Houston, Texas.Brandon Seidel/Shutterstock
Best for: Import/export
Metro-area population: 5.7 million
Median household income: $44,761
Median home price: $200,300
College graduates: 29%
With more than 163 million tons of cargo passing through each year, the Port of Houston ranks first in U.S. import tonnage. Houston handled 67 percent of ship containers traveling through the Gulf of Mexico last year. And with Mexico allowing foreign investment in energy for the first time in 76 years, plus the opening of an extra shipping lane in the Panama Canal in 2016, the city’s share of cargo handled is bound to grow.
The port is actively pursuing import/export startups with two financial incentives. By setting up shop in Foreign Trade Zone 84, businesses can store goods, manufacture products for export, and delay formal customs entry and duties until they officially decide to move the products into the U.S. The Freeport Tax Exemption also lets importers/exporters store inventory for up to 175 days without paying property tax, if they plan to ship that product out of the state.
Add a large cluster of warehousing; a central location that’s within a day’s drive of Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Phoenix; two international airports; 94 consulates (the third most in the U.S.); and a bilingual population (one of every three Houstonians is Hispanic), and it’s easy to see how Houston could serve as the hub of a global business.
Did you know? The city’s deep-water shipping channel was one reason NASA chose Houston for its headquarters in 1962; ships are the easiest way to transport bulky rockets.