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Population Trends, Key Business Growth Stats and More in 2021 Houston Facts

Published Aug 19, 2021 by A.J. Mistretta

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HOUSTON (August 19, 2021) – How does Houston’s economy stack up against other major cities? What’s the age breakdown of our growing population and how are our residents getting around? How does Houston’s cost of living compare with other metros and just how many Houstonians are getting college degrees? 

Those are just a few of the many questions answered in the 2021 edition of the Partnership’s Houston Facts publication. Houston Facts has presented unvarnished information about the Houston region since 1959, and its predecessor publications—under different names, but with the same objective—date back to 1906. Over the decades, Houston Facts has grown well beyond its original four-pages so that the Partnership could expand the range and depth of coverage to include more about the region’s parks, museums, schools, living costs, economy and a host of other topics. Today, Houston Facts is a concise, comprehensive almanac for the Houston region. 

Here are a few highlights from this year’s edition, developed by the Partnership’s Research team and presented by PNC Bank. 

Age Breakdown 
Young people ages five to 17 represent the largest age demographic in the Houston MSA—19.2% of the total population. The next largest age demographic is 25 to 34-year-olds at 14.9%. With a median age of just 34.9, Houston is one of the youngest major metros in the nation. 

An Affordable Houston 
Houston’s living costs are 26.4% below the average of the nation’s 20 most populous metropolitan areas, ranking it the second most affordable behind St. Louis, according to the Cost of Living Index from the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). Houston’s overall living costs are 4.8%below the average for all U.S. metros.

Harris County Growth 
Harris County, with a population of 4,738,253 as of July 1, 2020, is the third most populous county in the nation. Among all U.S. counties, Harris County had the fifth highest numeric population increase between July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020, gaining 29,010 new residents in one year.

Fort Bend on the Rise
Rapidly growing Fort Bend County has the second largest number of households (237,883) in the metro region, behind Harris County (1.6 million). Fort Bend also has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in the region (28.9%) and the highest percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher (46.2%) among the nine counties. 

Getting Around 
The vast majority of Houstonians still drive their personal vehicle to work solo. The 2019 American Community Survey showed that nearly 81% of residents commute alone while another 9.3% carpool. Just 2% use public transportation and 5.1% reported working from home. It took area workers 30.7 minutes on average to commute to work in 2019. The survey was conducted pre-pandemic, so it’s unclear whether workplace shifts will alter the results of the next survey. 

Higher Ed Landscape 
Colleges and universities in the Houston area enrolled more than 417,000 students across 32 academic institutions in the fall of 2020, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Community college students accounted for 45.2% of enrollment in 2020.

Economic Perspective 
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated the Houston MSA’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at $512.2 billion in 2019, making it the seventh largest U.S. metro economy. If Houston were a state, its GDP would rank 15th, behind Michigan ($536.9 billion) and ahead of Maryland ($426.7 billion) and Colorado ($393.0 billion). If the MSA were an independent nation, it would rank as the world’s 27th largest economy, behind Belgium ($529.7 billion) and ahead of Nigeria ($448.1 billion) and Austria ($446.3), according to the International Monetary Fund.

An Expanding Corporate Hub 
Metro Houston ranks third in the nation in Fortune 500, and fifth in Fortune 1000, headquarters. Many other Fortune firms maintain U.S. offices in Houston. The 20 companies on the Forbes Global 2000 list that are headquartered in Houston have a combined total revenue of $413.6 billion.

Concentration of Businesses 
The Texas Workforce Commission reports Metro Houston was home to more than 160,000 establishments in 2020. The three industries with the most establishments were: professional, scientific, and technical services; health care and social assistance; and retail trade. These three industries made up 38.3% of the region’s business establishments. Over half of the metro’s establishments employ between one and four workers.

Evolution of Tech 
Houston is a thriving hub of digital tech talent. With more than 243,900 tech workers, the region has the 11th largest tech workforce in the U.S., according to the Computing Technology Industry Association. In 2019, Houston’s tech industry contributed $29.2 billion to the region’s GDP. Houston is also home to 9,290 tech related firms, including more than 700 venture-backed startups. These companies received $2.7 billion in venture capital funding from 2016 to 2020.

