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Report: Foreign Investment in Houston Exceeded $33 Billion in the Last Decade

Published Jun 13, 2019 by A.J. Mistretta

(HOUSTON) — More than 2,500 Houston manufacturing firms are currently engaged in global trade and more than 500 foreign-owned firms have announced investments in the Houston area over the last decade. Those and other findings are part of the latest Global Houston report released by the Greater Houston Partnership. 

The new report illustrates the growing role international trade and investment play in the Houston region’s economy. Houston has led the nation in exports nine out of the past 10 years, exporting more oil field services, refined products, chemicals and fabricated metals than any other U.S. metro.  Approximately 17.3% of Houston’s economy is tied to exports, nearly double the percentage in 2003, according to the latest data from the Brookings Institution.

Foreign direct investment in Houston is also on the rise. Over the past 10 years, at least 517 foreign-owned companies have announced plans to invest in Houston through 659 different deals. Though the value of investment was made public in less than half of these deals, the cumulative total of the disclosed investment is over $33 billion. Foreign investments in Houston have come from 36 different countries and cover 63 different industries in the last decade. 

“These foreign-owned companies came to Houston for a variety of reasons, from being closer to their clients to establishing a beachhead for entering the U.S. market,” said Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski. Foreign investment is important to Houston for a number of reasons, he added. “It infuses new capital into the region, expands the manufacturing base, helps underpin jobs, facilitates the exchange of ideas and best practices, increases trade, adds to the tax base and stimulates growth.” 

The report also analyzed the economic impact of Houston’s foreign-born population. Nearly one in four residents (more than 1.6 million people) in the Houston region was born outside of the United States. Since 2008, immigration has contributed 390,000 new residents to Houston’s population—about one-third of the region’s total population growth. The Partnership estimates that foreign-born workers contributed $142.1 billion to Houston’s GDP in 2017 alone—29% of the total GDP. 

Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey said as the organization works to reinforce Houston’s identity as a great global city, one of the key elements is a strong, diverse 21st Century economy. “Over the last couple of decades, Houston’s economy has become more diversified,” he said. “We’ve surged beyond traditional oil and gas to include a burgeoning energy tech and renewables industry, a thriving life sciences and healthcare sector, and a robust advanced manufacturing ecosystem. And in that time, as this report shows, Houston’s trade and investment ties with the rest of the world have grown as well. These global connections are essential to our long-term success.” 

The 2019 report examines several headwinds to growth, including the ongoing trade war with China, the slowdown of foreign investment and the potential failure to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) intended to replace NAFTA. The report also offers in-depth profiles of Houston’s top trade partners, as well as several other key statistics: 

  • The Houston/Galveston Customs District handled 289.2 million tons of cargo in 2018, or 33,000 metric tons every hour.  
  • The Houston/Galveston Customs District ranked first in the nation in foreign tonnage handled and 7th in the nation by dollar value in 2018. 
  • The three ports of Houston, Galveston and Freeport support 343,525 jobs, according to a report from Martin & Associates and Texas A&M University 
  • Of Houston’s 1.6 million foreign-born residents, 39.8% are naturalized (i.e. U.S. citizens). That’s up from 32.3% a decade ago.
  • Latin America leads among regions of origin for Houston’s foreign-born population with 1.02 million people in 2017, up 42% from 2008. Asia follows at 409,395, up 37% and Africa with 95,017, a 14% increase. 

Top 5 Houston trade partners and the value of trade in 2018:

1.    Mexico – $24.6 billion, up from $20.1 billion in 2017 
2.    China – $20.3 billion, up from $18.8 billion in 2017 
3.    Brazil – $12.9 billion, up from $12.6 billion in 2017 
4.    The Netherlands – $10.4 billion, up from $8.6 billion in 2017 
5.    South Korea – $10.3 billion, up from $6.8 billion in 2017 

A full copy of Global Houston is available to view and download 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 Houston region, the Partnership champions growth across 11 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing more than 1,000 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place business leaders come together to make an impact. Learn more at 


A.J. Mistretta 

Maggie Martin 

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