UH has already begun the process of fully transferring its College of Technology to its Sugar Land campus. (Courtesy of the University of Houston)
The University of Houston campus in Sugar Land already offers a few of its undergraduate and graduate programs from its College of Technology. That number will increase significantly over the next few years alongside the construction of a new $52.4 million building on the same property, according to UH officials.
The College of Technology is headquartered on the main UH campus on Calhoun Drive in Houston, but that will change by 2025 when the entire college, along with all departments and programs, officially relocates its headquarters. at the University of Houston at Sugar Land, located at 14000 University Blvd., according to university officials.
With the university looking at a potentially game-changing date of spring 2023, a new building will not only provide space for the move, but it will also help facilitate any potential future growth, said Jay Neal, associate vice president and director of operating for UH in Sugar Country.
“Some departments asked if they could start coming here and not wait for the new building to be on board,” Neal said. “But while we’re happy with the enthusiasm, we need to be operationally realistic.”
UH’s move is part of its strategy to become a bigger part of the business infrastructure of Sugar Land and Fort Bend County, Neal said. Adding to the technology workforce pipeline, attracting more companies and encouraging growth remains a priority as UH continues its move, he added.
Ultimately, the college will provide a focal point around educational initiatives that are increasingly in demand and align with local recruiting goals, said Jeff Wiley, chairman of the Fort Bend County Economic Development Council, in an email.
“The College of Technology’s move into our entire community provides an identity that can differentiate us from other communities and education offerings,” Wiley said. “MIT and Cambridge did not start out with the reputation they have today as a technology hub, but that is what they have come to represent. If we can capitalize on this educational infrastructure, in 100 years, maybe another community will say the same about us.”
In October, the Texas Legislature closed its third special session of the year by allocating more than $339 million in funding for capital construction projects for the UH system.
Of that amount, UH received $52.4 million, which will be used to construct the College of Technology’s second academic building on the Sugar Land campus, Neal said.
The $52.4 million in capital construction assistance projects, paid for from the state’s general revenue fund, can only be used for the new building and cannot be used to improve facilities. existing college, Neal said.
“As far as I know, that money is strictly for construction,” Neal said. “It’s construction dollars.”
Requests for architectural proposals were sent out in early March and the university expects to have those proposals in hand by April, Neal said. Many details of the building remain malleable, he said.
Construction of a new building will most likely begin in late 2022 or early 2023 and open in fall 2024 or spring 2025, Neal said. The building will be located on adjacent land just southwest of the current College of Technology building.
Meanwhile, the College of Technology began moving its 11 undergraduate majors, 21 undergraduate minors, and 12 graduate programs to the Sugar Land campus with an enrollment of 5,175 students.
For example, the Sugar Land campus will begin offering courses in computer information systems, or CIS, and mechanical engineering technology starting this fall, Neal said. In the spring of 2023, graduate-level CIS courses will transfer, and in the fall of 2023, all CIS courses and electives will be held in Sugar Land, according to the university’s website.
College of Technology professor David Crawley said his information and technology department – about 60% of the college – will be transferred by fall 2022.
“There’s a lot of value in having that closeness to the community that a smaller campus gives to the program,” he said. “So there will be a much more intimate interaction with the community.”
Once the move is complete, officials hope to be connected to the business communities in Sugar Land and Fort Bend County, Neal said.
“If the city or the county or the [FBEDC] seeks to attract large companies here, we have integrated this pipeline of professional labor,” said Neal.
This pipeline includes programs in all disciplines, including computer science and multimedia, engineering and industrial technologies, health sciences and technology management, according to the university’s website.
This comes as the city of Sugar Land reported its fourth industry sector in 2021 to be professional, scientific and technical services. Employment data showed that 6,255 people, or 8.5% of the city’s workforce, worked in this sector, according to JobsEQ, a software tool that provides labor data work and employers.
The North American Industry Classification System, the standard used by federal statistical agencies to classify business establishments by type of economic activity, includes architectural, engineering and specialized design services in this classification as well as IT services and scientific research and development.
