I had originally planned to submit this as an op-ed to my hometown newspaper the Houston Chronicle, but the issues passed before I was able to complete it.
For years now, Houston has worked to cement itself as a world-class city, always seeming to be on the brink, but dithering about how to take the next leap. Ideas are thrown about to try to convince the world that we matter. We are the 500-pound gorilla in the room apologizing for not fitting in. If we are to be a world-class city we must begin to view ourselves, not just in the role as a region of the United States, but of the world. Far too often, our political and economic prerogatives are defined by talking heads from other parts of the country that face challenges and opportunities that do not apply to us.
Many of the international issues important to our local economy cross party lines. Recently President Bush spoke alongside New Orleans’ Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin in support of the Colombia Free Trade bill. Mr. Nagin recognizes that New Orleans is the closest U.S. port to Colombia and this bill could bring thousands of jobs to his city to accommodate the increased port traffic and trade. Houston, being only a few hundred miles away is the next logical major port for trade with Colombia. Where New Orleans was paying attention to its place in the world, Houston barely noticed.
In Mexico, whose capitol is closer than our own, the government is finally debating whether to open up Pemex, the government owned oil monopoly, to foreign investment. The Houston Chronicle offered good coverage to Felipe Calderon’s recent trip to the U.S., but Houston again failed to grasp that significant liberalization of Mexico’s oil industry could mean thousands and thousands of high paying jobs for our engineers, construction workers, maritime workers, and scores of other manufacturing companies in the area.
Regardless of personal opinions on free trade and the oil industry, there is no problem seeing that both are the lifeblood of our regional economy. The true problem is that little debate on these events ever occurred, because we weren’t even watching. If Houston is going to become a world-class city, we need to stop just watching the decision making that happens in Washington and New York and start butting in to shape the conversation to address our place in the world.