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Venezuelan-Owned Citgo Contemplates Move to Houston - 2004-01-27

The Venezuela-owned oil refining and distribution company Citgo Petroleum, which is currently based in Tulsa, Oklahoma is considering a move to Houston, Texas, prompting a bidding war between the two cities and states. The next few days could be decisive as officials in Texas woo Citgo's top executives amid all the hoopla and festivities surrounding the Super Bowl football championship.

There is a party atmosphere all over Houston these days as Sunday's big American football game approaches, but behind all the festivities are some serious business dealings. One of the most important for this city that bills itself as the energy capital of the world is the effort to snare Citgo Petroleum's corporate headquarters from Tulsa.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has invited Citgo Chief Executive Officer Luis Marin to the Super Bowl. City and state officials are also busy touting the benefits of a Houston location to Mr. Marin and the Citgo board of directors. At stake are 1,000 high-paying jobs and millions of dollars in real estate contracts.

Ira Perry of the Greater Houston Partnership, a private group that promotes Houston business, said that getting Citgo to relocate here would be a big boost for the local economy.

"A thousand jobs is a huge number in any city. That would be considered a major relocation by anybody's standards," he said. "It is not just the jobs, but adding one more corporate headquarters to our downtown cannot hurt. We already are the headquarters for 19 Fortune 500 companies and it would just further emphasize our status as the energy capital of the world."

Mr. Perry said such a corporate relocation would also attract other business to the city and thereby create even more jobs in the metropolitan area. Tulsa offers a low-cost environment, but it is also a landlocked city with no major international airport nearby. Mr. Perry said Houston is looking for leverage with its large port on the Gulf of Mexico, its international airport hub and its well-established international connections.

"In terms of the international perspective, one in three jobs in Houston are already tied to world trade, about 38 percent is what we estimate," he said. "So the international perspective and the ability to travel all over the world, to get in and out easily, would be a major plus."

Houston business leaders and Texas officials are trying not be over confident, since any deal would have to be approved by Citgo's board of directors, probably sometime next month. Oklahoma officials are also working hard to keep the company. Tulsa can be expected to offer some big incentives for Citgo to stay put since the company represents one of the city's last remaining corporate headquarters.

Citgo Petroleum, which operates refineries and a chain of gas stations in the United States, is owned by Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela.