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International Business Month: Houston's Global Connections

Published May 06, 2022 by A.J. Mistretta

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Great global cities are inextricably linked to the broader international community through trade, investment and culture. One of the attributes of Houston that makes it a global city is its strong ties to nations around the world and the impact those ties have on the regional economy. 

Today, Houston is home to 18 Forbes Global 2000 headquarters and more than 12,000 companies in this region export goods and services abroad. 

In recognition of World Trade Month, the Partnership is hosting International Business Month — an in-depth look at Houston's thriving global ties and our position as one of today's great global cities. Learn more about upcoming events this month. 

Here are just a few of the facts and figures that support Houston's position as a great global city. 

  • Nearly 90 countries have official government representation in Houston and the area hosts 15 foreign trade and commercial offices 
  • The region is home to 16 foreign banks from nine nations 
  • Nearly 1 in 4 Houston residents is foreign born 
  • The Port of Houston is No. 1 in the U.S. in foreign tonnage and No. 1 in exports
  • Houston is the only city in Texas with two international airports and one of only 8 in the U.S. 
  • Goods and commodities shipped abroad from Houston totaled $140 billion in 2021
  • Nearly half of the world’s 100 largest non-U.S.-based companies have operations in Houston 
  • Houston has 19 sister-city relationships across the globe promoting bilateral business and cultural exchange 

Join the Partnership for the State of Houston's Global Economy on May 20 to learn more about the opportunities and threats facing our international business future. And get more details on International Business Month

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Despite factors ranging from global inflation to the Russia-Ukraine war, key indicators show Houston’s ties to the global economy are strengthening. That’s according to a new analysis released by the Greater Houston Partnership in its Global Houston report.  The analysis documents how Houston’s international activity in 2021 set records as other sectors showed signs of improvement:  The Houston-Galveston Customs District now handles more tonnage (over 351.5 million metric tons in 2021) than it did prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 had a short-lived impact on Houston’s exports. Exports topped $140 billion last year, well above the previous record of $128.7 billion set in 2019. Foreign direct investment (FDI) continues to improve. The Partnership documented 26 business expansions from companies headquartered overseas in 2021, up from 13 in 2020. That number is still short of the typical annual average of 30 to 40 such announcements.  The poor job market, international travel restrictions, and anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to slow the flow of newcomers from abroad, but Houston should see an uptick in international migration this year. Immigration added only 12,500 new residents to Houston’s population in 2021. International air traffic continues to edge closer to pre-pandemic levels. The Houston Airport System handled 7.3 million international passengers in 2021, up from 3.9 million handled in 2020 but below the pre-COVID peak of 12.0 million in 2020.   The pandemic caused the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Two and a half years later, COVID-19 no longer appears to be a top risk for economic growth. But there are other issues driving concerns. According to the report, economic damage from the Russian invasion of Ukraine is contributing to a slowdown in global growth and adding to inflation. However, several indicators demonstrate strong momentum in Houston, including the region’s strong economy, increased industrial production, a manufacturing PMI reading above 50, and tight labor markets.  “The most likely scenario is for slower growth, perhaps a recession in Europe, but a slowdown in the global economy is unlikely to nudge Houston into recession this year,” said Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski.  Other data included in the report reflects Houston’s influence as a global business hub:  Houston has trading relationships with more than 200 countries. The Houston-Galveston Customs District ranked first in tonnage handled (exports and imports) in 2021, a position it’s held 11 of the last 15 years. The district ranked fifth in value of shipments (exports and imports) last year, up one from 2020. The value of exports via the district have exceeded imports since 2013. Over 1,700 foreign-owned firms have an office, factory, distribution, or service center in Houston.  Nearly 150 Houston-headquartered companies operated subsidiaries outside the U.S.  Another section of the Global Houston report provides additional statistics and information about Houston’s international business ties and ranks the region’s top 20 trade partners. The value of goods and services traded increased among all leading partners in 2021, bouncing back from the losses in 2020. Top 10 Houston trade partners and the value of trade in 2021:  China -- $24.7 billion, up from $19.3 billion in 2020.  Mexico -- $21.6 billion, up from $14.5 billion in 2020.  Brazil -- $16.9 billion, up from $12.0 billion in 2020.  Korea -- $16.2 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020.  India -- $13.9 billion, up from $8.0 billion in 2020.  Netherlands -- $13.8 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020. Germany -- $11.9 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020. Japan -- $11.5 billion, up from $7.7 billion in 2020. United Kingdom -- $9.8 billion, up from $7.6 billion in 2020. Columbia -- $7.1 billion, up from $5.3 billion in 2020.    
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