I’ve written and edited many business articles, but one of my favorites was for the suite of Lifestyles and Homes magazines in the Houston area. I love finance, economics and money saving information — I guess that would classify me as a financial writer in addition to every other kind of writer — and will be posting more on these topics in the future.
In the meantime, here goes:
An Economic Snapshot of Houston Metro
Stretching from The Woodlands into Cy-Fair, Katy, and Fort Bend, Houston is faring better than most regions in a challenging climate
By Melanie Saxton
An overall snapshot focuses on real estate, retail, jobs, commerce and economic development. Experts from The Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council, The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership, the Katy Area Economic Development Council, The Katy Area Chamber of Commerce, the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce, the Houston Association of Realtors, and the Texas Workforce Commission, among others, offer powerful insights into the health of the region’s economy.
The sixth largest metropolitan region in the country is also one of the best bargains when it comes to housing costs, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. Houston area housing is more than 19 percent lower than the national average and 36 percent lower than the average of 27 metro areas with more than 2 million residents, per the Third Quarter 2011 ACCRA Cost of Living Survey.
Low housing costs and a low cost of living are the main reasons why counties such as Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, and Waller, among others in nearby vicinities, have overall living costs 10.6 percent below the nationwide average for places of all sizes and 19.5 percent below the large-metro average.
According to the latest monthly data prepared by the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR), March sales of single-family homes rose 7.8 percent versus one year earlier. That follows February’s 15.6 percent jump which was the biggest sales boost since last September. Declining sales of homes priced below $80,000 combined with increased activity in the luxury housing segment fueled the pricing gains.
HAR announced that the Houston real estate market enjoyed a 10th consecutive month of rising sales in March, with homes continuing to sell quickly enough to keep housing inventory at its lowest level since December 2008. Average and median prices achieved the highest levels for a March in Houston, with the average price coming just a few dollars shy of the all-time high set in June 2008.
“March was an excellent month for home sales in Houston and the healthy appreciation in pricing is welcome news as well,” says Wayne A. Stroman, HAR chairman and CEO of Stroman Realty. “Inventory remains at its lowest level in more than three years and is outpacing the national real estate market. The moderation in pending sales in March could possibly translate to a leveling off of sales before we enter the summer buying season, but we will know for sure in May.”
Jeffrey C. Wiley, President of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council, concurs. “There has been no better place to live than in the Greater Houston Region over the last decade. Greater Houston is hands down the most robust economy in the country, has had the best job growth nationally since 2001 and come out of the recession faster and stronger than any other metro area in the country. Be thankful you live and work in this community.”
In June 2011, the Houston Business Journal cited a national study indicating that Houston created more retail jobs than any other city in the country since 2008. Positive retail trends are holding into 2012. The Greater Houston Partnership cites the Texas Retail Survey, March 2012, in which Harris County is referenced as the Largest Retail Market in Texas. The Survey’s analysis and rankings are based on actual sales results from each of the 290,000+ retailers in the state.
According to numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Houston added 12,800 retail jobs over the past year — a 4.9 percent growth rate. Of those jobs, 10,000 came from the food and beverage stores sector.
Jobs and Commerce
According to the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce (KACC), a solid base of high-paying jobs in the “Energy Corridor,” home to the research and development arms of many of the world’s largest energy companies, has pushed per capita income 50 percent above national and state levels, and at least 24 percent above the constituent counties. The KACC serves Waller, Harris and Fort Bend County businesses.
Katy Area Employment Statistics (U.S. Census Bureau) are as follows:
• Fort Bend County: 5.3 percent
• Harris County: 6.6 percent
• Waller County: 6.3 percent
• Texas: 6.6 percent
Statistics gathered by the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council also indicate a favorable climate that has weathered a down economy. “Over the last decade, Greater Houston has gained 230,000 net new jobs based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data and is tops among all metro markets in job creation in the country,” says Wiley. “While Fort Bend only comprises approximately 10 percent of the population of Greater Houston, it has captured nearly 20 percent of the job growth over the the past decade, adding nearly 45,000 net new jobs out of Houston’s combined growth.”
The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership (EDP) recently concluded its annual employee count survey of local non-retail employers. Companies with 100 or more employees are surveyed each year to determine job growth trends in the area. As part of the services the EDP provides to the community, the Partnership compiles an annual report of top non-retail employers in The Woodlands Area. In addition to providing information on which companies are growing, the EDP also looks at growth trends in various business sectors including Banking, Distribution/Transportation, Education, Energy, Healthcare, Hospitality, Life Science, Professional/Specialty Services and Public Agencies.
