Houston…described by some as a concrete jungle, spread over 10,000 square miles with a population of nearly 2.3 million people. A city globally recognised as a centre of excellence in healthcare, biomedical sciences and the aerospace industry, while retaining its title as the world’s oil and gas capital. It’s a big and booming city, which niche SMEs can’t afford to miss out on.
How does Houston differ from Aberdeen? Well, Houston learned early on not to reply on a single industry, whereas in Aberdeen, recent efforts to rebalance our dependency on oil and gas are seen by some as too late. But I think there is a lot of potential in the global subsea market, decommissioning and renewables, and with continued work from Scottish Enterprise, OGTC and Opportunity North East, our diversification holds promise yet.
Since my first visits to Houston in the ‘90s, I’ve seen the city go from being the home to some American supermajors and a handful of Gulf of Mexico operators, to a thriving hub of global activity. Now, most international supermajors have a significant presence in Houston and Gulf of Mexico operators have gone global. In the last few years, most of these IOCs have taken their control and decision-making capabilities back to the city. Houston is the home of the purse strings. These are the people to convince. This is the city to be in.
Companies wanting to break into Houston need to be aware of the differences between the Concrete and Granite cities. Houston is known for its relationship-driven, ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ attitude, which accepts early challenges with technology and encourages and rewards entrepreneurialism. Thankfully, the UKCS is moving away from its deep-set conservative thinking. In the pressure to collaborate and deliver more for less, oil and gas operators are talking directly to SMEs, rather than the Tier 1 Contractors, building relationships with them and giving them the opportunities to introduce new methods and technologies – without wanting to be ‘first to be second’ to avoid failure.
It’s relatively simple for smaller, niche companies to set up shop in Houston, and as it’s the technical centre of excellence, new technology will be welcomed with open arms. But from experience, a local presence with local employee support is essential. Businesses must be fully funded and have budgets in place, and be prepared to work with stringent visa requirements, pay generally higher salaries, and take exchange rate risks.
OTC is the ideal opportunity for companies wishing to do business in the Gulf of Mexico and with international oil companies. It’s a week to pitch services and products, build relationships and gain a better understanding of the operating environment. New deals won’t happen overnight, but there are plenty of opportunities to make progress on the stands, at formal events or at one of the many fantastic restaurants – like Eddie V’s at City Centre….
The door is still wide open to Houston and not to be missed.