Higher gas prices helping businesses outside energy sector

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The only oil in Carmelo's kitchen is made from olives. But it's the oil you don't cook with that keeps the doors open.

"We are married to the oil company because of the location we sit in," said restaurant owner Carmelo Mauro.

For 37 years, he's run his restaurant in the heart of Houston's energy corridor. When things are good, they're very good.

"Since January 2015 we have seen the collapse of our business," he said.

It is changing, though.

"We start to see the uptick," Mauro admitted. "We see the oil companies entertaining. We start seeing our private rooms being used."

He's not the only one noticing the upward trend. The Houston West Chamber of Commerce has done three recent surveys -- and ahead of an annual economic forecast they'll release Friday -- they say members are bubbling with optimism.

"Businesses are on an upturn. Businesses are feeling a lot more positive," said Jeannie Bollinger, the Chamber's CEO. "They believe they're going to be hiring and expanding. And that is great news for all of us."

Tony Samper sees it, too. He helps run an HVAC company that services homes and businesses. They dipped three years ago, but expect this year to be much better.

"We are already seeing an increase in spending and an increase in need for the air conditioning and electrical services that we provide," said Samper.

It's not all bread, wine, and roses, though.

There is a lot of empty office space.

Patrick Jankowski, a forecaster with Greater Houston Partnership, told Eyewitness News that job growth will be modest in 2017 across southeast Texas. Construction jobs will shrink and there could be more energy layoffs. He does say the worst is behind us and the second half of 2017 will be better than the first.

At his west side restaurant, Carmelo Mauro is toasting to better future than recent past.

Information about the economic summit on Friday:

The Houston West Chamber of Commerce's mission is to be "In Business. For Business" by partnering with the business community to promote economic growth and superior quality of life in West Houston communities. On Friday, February 10 from 11:00 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. at the Omni Houston Hotel at Westside, the Houston West Chamber is hosting the West Houston Economic Development Summit (WHEDS), hosted by Omni Hotels & Resorts and presented by Mercantil Commercebank.

Dr. Bill Gilmer, Director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, will discuss his 2017 economic forecast for West Houston in the presentation, "Recession to Recovery: Picking Up the Pieces in West Houston". Attendees will receive a copy of Dr. Gilmer's forecast report, and hear results of the only proprietary survey of West Houston business leaders on their economic outlook for next year including plans for spending, hiring and allocating financial resources.

During the Summit, an elite group of Westside executives will participate in an economic panel offering personal views on how business segments are reacting to the present economic climate.
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