Gil Staley, CEO of the EDP, says, “This information benefits not only local companies, but it is also the most requested data from employers who are considering relocating to this area. Currently there are 55 companies in The Woodlands Area who employ more than 100 people. There are 13 companies who now employ more than 500 people.”
The 2011 job count revealed encouraging news for The Woodlands Area. “Employee numbers at the larger companies show to be up by over 1,000 jobs, for a total workforce of over 24,000 people. According to DemographicsNow®, there are 87,305 employed in our area, making The Woodlands Area a significant employment destination. As reported in the last several years, we are most pleased to see positive job growth with our major employers,” says Staley. He adds, “After evaluating the companies with job gains, we found that Energy and Professional/ Specialty Services are our significant growth industries in this community.”
Texas Workforce Data
February 2012 employment data was released on March 30 for the Gulf Coast region. The Texas Workforce Commission released estimates produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating job growth in the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown MSA remained strong at 3.7 percent in February with payrolls up 93,400 jobs over the year.
According to Sue Cruver, Public Information Officer of the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, “Most private sectors continue to see healthy over-the-year job gains, not only those with ties to oil and gas exploration but other industries tied to population growth. Job growth over the past year has been strongest in Mining and Logging, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Professional and Business Services, and Food Services and Drinking Places.”
The public sector continues to struggle with budget constraints and has reported over-the-year losses for the last 12 months where most of the losses were primarily at the local level. Harris and surrounding counties had a regional unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, more than one full percentage point lower than 8.4 percent in February 2011.
According to Workforce Solutions, a partner of the Texas Workforce Commission, industries in and around greater Houston and the Gulf Coast rank as follows:
•Mining and logging increased payrolls by 9,100 jobs or 10.8 percent over-the-year. Hiring has been both at companies that perform oil and gas extraction and at those supporting the mining industry.
• Ambulatory health care services, where employment in all types of medical offices is found, increased payrolls by 17,300 or 13.9 percent over-the-year.
• Manufacturing increased payrolls by 8,900 jobs or 4 percent over-the-year. Most of the gain was found at manufacturers of durable goods where those supporting the mining industry continue to benefit from a high level of drilling activity.
• Professional and business services added 17,700 jobs to payrolls over-the-year, up 4.8 percent. More than half of these jobs were at employment service companies which employers often utilize when experiencing labor shortages in preparation to increasing permanent payrolls. Gains were also strong at many other companies that support day-to-day operations such as office administration, document preparation and similar clerical services, solicitation, collection, security and surveillance services, cleaning, and waste disposal services.
The greater Houston market is the most robust metropolitan economy in the United States, according to the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council. “Just recently, Brookings Institute ranked Greater Houston 19th among the top 200 metropolitan markets in the world based on per capita GDP and employment changes over the past year,” says Wiley. “Fort Bend has also seen significant growth in both population and economic expansion. Fort Bend is the second fastest growing county in the State of Texas among all 254 counties and the 14th fastest growing county in the country over the last decade.”
Prospects for the future appear bright. Wiley states that since July 2011, the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council has worked in conjunction with county, city and special district public agencies to attract over one quarter billion dollars of new investment and inventory. This investment is tied to over one million square feet of constructionabsorption and 750 new jobs. “We also have over one million square feet of new office deals currently in play in the Greater Houston Region that are considering Fort Bend County in their search.”
Cy-Fair, with a population of approximately 800,000, offers business-friendly regulations and master-planned business and retail environments, attracting business start-ups and relocations along the U.S. 290 corridor and the Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8).
According to the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce, CyFair’s low cost of living and abundance of land and space has attracted small and medium size organizations to Fortune 500 Corporations. Diversified restaurants and businesses have survived a tough economic climate and continue to grow. Many of the community’s original businesses have built a solid foundation. Major industries in the area include manufacturing, construction, oil & gas, education, health services, and professional.
Lance LaCour of the Katy Area Economic Development Council notes that the Katy area has weathered the nation’s economic downturn far better than most. Katy encompasses communities in Fort Bend, Harris and Waller Counties. Dubbed the second fastest growing “boomtown” in America according to a 2009 study by Business Week magazine, Katy still shows growth across sectors, including new home growth, employment and income. Known for its thriving medical facilities and bolstered by jobs in the energy corridor, Katy shares the fortunes of the surrounding areas, making it a draw to families and business.
Editor’s Note: Financial Writer Update
As a culture, lifestyle and financial writer, I’ll be posting more of the hundreds of articles I’ve written over the years that benefit our community and families. See a few links below. ~ Melanie