For decades, China has influenced Houston’s economy through investments across multiple business sectors, cultural and scientific exchanges — and even basketball games.
Chinese immigrants have helped mold areas of the city into their present form, driving commerce and permanently changing areas such as Bellaire, a community with a dense Asian population. But the Chinese are not finished with transforming Houston just yet. Experts anticipate increased investment in the region from the world’s most populous country. For many Houston businesses, the next wave of competition could come from strangers living about 6,000 miles away.
Historically, if Chinese investors bought into towers in major submarkets, it was almost always through advisory firms, said Jared Chua, vice president of investment properties at CBRE Group Inc.’s Houston office. “Chinese investment has been pretty much few and far between recently,” he said. “There’s been a lot of indirect investment to date,” he said. “As they continue to do that and see success and get used to the market, at some point I think there is going to be more Chinese investment in Houston. Not just as one of the users, but perhaps as major investors.” In addition, Chua predicts Houston will see more acquisitions from Chinese energy firms.
The Asian population in Houston grew 71 percent over the last decade, faster than any other demographic. As a result, several ethnic-focused banks have started to develop a relationship with Chinese businesses and residents.
“The two major industries Houston offers, energy and health care, are right up China’s alley, and that really gives us a huge advantage,” said George Lee, CEO of Houston’s MetroCorp Bancshares Inc., which was formed by Asian-American investors in the late 1980s.
Chinese-centric banks in Houston have been able to capitalize on wealthy entrepreneurs moving from China to Houston, Lee said. Collectively, Chinese banks hold about $1.6 billion of the deposits in Houston, according to SNL Financial LC. Four years ago, the largest U.S. bank that is focused on the Chinese-American market, the $22 billion-asset East West Bank, started a branch in Houston.
Chinese and Houston economic organizations and businesses are connecting the dots between Houston and cities throughout China. With more transportation routes opening up, more economic activity will be generated between the two cities — especially in the oil and gas, manufacturing and retail sectors. In the past 12 months, Houston secured its first direct flight to and from Beijing on Air China, while the Port of Houston Authority secured a new shipping route agreement with China Ocean Shipping Co., or Cosco, and Hanjin Shipping.
Besides economic ties between Houston and the USA, the Houston Ballet’s has a history of more than 30 years with China. Currently, the ballet has three Chinese dancers among its group of about 50 artists, which in turn helps attract a Chinese audience to its performances.
Lastly, even in the sports area, the Chinese are making an impact in Houston. Though former Houston Rockets’ center Yao Ming has retired, his 7-foot 6-inch frame still casts a shadow over the NBA team’s business operations. Because of Yao’s Chinese heritage and success in the NBA, the Rockets are now a well-known entity in Asia.
Source: Houston Business Journal