Fort Bend County follows a similar trend in which the same industry was fourth in terms of employment in 2021 with 35,732 employees, according to data from the FBEDC website.
UH and Sugar Land officials have acknowledged that the College of Technology’s move will add economically to what the Sugar Land campus has already provided.
Between 2018 and 2019, for example, when the university last conducted an economic impact study, the campus brought $46.6 million in economic activity to Sugar Land. Professional and technical services accounted for about $1.5 million of this activity, according to the study.
“We are delighted with the workforce that [the] the move brings to our businesses and being able to retain them and give them exposure to our existing businesses is a great pipeline,” said Elizabeth Huff, the city’s director of economic development.
This pipeline extends to Sugar Land’s innovation department, which uses data, technology and improvement strategies to encourage new ideas and collaboration, according to its website. The department’s team has partnered with the College of Technology’s Innovation Leadership and Management Minor Program to provide semester projects for two classes of the program’s Spring 2022 Introductory Principles of Innovation course.
Of the 148 students enrolled in the class, 52 students are involved in semester projects, which involve creating innovations to address Sugar Land’s challenges, Crawley said.
By fall 2022, 185 students are expected to be enrolled in the class.
“This is just our first effort,” Crawley said. “Our plan is to take the entire introductory program … and address it before the challenges and needs of the City of Sugar Land and other communities.”
Additionally, Sugar Land’s innovation department participated in the college’s accelerated innovation engineering program, said Reena Varghese, the city’s chief innovation officer.
“We also invite the professor to come and talk to our organization about the whole concept of innovation and what it means so that we can continue to expand the opportunities we have both internally and externally with innovation” , she said.
Over the past five years, the City of Sugar Land has experienced 2.6% growth in its professional, scientific and technical services sector. This trend is expected to continue over the next year with projected job growth of 2.8%, according to data from JobsEQ.
Much of the city of Sugar Land has already been built up, Hu said, with plots of land of 50,000 square feet or more a rarity.
Still, local businesses have grown, such as construction software company Heavy Construction Systems Specialists, which has expanded its operations over the past four years, Hu said.
The local expansion comes as the region has also welcomed new tech giants, such as Amazon, which opened two locations in Fort Bend County in 2021: a 2.8 million fulfillment center square feet in August at 2303 Hurricane Lane, Fresno, and another 3.7 million-square-foot fulfillment center at 10507 Harlem Road, Richmond, which opened in October.
Texas House Rep. Gary Gates, R-Richmond, played a role in the Legislature in awarding funding to UH for the new College of Technology building. Gates represents District 28, which now includes Sugar Land following the state redistricting process that was finalized in late October.
The move and expansion of the College of Technology may meet a growing need in the district’s tech industry, Gates said.
“We don’t have a lot of industries that build factories, but towards where you have all the industrials – like Amazon, for example – a lot of those jobs are handled by a lot of robotics, and that takes a special guy training to be able to go,” he said. “That’s where students coming out of those programs can get into a lot of those other high-tech jobs.
This workforce environment serves as a backdrop for UH as it is in the early stages of expanding its Sugar Land campus to include a 40-acre industrial partnership area, Neal said. Independent of the expansion of the College of Technology, the university is working with a consulting firm to generate a strategic plan for the land which is expected to be completed by August.
College of Technology Dean Tony Ambler said the area will be used to create investment proposals submitted under the US Department of Commerce’s Build Back Better initiatives, a program to develop and strengthen industry clusters. regional across the country.
This area will be used to encourage outward investment from industries in the area while bringing collaboration with the College of Technology and enhancing economic development, Ambler said.
“The new building allows the bulk of the College of Technology to complete its transition to Sugar Land [and] Curvature of the fort [County]Ambler said in an email. “This will confirm [the college’s] commitment to the economic development of the territory with strong links with the educational institutions of the territory, as well as with the economic development councils.”