HOUSTON - A relic from Houston's 'past' is now set to be the foundation for the city's technological future.
While not everyone thinks about the Bayou City as one of the nation's tech centers, the people who built the Ion, as the old Sears building is now called, are planning to help that perception grow.
There are still hints of the old art deco Sears building, between Main and Fannin, but two years of construction has transformed the $100 million Ion into something very different.
Within the building's six levels, the center will meld the academic expertise of 10 area universities, big-name corporate partners, and entrepreneurs to identify and nurture technological ideas.
"Houston's biggest asset and resource is, really, our people," says Ion director Jan Odegard, "Being able to support that talent pool that we have here, and amplify that, is what Houston's going to be about."
He's not alone in believing that. A recent study of LinkedIn data shows Houston is the nation's #2 destination for high-tech workers, in the last year. Thousands who came for energy, science and engineering, bring a lot of brain-power that can be developed.
They're people like Damyanna Cooke. After a career in financial technology, she is a co-founder of Boozed Beverages. The startup won space in the Ion to develop a contactless cocktail making and dispensing vending machine. Being at the center, she says, puts the project in the middle of innovation.
"Being around peers and like-minded individuals; being able to tap into the Ion's network and their corporate partners; speaking to individuals who have been through the startup phase, before, and can offer their insight, has been really beneficial," says Cooke.
"I feel pretty confident that this is a well-founded investment in our location, what we're trying to do, and what Houston has decided that we need to do for ourselves," adds Odegard.
The Ion is the foundation of a 16-acre district of commercial development, that over the coming months and years, will include housing, entertainment and public spaces. It is designed to nurture innovation, and perhaps, bring Houston front and center when people think of technology.