By: Vernita Harris; Chair of the Greater Houston Black Chamber Of Commerce
It’s difficult to remember a time when the city of Houston was receiving more positive national attention than it is today. We’ve seen our city praised for its ability to weather the economic storm of the Great Recession, due in no small part to our booming small business community, its support of innovation, and its respect for the economic benefits of competition stimulated by fair business practices. As someone who is fairly entrenched in this community, I’ve witnessed the impact that small businesses have had on our city – and I’m not the only one! Whether it’s this list from CNN championing Houston as one of the best cities to start a business, or this one from Entrepreneur Magazine, or this one from Forbes, it’s obvious that Houston’s economic clout is helping lead the country’s economic recovery.
It is likely that you’ve heard about the developments around ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber and their recent entry into the Houston market. These companies utilize breakthrough technology to address some of daily transit’s most common issues, and they have come to our city to provide more transportation options for Houstonians. Their investment in new technology, their subsequent development of solutions to fill a void they have identified in the market, and their willingness to take the risks associated with their expansion, are the epitome of entrepreneurship. It is likely that these companies will compete with other transportation providers for the attention of Houstonians, but competition is a founding principle of entrepreneurship as well and it is essential to a sound economy. The commitment of resources by companies like these offers genuine benefit for the people of Houston, and it is in that spirit that we welcome these new economic partners and others who will follow to compete with them.
Essentially, this is an enhancement of consumer options. As Houstonians, we know all too well just how hard it can be to commute within our city lines – these services help to provide us with better ways of doing that. Secondly, these are small businesses started by entrepreneurs who are experiencing great success in a short amount of time. Lyft for example was launched in June 2012 and now operates in more than 30 cities across the country, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, and Washington D.C. The ride-sharing service has helped give millions of rides in less than two years of operation and I believe that Houston business people can take inspiration from their track record. My hope is that the success of companies like these will serve as a catalyst for local entrepreneurs to seek and discover opportunities for improvements and efficiencies in other consumer areas. That is, after all, the essence of a successful business.
It should be noted that the value in these services isn’t limited to their ability to inspire entrepreneurs to start and grow their own businesses. The true benefit of these businesses will be their ability to create economic opportunity for citizens in all of Houston’s communities – especially in some of our city’s most diverse neighborhoods where they are often scarce. This, too, makes them vital to our city’s future.
The premise is simple. After undergoing vehicle inspections, comprehensive background and driving record checks, interested Houstonians can sign on to become drivers. For those that meet the requirements of becoming a driver, these services help to put more money into their family’s pocket. Maybe you’re a single mother who’s looking to make a little extra money by taking someone to the office in between stops at school and soccer practice. Or perhaps you’re a college student who has time to take people home in between classes. Or you’re a teacher that has recently lost your job and are just looking for an opportunity to help keep you on your feet. The examples are numerous, but the message is the same – more people will be making, earning, and saving money.
This is a question of growth, opportunity, commerce, and employment. It’s about giving Houstonians options between transportation services and allowing them to choose the one that fits their needs. It’s about creating opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurial-minded individuals alike. It’s about creating opportunities for those who may need them most. To limit commercial growth in our city is to limit ourselves. While the attention Houston has garnered as of late is a testament to the work we’ve done, it is time to think of the work that we can still do. Let’s look to the future and help chart the course for this city and its incredibly diverse communities. With companies like these blazing a trail into the future, it’s prime time for Houston to hop onboard and ride that course with them.