HOUSTON — In a city as diverse as Houston, it's no surprise there's a lot of global business, including with South Korea.
According to the Greater Houston Partnership's Global Report, South Korea is Houston's third-largest international trading partner and Texas' fifth-largest.
The report said trade between Houston and South Korea has nearly quadrupled over the past decade from $6.2 million in 2013 to $24.6 million in 2022.
This is credited largely to a jump in the export value of mineral fuel, like oil and other refined products, and Houston's import of iron and steel.
That trade relationship was bolstered two years ago when Ulsan, South Korea, was named Houston's 19th sister city.
But, for international companies entering the U.S. market for the first time, it isn't always easy. That's where immigration attorney Sang Shin with Jackson Walker, LLP in Houston comes in.
"So, a lot of these companies, even though they're huge, sophisticated international companies abroad, and in Korea, they'll come and they're like, 'I don't know where to start,'" Shin said.
Shin helps companies navigate the U.S. legal system and equip them with the tools they need to succeed.
"The culture is very different here and how people do business is not just based on handshakes but based on something contractual in nature," he said.
Shin said more South Korean businesses are setting up shop in Texas thanks to the state's business-friendly terms and especially in Houston for its relaxed zoning laws. However, he said Houston is still an afterthought for major companies when compared to tech-heavy Austin and the larger Korean community in Dallas.
It's something he and Casey Kang, the president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce Houston, are hoping to change.
Kang said Houston is already headed in the right direction.
"The two big reasons why they're coming is because, one, we have a port, two, for being the fourth largest city in the country, we have very reasonably priced real estate and we have the infrastructure," Kang explained. "Another thing, with over 7 million people, jobs, labor forces, it's easier to find people to work for them compared to Austin and other places."
According to GHP, 35 Korean firms operate 42 subsidiaries in the Houston area, with 55% of those in manufacturing.