Houston led the nation in exports in ’22, shipping more than $191.8 billion in goods and commodities abroad. New York ranked second, Chicago third. Houston has ranked as the nation’s top exporting metro nine out of the past 10 years.
The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s origin of movement (OM) series. Unlike customs district data which measures trade passing through the region, the OM series tracks goods based on the metro from which a good began its export journey.
Since ’17, Houston’s OM exports have more than doubled. No other metro has seen a comparable increase. New Orleans has come closest with its exports up 67.0 percent, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth, up 65.6 percent.
The Houston/Galveston Customs District set another tonnage record in ’22. The eight ports that comprise the district handled over 382.8 million metric tons of goods and commodities, a 10.4 percent rise over ’21. Those shipments were valued at $372.6 billion, a 43.0 percent jump over ’21. Since ’12, tonnage has climbed 54.1 percent.
Customs district data differs from the origin of movement (OM) export data in that it reflects what passes through a region, which doesn’t necessarily correspond with where an item was manufactured or produced.
The Houston district is among the few where exports consistently exceed imports. Exports accounted for 66.0 percent of all cargo value handled in ’22. That’s up from 51.2 percent in ’13, the first year that exports overtook imports. Los Angeles, New York, and Savanah may rank near Houston in overall value of shipments, but exports comprise a smaller share of the cargoes they handle. In ’22, exports accounted for 17.9 percent of the value of shipments through New York, 16.1 percent through Los Angeles, and 25.5 percent through Savannah.
The Port of Houston set a record for container traffic in ’22, handling nearly 3.2 million loaded TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent units). That’s a 482,000 TEU (17.9 percent) boost over ’21. Houston ranked as the nation’s fifth busiest container port, behind Los Angeles, New York, Long Beach, and Savannah. The Port of Houston handles over 70 percent of all container traffic on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Air travel is one of two areas where Houston’s ties to the global economy have yet to return to pre-COVID levels. The 10.4 million international passengers handled in ’22 reflects an improvement over the 7.3 million passengers in ’21 but still fell 13.6 percent below ’19 levels.
International air cargo is another area still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels. The 188,000 metric tons handled at Bush Intercontinental Airport in ’22 fell 22,000 tons below ’19 levels.
In ’20, only 13 non-U.S. firms announced plans to expand or relocate operations in Houston. Foreign investment picked up in ’21 with the region capturing 33 projects. It accelerated in ’22 with 44 announcements.
Since ’09, more than 500 foreign-owned firms have announced over 700 projects in metro Houston, according to the Partnership’s New Business Announcements database. The parent companies are from 38 countries. Those 700+ projects stretch across 65 industries and represent $36.7 billion in capital investments. That’s likely an underestimate since many firms did not disclose the value of their investments.
The flow of foreign investment shows no sign of letting up this year. Just over half of all the relocation and expansion prospects the Partnership’s economic development team worked on in Q1/23 involved foreign-owned companies.
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Note: The geographic area referred to in this publication as “Houston,” "Houston Area” and “Metro Houston” is the nine-county Census designated metropolitan statistical area of Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX. The nine counties are: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller.