Global city

Houston sees boom of foreign investment and exports over the past decade

A new report from the Greater Houston Partnership found that Houston saw over $33 billion in foreign investments over the past 10 years. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Throughout the past decade, over 500 foreign-owned companies from 36 countries have planned investments in Houston. The investments are spread across more than 600 deals within 63 industries in Houston. Adding up the amount of disclosed valuations, the total exceeds $33 billion.

The city has a lot to offer these companies from all over the world, says Greater Houston Partnership's senior vice president of research, Patrick Jankowski, in a release.

"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," Jankowski says in the release.

The information is compiled in the new Global Houston report from the GHP that analyzes data on foreign investment over the past decade. The research shows that now

The foreign investment movement greatly impacts the local economy, Jankowski adds.

"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," he says.

Aside from the investments, the report found that locally, more than 2,500 Houston manufacturing firms have their hands in global trade. Around 17.3 percent of Houston's economy is related to exports, which amounts to double than what was recorded in 2003, according to the Brookings Institution. The Bayou City regularly leads the nation in exports, such as oil field services, refined products, chemicals, and fabricated metals.

The report also took into account Houston's diversity, which has also evolved over the past 10 years. About one in four residents are born outside the country, and a third of the population growth is attributed to immigrants — who account for 390,000 of the city's new residents. In 2017 alone, foreign-born Houstonians made up almost a third of the total GDP of Houston, or $142.1 billion.

"Over the last couple of decades, Houston's economy has become more diversified," says Bob Harvey, GHP president and CEO, in a news release. "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."

In 2018, Houston's top five trade partners all increased activity. The top countries are, Mexico ($24.6 billion in 2018, compared to $20.1 billion in 2017), China ($20.3 billion, compared to $18.8 billion in 2017), Brazil ($12.9 billion, compared to $12.6 billion in 2017), The Netherlands ($10.4 billion, compared to $8.6 billion in 2017), and South Korea ($10.3 billion, compared to $6.8 billion in 2017).

By the numbers

Here are some key findings from the report.

  • 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 percent are naturalized (i.e. U.S. citizens). That's up from 32.3 percent 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 percent from 2008. Asia follows at 409,395, up 37 percent and Africa with 95,017, a 14 percent increase.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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