Dallas Foreign Trade Gets a Jump Start

The number of foreign consuls is growing with the city, but Houston still paces the state.

Hans Heppe, honorary consul of Germany in North Texas, has teamed with the German American Chamber to convene monthly roundtables of local German businesspeople, aiming to generate more trade between the Federal Republic and Dallas-Fort Worth. “We bring those guys together on a regular basis, so we can exchange notes and see how we can serve the trade and commerce interests best in the region,” Heppe says. 

Foreign consuls like Heppe play a significant but under-the-radar role in global trade here, where imports and exports totaled roughly $70 billion last year, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration. There are 33 foreign consuls based in Dallas, up from 29 two years ago. Three more are expected to be added before year’s end.  

Jim Falk, honorary consul of Morocco and president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth, believes it’s no coincidence that the number of consuls is increasing along with the region’s population. “Cities can be measured by the number of consuls they have,” he says. By that metric Dallas still lags Houston, the “big dog” of foreign consul cities in Texas. The Bayou City has more than 90 consuls, third-most in the U.S. (behind New York and Los Angeles) and the most in Texas by far. 

There are 33 foreign consuls based in Dallas, up from 29 two years ago.

Falk says that while Houston claims the Texas title because it’s a port city, Dallas is far more deserving of new consuls today. “I truly believe if we were starting over today, more of them would be in Dallas-Fort Worth” than in Houston, Falk says. “Our economy is more diverse, our growth potential is higher, and, heck, [it’s] just a better place to live.”

There are two types of consuls: career and honorary. Career consuls are professional diplomats from their native countries. Dallas has six of these. Honorary consuls, who are basically unpaid volunteers, are members of the local community who are approached by a country looking for representation. Dallas has 27 of those. 

Consuls have a range of duties, starting with administrative tasks like helping with visas or lost passports. They also work to expand tourism. For example, John Stich, honorary consul-general of Japan, helped organize the Japan-America Grassroots summit three years ago. During the summit 180 Japanese citizens came to Dallas—154 of whom lived with families in 15 different North Texas cities.

But a major responsibility of foreign consuls is to create an economic bridge between countries by looking for business opportunities. “This area has been on a high growth curve and, as a result, is becoming more and more important to the different countries that want to do business,” Stich says. “We’re seeing more and more companies come here, because this is a very good place to do business.” As Dallas continues to grow, Falk and Stich agree, its number of foreign consuls will continue to grow as well.

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