By Juan Alanis

As a hub for international trade, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is propelling local businesses into the global economy ’ and they are thriving

Houston Airport System

Seven years ago, a single kitchen and unflinching determination were the epitome of Celene Pe’a's business.

A wife and mother of three, the Mexico-native had arrived in the country six years earlier with a dream ’ to one day start her own business.

In pursuit of that objective, for several years Pe’a ventured into whatever work came her way. She worked at a fast-food restaurant, travel agency and in the apartment management business before falling into her true calling.

As a child in the Mexican city of Villa Guerrero, Jalisco, Pe’a grew up playing in the flower-fields owned by her family. That’s why in hindsight, she confesses, it seemed only natural to go into the flower-shop business.

In 1997, Pe’a obtained a job as an assistant in a local flower shop business and it was there that her dreams first began to materialize. Her then employer quickly recognized her potential and decided to help her along the way. She gave Pe’a a cooler and showed her the ropes of the floral industry.

Two year’s later the now-successful entrepreneur was working 10-hour days from her makeshift kitchen/flower-shop to keep up with the demand for her floral arrangements. Eventually she was able to secure a storefront outside of her home and began to contract help.

Despite all the progress, however, five years ago her business was in trouble. Competition was getting fierce and the cost of maintaining her supply chain was becoming too expensive. Up until then, Pe’a purchased all her flowers from local wholesalers.

Frustrated with the dilemma of keeping her business afloat, Pe’a began to explore the possibility of bringing in flowers from across the border.

‘Flowers in Latin America cost half as much as the ones in the US,’ she said. ‘If I pay $1.99 for a rose here, I pay less than a dollar for the same rose, or a better one, in Mexico. You just can’t beat that.’

Through George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Pe’a first began to import flowers from Mexico in 2001. In a matter of months her profit margin was up by 25%.

Today, her supply chain includes exporters from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico and her business is doing better than ever. Her portfolio of past and present high profile clients includes the Reliant Center arena, the National Football League, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Spanish-language television giant Univision and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

In 2003 and 2004, Pe’a was awarded the Hispanic Emerging Business of the Year Award by the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She now owns two homes, two flower shops and has patented a floral carrier delivery system, this all in addition to keeping up with the day-to-day necessities of her business.

According to James Evans, assistant regional director of the University of Houston’s Small Business Development Center, the success of Pe’a and other small business-owners like her can be attributed to the international significance of Houston’s airports.

‘Being in a city with a major airport is a tremendous advantage for entrepreneurs,’ he said. ‘Number one, there are multiple venues for you to market your product in ’ and number two; you can also import a more diverse variety of products. This increases your profit margin and reduces your supply costs.’

IAH is the seventh-largest international gateway in the United States and last year moved more than 347,000 metric tons of air cargo. Later this year, the airport is scheduled to inaugurate a 60,000 square-foot perishables cooling facility in addition to its already expansive cargo area.

Considered one of the primary gateways into Latin America, IAH is currently in talks with a variety of Asian carriers to bring more international air service into the Houston market. These carriers are particularly interes