Is Houston posed for an economic comeback?

January 6, 2011 4:36:47 PM PST
Is the city of Houston ready for an economic comeback? Communities across the country are still struggling to get back on their feet from the recession, and while the impact has definitely been felt here, it could be much worse. Now we're getting an in-depth look at which industries are thriving, and which could help lead the way to recovery. There are a lot of economic indicators that show Houston is on its way back.

If you were at a local mall over the holidays, you might have noticed just how busy the shops seemed to be. But that's just one sign the Houston economy is headed in the right direction.

"Now we're starting to see the economy in full sunlight. We're seeing that Houston is beginning to grow again," said Patrick Jankowski of the Greater Houston Partnership.

The GHP's just-released numbers for 2010 are encouraging, pointing to several key indicators that the economy is getting better, not the least of which are car sales. they're up 8 percent over 2009.

"We felt a little momentum building and I think in the first of November and through December, we saw a significant difference," said Carroll Smith with Monument Chevrolet.

Smith owns Monument Chevrolet in Pasadena, and while sales aren't where they were in 2004 or even 2007, they're looking up. And he's seeing people coming in to buy cars because they want to, not just because they need to.

"Towards the end of the year, we saw people in the market that wanted to buy a car. They wanted a new car. And I think that reflects some of the certainty that people felt," Smith said.

Some of that certainty could be coming from the job market. While not perfect, it has leveled out. In 2010, the Houston area added 9,500 new jobs. That's not great, but compared to the 103,500 lost a year ago, it's good news.

Also consider that the oil and gas industry are still doing well which leads to growth in other professional sectors in Houston. And given the trends that ended 2010, this year could prove even better.

"2011 looks very good. It looks a lot better than 2010. A heckuva lot better than 2009," said Jankowski.

The Houston Airport System is one of the leading indicators of Houston's improving economy.. Travelers are up 8 percent at Bush Intercontinental Airport, 6 percent at Hobby Airport, and cargo is up an amazing 18 percent.

"We are very, very hopeful that the numbers are exactly what they seem. The economy is picking up and that the Houston Airport System played an important role in that," said Marlene McClinton of the Houston Airport System.

Not all of the news is good. The most recently released unemployment rate for Houston is 8.6 percent. That's up half a point from 8.1 percent a year ago. The housing market and associated construction jobs are still hurting too, compared to where they were before the recession.

But overall, things are looking up and it seems Houston has weathered the recession better than almost anywhere else you could travel.