Skip to main content

Port Houston Chairman Optimistic for the Essential Economic Driver

Published Oct 19, 2020 by Julia McGowen

Port of Houston

Houston’s position as an epicenter of international business and global trade is strengthened by our robust regional port system. Port Houston, the largest port by foreign tonnage in the nation, continues to show strong performance and contributions to the local and national economy.

In recent months, however, shipping logistics and traffic have had to deal with their share of challenges brought on by the economic downturn. Ric Campo, chairman of Port Houston, spoke about how the port has had to adapt at the Partnership’s State of the Port event on October 13.

Impacts Brought on by Pandemic, Energy Downturn 

Port Houston continues to see solid traffic, but Campo said the port is not immune to COVID-19 and its economic impacts and has seen declines in volume in 2020. The chairman reported that as of the end of September, Port Houston is down 3% year-to-date in container traffic, adding that total tonnage along the Houston Ship Channel is down 5.5% year-to-date through July.

Houston is familiar to the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry. Though that is now coupled with a pandemic, Campo said Houston is sure to rebound, returning liquid bulk facilities and crude oil exports to pre-COVID volumes.

“Port of Houston international tonnage is still 70% ahead of the next closest U.S. port," he said. “Even with a weak year in 2020, the greater Port of Houston will remain the number on U.S. port for international trade.” 

An Emphasis on Community, Environmental Stewardship 

“One thing we cannot ignore in 2020 is the topic of racial equity, diversity and inclusion. This is also part of Port Houston’s strategic plan and we believe strongly that we need to be part of the solution,” said Campo. 

He pointed to one example of how Port Houston is addressing this through a recently commissioned study on the port’s small businesses and accessibility for minority-owned businesses. The report will help guide the system on how it can ensure suppliers and partners doing business at the port reflect the diversity of the region it serves. 

Campo said Port Houston became the first port authority in the world to make the switch to 100% renewable electricity this year. The move is estimated to eliminate 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the system’s footprint each year, equating to $250,000 savings annually. Campo noted that this switch is truly a win-win for Port Houston and serves as a model for how other major port authorities can maintain operations while lessening impacts on the environment. 

The chairman also discussed the port's efforts to engage in communities surrounding the ship channel through two-way communication opportunities, which open a dialogue to foster strong relationships with stakeholders and neighbors. Campo cited a partnership with Buffalo Bayou Partnership where the port has been working with the non-profit for decades to help keep the bayous clean and are embarking on the development of new green space on port property.  

Work on Port Expansion Continues 

Campo concluded by providing an update on perhaps the biggest initiatives in the systems recent history – the Houston Ship Channel Expansion known as Project 11, which is vital to maintaining the Houston Ship Channel as the economic powerhouse that it is today.

“We know the urgency of this expansion. It’s crucial and the time to act is now,” Campo said.

Port Houston is leading efforts to get the necessary federal appropriations to start the construction project sooner and to begin work in 2021.

During the 116th Congress in 2019, both the House and Senate authorized Project 11 in their respective versions of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation. While congressional approval is pending, Port Houston continues to lead discussions with industry to find ways for industry to participate in half the cost of the channel expansion. 

Campo ended his address on an optimistic note.

“We are ready now and we will be ready then. Port Houston, and the Houston Ship Channel, have always been something you can count on during times of prosperity, times of recession, and now, times of pandemic. It will continue to bring economic value and jobs to our region today, tomorrow, and in the future.”

 

Click here for more information on Houston’s transportation and logistics industry. For more on Houston’s international business landscape, click here

