Houston's image takes a beating

HOUSTON First it was NASA -- the future of the Johnson Space Center and potentially thousands of jobs are still up in the air. Then the oil spill happened, involving Houston-based Transocean, with BP taking responsibility for the cleanup. Just this week, there's more job uncertainty with the announcement that Houston-based Continental and United are merging.

A look around downtown leaves no doubt that the city is thriving. But the image of Houston may not be holding up as well to outsiders looking in.

With the future of the NASA program uncertain and Continental taking flight elsewhere, Houstonians are wondering just what is going on.

Houstonian Annette Baumgartner said, "I can't imagine why anybody would want to live somewhere else other than Houston, Texas."

"It's a great city to live in, but there are a lot of things going on right now. It doesn't look good," said Houstonian Ben Detoto.

Dr. Stephen Klineberg studies Houston and its image for a living. The Rice University sociologist says NASA, Continental, that massive oil spill, and even the ongoing investigation into alleged issues within the police department, have certainly not helped to convince the rest of the country what Houstonians truly believe.

Dr. Klineberg said, "The people who know Houston and live here, love it here, but the perception of people outside Houston is, 'Why would you ever live in Houston?'"

It is the main focus of the Greater Houston Partnership to retain and attract businesses here. Former Continental CEO Larry Kellner is on the board. But the GHP says there was little they could do to retain the airline.

Greater Houston Partnership CEO Jeff Mosley said, "We have a lot of friends at Continental, and of course we knew things were starting to move quickly, but Chicago had been working with United."

But what the GHP and the rest of city leaders are focusing on are the positives. Despite the recent spate of bad news, Houston's economy is still stronger than most. Hopefully that message will eventually ring true.

"Some days are better than others," said council member C.O. Bradford. "Some days you wake up and things will go well. Other days you'll say, 'Oh my God. Why today?' I think it's fair to say we're having some of those days in Houston. But there's a tomorrow."

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