HOUSTON - The rapid growth of the Asian population in and around Houston, Texas, has helped make the fourth largest city in the United States one of the country’s most diverse cities. Many Asians come to Houston to fill high-paying jobs in the city’s energy and medical sectors. Many also come to start businesses, though, in a relatively inexpensive city. The Asian influx has helped one Chinese immigrant build an empire.

Chinese culture is now woven into Houston’s urban fabric. And young Chinese residents also are proud to be Texans.

One of them is China-born entrepreneur Wea Lee, who founded Southern News Group here 35 years ago.

“Our friends get together here and also celebrate the 35th anniversary of Southern News Group,” he said.

Starting small

Lee’s business success started with a printing press and a newspaper for what what was then a small Chinese community in Houston.

He now has huge, modern presses, and he publishes community papers in several languages in 10 U.S. cities.

“Every hour I can print 28,000 copies,” he said.

A growth rate of 70 percent in Houston’s Asian population since the year 2000 has fueled the expansion of Lee’s business. He now prints papers in several Asian languages.

Houston’s Asian population, at about 7 percent, is small compared to Whites and Hispanics -- each with more than 40 percent -- but Asians tend to be well educated and wealthier.

Lee said his publications have helped many immigrants prosper.

“A lot of people move to Houston, move to International district. We try to help them to make it their home and make successful their business,” said Lee.

Major success

He also has expanded into television and the Internet, providing entertainment and news for the Chinese community.

Since Chinese food is popular around the world, Houston channel ITV also has a cooking show. In cooperation with a TV station in Los Angeles, it provides all-day programming.

ITV also offers an Internet news program for China, where news announcer Tongyan Zhang said there is great interest in Houston.

“People living in China want to know if Houston is a good city for investment, is Houston a great city for them to come and find a job, to go to college,” said Zhang.

“How to get into high school, how to get into the best colleges in America -- that kind of topic interests a lot of the Chinese audience,” said Lee.

Aside from his media empire, Wea Lee’s company also owns the International Trade Center in Houston’s Chinatown, and he was a major partner in establishing a local bank.

“We really appreciate this great country that gave us opportunity. Where else can you start a banking business? Where else can you start a publishing business? Only happen in America,” said Lee.

Houston’s Asian population is growing 50 percent faster than more established hubs like New York or San Francisco, and Southern News Group will benefit from that growth in the years ahead.