Related News

Aerospace & Aviation

Emerging Aerospace Trends and Technology Taking Flight in Houston

11/23/20
Houston's aerospace industry continues to flourish despite an economically challenging year. Amid key developments is the region's expanding commercial space sector.  To learn more about what's happening in Houston's aerospace industry, we asked Josh Davis to share his observations. Davis is the Partnership’s Senior Director for Global Aerospace & Aviation. A Certified Economic Developer (CEcD), Davis has used his acumen in aerospace to tout Houston’s strengths as a space juggernaut to a global audience. His expertise includes research, project development, site selection, economic development strategy and global engagement. What are some of the current trends you are seeing and how do you see the Houston region well positioned to lead?  The Houston region is positioned like no other metro globally. Aerospace is cross-pollinating with life science and Energy 2.0 in the region like nowhere else in the world. Specifically, the Houston region is home to a number of exciting companies doing new work in space, including: Axiom Space Intuitive Machines Ad Astra Rocket Boeing We're seeing companies that have traditionally associated with oil and gas shift into aerospace, including Jacobs and KBR. There's a realization that space is the future. Houston is home to many institutions in the region supporting the space ecosystem, such as NASA's Johnson Space Center, Rice Space Institute, the Houston Spaceport, Space Center Houston, Texas Medical Center, and San Jacinto College Edge Center. We've also seen increasing interest from our regional economic development allies around aerospace projects. There are more than 500 aerospace, space, and aviation firms and supporting institutions in the Houston region. We're also seeing growth in interest around venture capital as it supports space in the Houston region. Houston Exponential (HX) has engaged in this space in 2020, and VCs such as Houston-based SpaceFund have helped to ignite the conversation along with others in the region. This year, the Partnership supported The Ion in awarding a $1.4 million grant from the Minority Business Development Agency to create an Aerospace Innovation Hub (ASCI-Hub).  There's also an emergence of a new network of global cross-pollination brought to us by the space industry. Last year, the Partnership attended the Paris and Dubai air shows and helped bring a delegation from the UAE to the Houston Spaceport. As a global city with about 90 consulates, Houston's international nature is our greatest strength and catalyst within the aerospace, life science, and energy dynamic.  The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a serious disruption in economies across the globe. What kind of impact has it had on aerospace and aviation? Aerospace is currently a tale of two industries. One one hand, you have aerospace companies that exclusively support and supply commercial aviation. On the other, there are aerospace companies engaged in space and related arenas. The former has been hit with unprecedented challenges as COVID-19 had brought air travel to a near standstill in 2020. At one point, the Houston Airport System was down more than 90%. Mario Diaz, Aviation Director for the Houston Airport System, spoke about those challenges and how the region's airports have adapted at the Partnership's State of the Airports event in October.  The commercial space industry meanwhile is booming. Recent successes, including SpaceX’s Demo-2 and Crew-1, have captured the global imagination. Earlier this year, Axiom Space announced it was selected by NASA to build a privately funded platform that will attach to the International Space Station. The $2 billion project could create up to 1,000 jobs. The company expects to launch its first module as soon as 2024. Space companies have not only defied the gravity of COVID-19, but have also found new innovative solutions to combat the virus. The convergence of life science and space in Houston lends itself to this kind of novel solution finding.  Are there any promising new technologies or opportunities in the aerospace industry that you think will change space exploration and life on Earth? Every dollar spent on space has implications for making life better for all of us. We are finding there are many implications for life science in a zero gravity environment. During the Partnership’s Washington D.C. Fly-In earlier this year, we met with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a Rice University alumnus, who highlighted the potential to grow human retinas in space. For instance, the zero gravity environment allows for symmetrical structures to unfold -a feat not possible on earth. We will find there is no area of life science where space does not offer insights and new possibilities. All NASA astronauts and many from other space agencies train at NASA JSC. Houston is the human spaceflight capital of the world and we have the largest medical center in the world. This is a recipe for possibility this decade.  On the spaceflight side synergizing with energy, propulsion is the holy grail for the industry. Just one example in the Houston region is Ad Astra Rocket Company, which is working on advanced high-power electric propulsion. In the current space economy, there are two main kinds of rockets: the high-power chemical rockets (launchers) and the low-power electric ion engines. Ad Astra takes the best of both, with a high-power electric rocket engine which is the ideal propulsion solution for many different space missions and logistics/servicing operations.    Learn more about Houston's aerospace and aviation industries. Register for the Partnership's State of Space event for Dec. 15, 2020. 
Read More
Education

Is Greater Houston Getting a Fair Cut of Higher Education Funding?

11/20/20
Colleges and universities draw funds from various sources to sustain their operations, but it’s the state funding that often receives the most attention due to the complexities of the funding formula and the percentage of the funds provided. Unique to Texas is the distinction between institutions receiving dollars from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) and the Higher Education Fund (HEF), which helps explain why we see funding disparities among public higher education institutions in Texas.   The PUF is a constitutionally established public endowment dating back to 1876, supported by land grants previously appropriated to the University of Texas (UT), plus an additional 2.1 million acres located in West Texas. The land produces two lines of income—surface and mineral. A designated percentage of the PUF income is placed into the Annual University Fund (AUF) for the support of the UT System and the Texas A&M University (TAMU) System. The UT System receives two-thirds of the AUF while the TAMU System receives the remaining one-third. The estimated value of the PUF for the 2018-19 biennium was $22.8 billion with $1.8 billion distributed to the AUF.     The HEF was later established in 1984 by constitutional amendment as a counterpart to the PUF for Texas public institutions of higher education that are ineligible for drawing down funds from the AUF. The Constitution requires annual appropriations for the HEF until the corpus reaches $2 billion dollars, at which time 10% of any investment income will be added back to the fund as part of the corpus and appropriations will cease. The estimated value of the HEF funds for the 2018-19 biennium was $787.5 million.    Both the HEF and the PUF allocation (to the AUF) may be used to acquire land; construct, equip, repair, or rehabilitate buildings; and acquire capital equipment and library books and materials. Institutions may also use a portion of their funds to make debt service payments on authorized bonds. However, income from the PUF may also be used for support and maintenance of university programs at certain institutions; whereas, HEF funds may not. There are currently 22 HEF institutions statewide, including 5 in the Houston area, compared to 5 PUF Excellence institutions and 11 PUF-Debt Service Institutions statewide.   The sheer value of the PUF, the broader acceptable uses, and the fewer number of institutions with access to the funds have created a disparity in funding for HEF institutions, including those serving the Houston region. With an eye toward ensuring Houston higher education institutions have the same advantages as all other public universities in the state, the Partnership has launched the Greater Houston HUB (Higher Education United with Business). The HUB will serve as a platform to develop a better understand of the challenges facing the institutions and the needs of the business community; to find common areas for collaboration; and build awareness to address funding disparities.    To learn more about the Greater Houston HUB, click here. Connect with the Partnership's higher education policy team, Tiffani Tatum.
Read More

Related Events

Economy

Houston Region Economic Outlook

Join the Greater Houston Partnership's annual Houston Region Economic Outlook event featuring Comerica Bank's Chief Economist Robert Dye in a fireside conversation discussing the national economic outlook. The…

Learn More
Learn More
Executive Partners