How It Shapes Us

The Houston Suburb Where Diversity May Be Good For Business

A Houston suburb is getting high marks in a national report that ranks communities that are best at attracting new industry.

Ah-Lim Tsai with his wife, Terry Fan (on right), walk across the Sugar Land Town Square


It's a community that's also been ranked as the most ethnically diverse in the country. Is there a connection?

"It's a series of factors that come together to really make a place viable and attractive for investment," said Steven McKnight with the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm, Fourth Economy.

The community is Fort Bend County. The firm ranked it seventh best in the nation. The complete national rankings are available on Fourth Economy's website.

McKnight said Fort Bend County has done better than many by balancing a mix of business and industrial properties with residential areas. He says it's done it by providing walkable neighborhoods and by preserving and developing parks and green space.

"That's the type of progressive thinking that will produce the types of managed growth outcomes that end up sustaining your economy for a longer period of time. A lot of communities don't think that (far) forward in their planning process. And Fort Bend has."

McKnight said the result can be measured by data showing Fort Bend County's residents are better educated, have had good earnings growth and savings, and that those factors are found across a diverse population. In fact, the U.S. census says Fort Bend is the nation's most ethnically diverse county. Which raises a question: do communities become great because they're diverse, or do great communities attract diverse people?

"Boy I tell you we've been trying to search for that answer," McKnight told News 88.7. "You know, the best way to answer that is it's a little of both, right. You sort of create the great places, you have diversity in your employment opportunities, and that attracts different folks from different cultures and backgrounds and then it feeds on itself. They start to see it's a welcoming and open community. And it has good opportunities and then you begin to build upon that. "

Gallery Furniture's newest and biggest showroom under construction along Grand Parkway in Fort Bend County

In Sugar Land, where a town square sits in the middle of a newly-recreated old-time main street, Ah-Lim Tsai was on a stroll with his family. Tsai commutes to the Texas Medical Center where he's a professor at the University of Texas medical school.

"We're originally from Taiwan," said Tsai.

What attracted him and his family to Fort Bend County?

"Nice environment, good mixture of cultures."

His wife, Terry Fan, said zoning and long-range urban planning has made a noticeable difference.

"In their development, in their future plan, they have parks, and all those are planned in there," said Fan.

Still, the master-planned subdivisions and carefully crafted neatness of an "old" main street may not be for everyone. And there has been concern here that the county needs to do more to attract employers because the census shows that a mere 20 percent of Fort Bend residents actually work in the county. The rest commute, mostly into Houston, like Ah-Lim Tsai. But he says for him, there's no better place to live.

"It gives you a good quality of life, and that's very important; peaceful and enjoyable environment."

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required


Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

More Information