Port of Entry: Houston - Port of HoustonEconomic Impact, 2015

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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 Texas' total international trade, $204 billion or 32.3 percent traveled through the state's seaports, with the Port of Houston accounting for 67 percent of the seaport trade, or about $137 billion.1

Based on the Comptroller's analysis, the net benefit of trade associated with the Houston seaport port of entry includes an estimated 509,000 net jobs to Texas and a minimum of $73 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) to the Texas economy.1 (The Comptroller acknowledges there may be other economic activities directly and indirectly associated with the use of this facility that may not be reflected here.)

The Port of Houston "Sea Port"

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

The "Houston Plan" to deepen the Houston Ship Channel for deep-water access began in 1912. The ship channel officially opened in November 1914. Today, the 52 mile-long Houston Ship Channel is the busiest waterway in the U.S., involving 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.3 The Houston Ship Channel includes the Port of Houston, an intricate, 25-mile-long industrial complex comprising more than 150 public and private terminals that support many industries, including the nation's largest petrochemical complex.4

The Port of Houston includes:

  • 150-plus private industrial companies;
  • a 25-mile-long complex of diversified public and private facilities including the nation's largest petrochemical complex (second largest in the world);
  • a shipping channel 45 feet deep and 530 feet wide;
  • the largest facility in the U.S. for raw plastic resin export;
  • access to three class-1 railroads (BNSF, Union Pacific, TexMex/Kansas City Southern);5
  • the nation's sixth-largest container terminal complex (and the largest on the Gulf Coast); and
  • association to a General-Purpose Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) #84.

The Port of Houston Authority is an autonomous governmental entity authorized by the Texas Legislature in 1927 to oversee and manage the Port of Houston and the Houston Ship Channel. The Port Authority also owns and maintains the public terminals within the Port of Houston, including the nation's largest break-bulk terminal (for large, individually loaded cargo items) as well as container terminals at Bayport and Barbours Cut, which combined represent the largest container terminal on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The size and capabilities of the Port Authority's trade operation illustrate how large the Port of Houston actually is; cargo going directly through the Authority's large operations represents only 22 percent of all tonnage traversing the port.

Economic Data

In total, shipping activity at the Port of Houston accounted for $137 billion in trade in 2015, an increase of 174 percent from 2003 ($50 billion).6 Thirty-eight percent of all ships received enter the port after passing through the Panama Canal.7 The Port of Houston is the nation's largest importer and exporter of petroleum and petroleum products. In 2014, the port's container terminals handled 67 percent of all U.S. Gulf coast container traffic.

Port of Houston (Port), All Trade (All Commodities), 2003-2015*. * Trade value decrease is directly related to the lower price of oil, as a significant portion of this trade is in petroleum products. Source: Texas Centers for Border Economic and Enterprise Development

  • Top origination/destination for goods: China; Mexico
  • Top Imports through Port of Houston: Oil; Machinery; Steel
  • Top Exports through Port of Houston: Fuels; Machinery; Chemicals; Plastics

As can be seen below, the Port of Houston has a very diverse trading network, with only 18.1 percent of trade traversing the port coming from or going to its top two trading countries. The top two trading countries (China and Mexico) each only represent 9 percent of total trade. The next two biggest partners (Brazil and Germany) account for only 6 percent each.

Port of Houston Trade Value, 2013-2015*
Overall Trade ($ billions) Trade with Venezuela/Saudi Arabia ($ billions)
Total Trade Exports (only) Imports (only) Total Trade Total Trade % Exports (only) Imports (only)
2015 $136.51 $76.77 $59.74 $24.68 18.08% $11.17 $13.51
2014 $167.21 $92.05 $75.17 $29.75 17.79% $10.53 $19.22
2013 $168.53 $94.17 $74.36 $29.55 17.53% $12.02 $17.53

* Trade value decrease is directly related to the lower price of oil, as a significant portion of this trade is in petroleum products.
Source: Texas Centers for Border Economic and Enterprise Development

The Port of Houston Authority reports overall employment of 56,113 directly related to the movement of cargo along the port's section of the Houston Ship Channel. This includes 581 people directly employed by the Port of Houston Authority and another 19,913 directly employed by other maritime service organizations.8

In addition, FTZ #84 is relatively large compared to other port FTZs, as it includes relevant business operations outside the actual Port of Houston boundaries. FTZ #84 ranks first in the U.S. for total merchandise received and eighth in exports. It includes almost 200 firms employing more than 17,300 people.9

Since 2011, the Port of Houston Authority's facilities have seen a shift in cargo tonnage from liquid bulk cargo to more labor-intensive, containerized cargo as well as steel products.10 This resulted in a net increase in direct employment across the port's public and private facilities.

Cargo Type Total Tonnage Handled Exclusively by the Port Authority, (2011, 2014 and 2015):

Short Tons (in Thousands of Tons)*
  2011 2014 2015 2-year Total (2014-15) Change (2014-15 Change (2011-15)
Container 17,746 19,441 21,601 41,042 11.119% 21.72%
Steel 4,301 6,694 4,796 11,490 -28.35% 11.51%
Other General Cargo 1,370 903 1,048 1,951 16.06% -23.50%
Bulk Cargo** 10,168 10,723 8,654 19,377 -19.29% -14.89%
Total Tonnage 33,585 37,761 36,099 73,860 -4.40% 7.49%

* "Short tons," defined as the standard U.S. weight of 2,000 pounds.11
** Does not include Bayport Chemical complex.
Source: Port of Houston Authority

The Port of Houston ranks first in the U.S. in terms of foreign waterborne tonnage and 15th in the world. In 2015, the Port of Houston handled 234.3 million tons of cargo.12 Of this, the Port of Houston Authority's facilities handled 36.1 million tons.

Between 2012 and 2016, private firms invested about $35 billion in the Port of Houston and the surrounding industries it supports.13 Examples include recently announced plans by Magellan Midstream to build a $335 million marine terminal on nearly 200 acres along the Houston Ship Channel in Pasadena. This facility will include 1 million barrels of storage for refined petroleum products and ethanol, as well as a new marine dock, expected to open in 2019, able to accommodate Panamax-sized ships.14

In addition, the Port of Houston Authority plans to spend $1.6 billion during the next five years to expand its Barbour's Cut and Bayport container terminals. This expansion will include deepening the channels to Barbour's Cut and Bayport from 40 feet to 45 feet, allowing larger container ships. To accommodate these vessels, the Port of Houston recently took delivery of four super post-Panamex cranes, each nearly 30 stories tall and worth $50 million.15 The Port of Houston's preparation for the recent Panama Canal expansion resulted in two shipping lines announcing service from Asia to Houston through the expanded canal.16

Many of the nation's polyethylene plants are located near the Port of Houston, and the port accounts for 75 percent of U.S. waterborne exports of plastic resins, both by container and bulk shipment. Industry investment is expected to increase exports of plastic resins by "hundreds of thousands of containers by 2020."17

Federal Customs District Growth

The Port of Houston 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.18

Houston-Galveston Customs District: Total Trade, 2003-2015. Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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.19