Port of Entry: GalvestonEconomic Impact, 2015

Texas' location, geography and diverse economy offer unique trade opportunities with other states and countries. Texas has a number of ports of entry, including seaports, inland ports and border crossings, which facilitate the movement of imports and exports. Texas ports of entry contribute to the state and local economies, each in a distinctive way

The State of Texas accounted for nearly $650 billion in international trade in 2015. Of this total, $204 billion or 32.3 percent traveled through the state's seaports, with the Port of Galveston accounting for 2.7 percent of the seaport trade, or about $5.5 billion.1

Based on the Comptroller's analysis, the net benefit of trade associated with the Galveston port of entry includes an estimated 20,400 net jobs to Texas and a minimum of $2.9 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) to the Texas economy.2 (The Comptroller acknowledges there may be other economic activities directly and indirectly associated with the use of this facility which may not be reflected here.)

Port of Galveston

The Port of Galveston is one of 10 seaports along Texas' 367 mile-long coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. Each seaport facilitates the movement of goods between Texas and countries throughout the world. Each Texas seaport is unique, offering different capabilities and a variety of shipping options, including bulk, roll-on/roll-off, container and liquid/gas shipping.

The Port of Galveston was originally established in 1825 as a trading post, when the land presently known as Texas belonged to Mexico. It became the principal port for the Republic of Texas in 1836, making it the oldest commercial port in the state and the oldest port on the Gulf of Mexico west of New Orleans.3 The public Port of Galveston has been officially known as the Galveston Wharves since 1940 when voters approved the purchase of private holdings from the Galveston Wharf Company.

The Port of Galveston is located near the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel, the busiest waterway in the U.S. This 52-mile-long shipping channel accommodates annual vessel calls of more than 8,300 large ships and 231,000 smaller commercial craft (including barges) carrying more than 230 million tons of cargo.5 The port is located at the entrance to Galveston Bay along the 45-foot-deep and 1,200-foot-wide Galveston Channel. The Galveston Channel runs between Galveston Island and the adjacent Pelican Island; these islands are connected by the Pelican Island Causeway. The port's facilities are located on Galveston Island's northern shore and Pelican Island's southern shore, both only 9.3 miles (or a 30-minute sail) from the open sea.6 The Port of Galveston includes:

  • 850 acres of facilities and property: 300 acres on Pelican Island and 550 acres on Galveston Island;7
  • a 65,000-square-foot cold storage facility used for fruits and vegetables;8
  • roll-on/roll-off terminal facilities on the east and west ends;
  • a dredging and disposal facility (a feature unique to Texas ports);
  • two cruise ship terminals with a total area of over 400,000 square feet;9
  • direct access to two Class-1 rail lines (Union Pacific and BNSF); and
  • roadway connectivity to IH-45 and the Gulf Freeway.

Economic Data

The Port of Galveston ranks 52nd in the nation for cargo tonnage, moving 5.6 million tons of cargo in 2015.10 In total, shipping activity at the Port of Galveston accounted for $5.5 billion in international trade in 2015, a decrease of 7 percent from 2003 ($6 billion).11

The Port of Galveston is covered by a General Purpose Foreign-Trade Zone (FTZ) #36 designation. FTZ #36 includes the port as well as other close-by sites in Galveston County.12 The Port of Galveston is also Texas' primary cruise port. With over 1.67 million cruise passenger movements in 2015, it ranks as the fourth busiest cruise port by passenger volume in North America and the seventh busiest in the world. 13 In 2015, $56 million in passenger on-shore spending was generated from cruise activity with another $18.1 million spent on cruise-related services provided at the port.14 Though tourism generates a large portion of its economic activity, the Port of Galveston has made efforts to diversify and expand upon its cargo operations by increasing its marketing to the trade community.15

  • Top origination/destination for goods: China; Japan; Germany
  • Top Imports through Galveston: Machinery; Vehicles; Fertilizers; Produce
  • Top Exports through Galveston: Machinery; Cereals and Grains; Mineral Oils and Chemicals

The Port of Galveston has a diverse trading network: only 34.7 percent of trade traversing the port comes from or goes to its top three trading countries. The top trading country (China) represents 14 percent of total trade, while the second and third largest (Japan and Germany) only account for about 10.5 percent each.

Port of Galveston Trade Value, 2013-2015
  Overall Trade ($ billions) Trade with China/Japan/Germany ($ billions)
Year Total Trade Exports (only) Imports (only) Total Trade Total Trade % Exports (only) Imports (only)
2015 $5.46 $2.37 $3.08 $1.89 34.67% $0.699 $1.19
2014 $8.04 $3.98 $4.05 $1.64 20.42% $0.245 $1.40
2013 $7.64 $2.70 $4.93 $1.30 16.99% $0.134 $1.16

Source: Texas Centers for Border Economic and Enterprise Development

In 2015, the Port directly employed 3,912 jobs in the following sectors of operation: marine cargo (2,680) and cruise (1,232).16

In 2015, Port of Galveston partnered with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics to complete a 4,400-square-foot. Vehicle Processing Center (VPC) capable of importing and processing 33,000 units annually, servicing BMW and Mini Cooper dealers in and around Texas.17 The VPC began receiving shipments in 2016 and is expected to increase imports to the port by $1.3 billion.18 Other capital improvement projects at the port include constructing a regional intermodal transportation terminal as well as a 60,000-square-foot expansion to Cruise Terminal Two to accommodate larger cruise vessels. The three projects represent a $33 million public-private investment in the port.19

Federal Customs District Growth

The Port of Galveston is part of the larger Houston-Galveston Customs District, which includes the area stretching along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi to Galveston, and inland from Freeport northward to the Houston Intercontinental Airport. With $193 billion in trade, the Houston-Galveston District relies heavily on seaports for its trade volume and in 2015 ranked first in the U.S. for cargo volume, at 249 million metric tons.20

Texas has 29 official ports of entry that serve as critical gateways to global trade. Each port, whether accessible via air, land or sea, serves a variety of domestic and international economic activity across multiple industries. The high quality of Texas' ports has a significant impact internationally as well as across the state, from its largest cities to the most rural counties. Texas ports play an important role in the state's transportation network, as each directly contributes to and thus affects the entire transportation system. Texas ports contribute to the overall strength and diversity of the Texas economy, which ranks 10th in GDP when compared to other nations. 21