Brando Ballerini (President - Italian Chamber of Commerce in Houston)

Il sogno americano esiste ancora. Anche in Texas

Apr 12, 2013 5328 ITA ENG

If many people only know Texas through the episodes of the TV series Dallas, it is certainly worth seeking the help of someone who knows the State well to break the stereotypes and tell us more about it. We thank Brando Ballerini, President of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce in Houston, for this interview.

Brando – can you tell us about the work of the Chamber of Commerce?

I think the Italian Chambers of Commerce abroad are best and quickest way for Italian companies to access foreign markets. Here in Houston, I modeled the Chamber – both in terms of the structure and its activity – according to the business areas that are strongest here. Made in Italy products are certainly very important, but compared with other regions, here in Texas we must often act as an interface with big companies that operate for example in the subcontracting industry. So we provide technical, logistical, administrative and legal support also to big groups that already have a well established structure in place for doing foreign business.

We have around 150 associates. For the companies that require it, we organize B2B between Italian and Texan companies. But our area of work includes also Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Texas is the fastest growing State in terms of GDP, population, business, and innovation. Is it the “new frontier”?

At the moment, Texas is the strongest and fastest developing economy of the United States. The state alone would be the twelfth economy in the world, whilst Houston alone would probably rank amongst the first twenty. The enormous increase in population here is owed to the low taxation, the low cost of energy and the climate, which is generally extremely favorable to business. There is little unemployment, and a state-ran protection net for people in between jobs. The job market is very elastic and as a result of this, if someone loses their job, it is easy to find new one. Some firms even close down in Los Angeles and Miami and come to open up in Houston.

The cost of manual labor here is low, but white-collar roles, i.e. management-level positions, are very well remunerated. There is a great need for such professional figures here today: it is much easier for a certain type of professional to obtain a company-sponsored visa here than in other American cities, where there is a crisis or this kind of market is more saturated.

Further, if in the USA the fiscal, administrative and bureaucratic conditions are already much more advantageous than those in Italy, in Texas these are even better. This makes it possible for people to dedicate the right amount of time to the development of their company without wasting time in unproductive obligations and obstacles, both public and private. To give you an example, my group built an establishment here in Houston: barely a year went past from the moment the decision was made to the moment we started working in the premises.

Texas is almost two and a half times bigger than Italy but has a population of less than half. There is space, there are beautiful enormous houses with low prices, the climate is great: you can live a good life. The American dream still exists, and Texas is certainly the best proof of this.

Is there space also for Made in Italy products in these regions? Are there many Italian Americans acting as “Ambassadors”?

There is lots of space. People in Italy often think of Texans as being bit uncivilized and isolated in their own world. But here, in the center of Houston, there is a parade of some of the most beautiful cars in the world, many of them Italian. They are owned by a middle-high class that is very wealthy and appreciates luxury under all aspects. All Made in Italy sectors would have an even wider market here, because competition is still very low. A group of jewelers recently came to us and were enthusiastic with the B2B we organized. There are also a large number of malls in which an enormous quantity of luxury Italian products circulate, although so far it is only the biggest names. Even in the food and beverage sector, the market is a lot less crowded than in the other big American cities: for example a lot of wine is sold here, and prosecco is really popular.

There are not many Italian Americans. In Houston there are around 1.500 of us and in the entire area we work in the number is 5.000. But they are often in high and interesting positions: managers and professionals in the medical field, researchers, entrepreneurs, managers and professionals in the sectors of information technology and oil industry. A good logistics and shipping activity is developing as the Houston harbor is the second in the USA, but it grows at an impressive speed and is likely set to becoming the first.

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