Houston plans direct flights to China

Updated: 2011-04-16 16:23


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HOUSTON - Houston, the fourth largest US city, is looking at moving its 2 million residents faster and farther, including high-speed rail, keeping NASA in town and providing direct flights to and from China, the city's Mayor Annise Parker said Friday.

Following her annual "state of the city" speech before 1,500 government officials and business leaders, Parker held a press conference to elaborate on the city's efforts to rebound from a sour economy and create a more mobile future for the city's 2 million residents.

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Plans currently on the drawing table, she said, include direct air service between Houston and major cities in the Chinese mainland, though she did not name an airline or prospective timetable for flights to begin.

"We're working on a direct level with the airport," Parker said, referring to Houston's George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Expanding opportunities for trade is one of the city's highest priorities, she said, along with deficit-busting, fiscally sound management, job creation, new development, building infrastructure and reducing crime.

Parker headed a 60-person delegation to China in August and took a ride on high-speed rail.

She is now working, she said, on getting private funding for a similar fast rail line between Houston and Dallas, the state's largest cities.

"I've ridden the high speed rail in Shanghai and I was tremendously impressed," Parker said.

She has been in discussions with Harris County Judge Edward Emmett as to how Houston will implement a fast future Houston-Dallas rail line.

The mayor's August trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing gave her a first-hand experience with fast-rail technology and underscored her commitment to greater cooperation between Houston and China, especially in energy, medical treatment and mass transportation.

"The county judge and I are in communication about a high-speed, viable corridor between Houston and Dallas," Parker said. "It will take a lot of private funding to see that there is a connection in place."

In the area of space travel, Parker said she is unhappy with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who last week said they plan to disburse some functions of NASA and replant them in other states. Houston, she said, has long been home to astronauts and the nation's space program.

Parker said if she gets the chance to weigh in on the decision, she will do so in a letter to the US Congress about the space program's importance to Houston.

"They are dismantling our simulators and sending them around the country," Parker said. "It's now in Congressional plans. We will continue to be the place where astronauts are trained; we will not concede an inch on being the future of space."

Patrick Oxford, past president of the event's host, the Greater Houston Partnership, introduced the mayor by acknowledging that the partnership and Parker are fighting to keep NASA in Houston and to increase trade and funding levels for public schools and the Texas Medical Center.

Oxford said Houston is number one in the United States in the amount of foreign trade conducted in town or through Houston-based business interests. The multicultural nature of Houston has reaped big rewards, he said.

"One of the most rewarding results is that we have 92 consulates and we are first in the nation in the multitude of foreign trade," Oxford said.

Among the nations represented at Friday's event were consuls or high-ranking officials from France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.

"We continue to engage in inbound and outbound trade missions to China, working to increase trade and to have businesses move here," Parker said.

In her message to the government officials Houston's business leaders in attendance, Parker outlined challenges and initiatives the city has experienced during the past year.

Parker said that despite the downturn in the economy, Houston remains strong and secure, and has seen a drop in crime, an increase in jobs, development and improvements in neighborhoods and infrastructure while saving money.

"The economy is not back yet, but job creation is going up, building permits are up, sales tax is going up," Parker said. "We've seen the largest five-year employment gain of any city."

Houston, she said, has also been named by national media as the best place to live and work, the best city to start a new career and, with $644 million in new development, the most entrepreneurial city in North America.

Parker said the city of Houston ranks as the number-one purchaser of renewable energy in the nation.  This year, she said, the city will see its first all-electric automobile from Nissan.

"We're all in this together," Parker said. "We rise or fall together.  We prosper or fail together. We solve our problems - or we don't - together. Join hands with me as we continue to create the Houston we dream of - the Houston that could be, should be and will be."


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