alliance Houston Port Region shepherded a volunteer task force of approximately 50 leaders and numerous agencies to work on this project. These leaders identified quality of life issues that capture the attention and the imagination. Historic sites were rediscovered as amenities unique to the area. These “stars”- as they became known in the Master Plan – do not exist anywhere else on the planet.
The Historic District establishes a positive identity for eastern Harris County through a broad communications programme highlighting the historical significance of this areas’ rich historical heritage, including the identification of opportunities for historical “Epic Art” to be displayed on the area’s many liquid storage tanks and massive buildings, beautification of major roadway/freeway corridors, development of historic sites into interpretive parks, and a variety of other marketing, education and communications programmes.
To date, four companies and one city have participated with seven tanks with Epic Art. These organisations have supported this effort with a significant contribution to purchase the art to be placed on their tanks. In addition eight out of eleven cities along the Houston Ship Channel have constructed city “Gateways” that depict the history of each individual cities within the region while meeting the Historic District’s corridor standards. We anticipate the Historic District will have more opportunity to shine, as well as grow, during the Houston Ship Channel’s Centennial Celebrations next year. This monumental occasion will be celebrated and shared with all stakeholders along the Houston Ship Channel throughout 2014. Historical Background of the San Jacinto District