Role of International Business 
The Houston region has trading relationships with more than 200 countries. The Houston/Galveston Customs District handled 266.6 million metric tons in exports valued at $129.5 billion in 2020, according to WISERTrade. These exports accounted for 65.8% of the value of total trade that passed through the region last year—a 21-point increase from 44.5% in 2011.

No. 1 Port 
In 2019, the Port of Houston ranked first in total tonnage (domestic and foreign)—after 27 consecutive years in second place—and first in foreign tonnage (exports and imports) for the 24th consecutive year, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Globally, the Port of Houston ranked as the 16th largest port in the world by total tonnage.

Find more useful information in this year’s Houston Facts, presented by PNC Bank. If you want to speak with Partnership Senior Vice President of Research or members of his team about findings in Houston Facts, reach out to one of the contacts below. 

A.J. Mistretta 
Vice President, Communications         
(c) 504-450-3516 |

Maggie Martin 
Senior Manager, Communications

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Report: Houston's Strong International Ties Better Position Regional Economy for Global Economic Headwinds

HOUSTON — Houston’s trade ties with its global partners have largely recovered from the impacts of the pandemic, according to the Greater Houston Partnership’s latest Global Houston report.  The analysis documents how Houston’s international activity in 2022 continued to set records: The Houston-Galveston Customs District continues to rank first in the country in tonnage handled (exports and imports) with over 382.8 million metric tons. For the first time in history, the Houston-Galveston Customs District ranked first in total value with $372.6 billion, which typically ranks second behind Los Angeles/Long Beach. Exports topped $191.8 billion, well above the previous record of $140.8 billion set in 2021. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is back at pre-pandemic levels and continues accelerating. The Partnership documented 44 business expansions from companies headquartered overseas in 2022, up from 33 in 2021. In 2020, only 13 non-U.S. firms announced plans to expand or relocate operations in the region. International migration surged to 47,400, accounting for the largest share (38%) of the region’s population growth in 2022. International air traffic continues to edge closer to pre-pandemic levels. The Houston Airport System handled 10.4 million international passengers in 2022, up from 7.3 million in 2021 but still below the pre-COVID peak of 12.0 million in 2020.  The Port of Houston set a record for container traffic, handing nearly 3.2 million loaded TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent units), a 17.9% increase over 2021. “The international metrics demonstrate Houston’s ties global economy continues to strengthen, positioning the region for continued growth despite global economic headwinds,” Partnership Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski said. According to the report, the ongoing war in Ukraine, persistent inflation, and rising interest rates are key factors that continue to be speedbumps to growth but are not considered outright obstacles. “Any slowdown caused by macro forces will likely impact Houston only marginally,” Jankowski said. “Houston’s economy will continue to expand, create jobs, and attract new residents to the region.”   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 value of exports via the district has exceeded imports every year 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 2022, continuing the trend of growth. Top 10 Houston trade partners and the value of trade in 2022:  Mexico -- $32.1 billion, up from $21.6 billion in 2021. China -- $31.9 billion, up from $24.8 billion in 2021.  South Korea -- $24.6 billion, up from $16.2 billion in 2021.  Brazil -- $20.1 billion, up from $16.8 billion in 2021.  Netherlands -- $19.1 billion, up from $13.4 billion in 2021.  United Kingdom -- $16.4 billion, up from $9.9 billion in 2021. India -- $15.7 billion, up from $13.9 billion in 2021. Germany -- $15.0 billion, up from $12.0 billion in 2021. Japan -- $14.4 billion, up from $11.5 billion in 2021. Singapore -- $13.6 billion, up from $5.9 billion in 2021. View the trade profiles report here.  ### Greater Houston Partnership  The Greater Houston Partnership works to make Houston one of the best places to live, work and build a business. As the economic development organization for the region, the Partnership champions growth across 12 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing more than 950 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place companies come together to make an impact. Learn more at   CONTACT:           Brina Morales                                                 Director, Communications       (c) 832-287-5089             
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