NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In Gregory, Texas, a huge steel pipe plant buzzes with activity and makes history in the process. Chinese-based Tianjin Pipe Corporation made a $1 billion investment in the plant, marking the largest investment by China in an American manufacturing facility.
It's also a landmark in the development boom around the Port of Corpus Christi, which has seen an increase in foreign investment, thanks to financial incentives and its own geography.
"It's been tremendous. The whole region has taken on a new look with a lot of new companies, a lot of foreign investment, a lot of domestic companies that have been here have made major improvements to their facilities," said John LaRue, executive director of the Port of Corpus Christi. "We estimate we have over 32 billion in committed projects that are either underway or permitted and started construction."
Corpus Christ is one of the U.S.'s largest designated foreign trade zones, which provides manufacturers with some breaks on both taxes and duties for exported goods. In addition to companies like Tianjin, which operates through its joint venture partner TPCO America, domestic firms are also increasing operations in Corpus Christi. Those companies include DuPont (DD), Haliburton (HAL), Valero (VLO) and Cheniere (LNG).
It's not surprising that energy companies are active in the area. Corpus Christi is located just south of the Eagle Ford shale formation and its billions of barrels of oil and cubic feet of gas.
Access to Eagle Ford and cheap natural gas was one of the deciding factors that brought the Austrian company Voestalpine and an $800 million dollar investment to Texas. The company is building an iron ore processing plant that runs on natural gas and produces steel used in luxury automobiles.
"This is the largest facility in the U.S., the largest investment any Austrian company has made in the U.S.," said Matthias Pastl, head of environmental management and communications for Voestalpine Texas.
So far, it's turned out to be a lucrative investment.
"Right now we have about 80% to 85% of the production volume under the contract, so that means even though the plant isn't finished yet, it's pretty much sold out with long term contracts ranging from five to 10 years. so we've got a great response from the market," he added.
Pastl surveyed about 20 sites globally before settling on Corpus Christi. The company was also drawn to the deep water port, from which it will ship two million tons of product.
A short distance away, construction is underway on another big plant. M&G Resins USA broke ground last year on what will eventually be the largest polyethylene terephthalate resin-processing plant plant in the world. It's expected to be fully operational next year.
All this development has translated into dollars for Corpus Christi, which has seen an increase in sales tax collections. Its port now ships more than 100 million tons of cargo, a 12% increase in the past year. The investment has translated into more jobs for the region. Corpus Christi's unemployment rate is below the national average.
John LaRue, the port's executive director, would like to bring in even more development.
"We're looking to buy additional land. Five to seven ears ago we had plenty of land available but in the last four years, we've leased up a lot of our capacity," he said. "That's one of our challenges, finding enough space."
Space isn't a problem for TPCO America and its giant steel pipe plant, which is operating but still expanding. Once construction is complete, the facility will occupy 1.6-million square feet of space. "Coming to America was a very big milestone for us," said Liu Hongan, vice president of Tianjin. "Looking at it now, this was the correct decision to make."