Despite possible slowdown, bright future forecasted for 2019 at Economic Outlook Conference

By: Brynn Rader, Woodlands Online
| Published 02/13/2019

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The WOODLANDS, Texas -- Business leaders alongside hundreds of attendees from the area swarmed into The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Convention Center on Friday, Feb. 8. The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce hosts this event annually to inform the community of the economic outlook on a local level and beyond.

The energy and anticipation which filled the conference center were palpable. Conversations focused on the topic at hand while attendees made full use of the opportunity to network and connect with others in the community.

Michael Rahn, a local business owner in attendance, said, “I'm excited to just hear from all the leaders in The Woodlands and see what's happening over the next 12 months.”

Provided coffee, tea and pastries were readily enjoyed on this chilly morning. By 8 a.m. the audience sat eagerly awaiting the presentation. Videos shown featured our beloved community here in The Woodlands and some of the new things to come.

Gordy Bunch, chairman of The Woodlands Board of Directors, shed light on the state of The Woodlands economy. Bunch said, “We maintain excellent reserves.“ The Woodlands sales tax revenue was said to be indicative of a thriving business economy. Bunch stated that our community has 2,000 businesses. “We are committed to economic growth,” said Bunch.

The Woodlands is known for its beauty and features such as our pathways. Bunch spoke of the township’s commitment to keeping The Woodlands beautiful by setting aside funds for maintenance.

“Our debt in the last five years has decreased by 44%,” Bunch said, “an amazing accomplishment that this board has reduced debt and taxes at the same time.”

Enormous, white swans are now seen floating on the waterway. These swan pedal boats delight riders as one of our community’s newest recreational options. Bunch happily reports that the capital invested in this venture has been regained, and the Riva Row Boat House swan boats are now operating profitably.

A promotional video highlighting Texas TreeVentures, an aerial adventure course, built excitement for this new recreation site in The Woodlands. The location, near Rob Fleming Park, is scheduled to open this spring.

Grogan’s Mill may be the future home of a performing arts center. Images of the possible design reflected how this could be a lovely asset to the community. Bunch stated that the township hopes to make this a reality.

Incorporation of The Woodlands continues to be a point of discussion. Bunch informed those in attendance that The Woodlands is at steps six and seven out of the 10 steps involved in the incorporation study. The township does not anticipate the research to be done for several more months. He invited those interested to stay up-to-date through the website www.thewoodlandsincorporationstudy.com.

Taking the stage next, Texas State Senator Brandon Creighton spoke positively of Texas economy. Creighton said, “Economic freedoms continue to be protected so that business can continue to thrive in the great state of Texas.”

Population growth in Texas is said to have been three times that which California and New York experienced in the last three years. Creighton said, “So something is happening here. Some may call it a miracle. I certainly call it a blessing.”

“If Texas were a nation, we’d be in the top 10 economies in the world,” Creighton said putting things in perspective. “We are the best state for 14 years in a row to start a business.” Speaking of Texas’s diverse economy, Creighton said that if oil goes down “we are prepared to succeed.”

Creighton, as well as other speakers, mentioned the current record low unemployment rate. However, Creighton had a serious tone as he brought up another topic. “With our property tax structure, we have to address the issue of government spending,” Creighton said. He commented that the spending needs to be “consistent with where your income levels are. Otherwise, we are on a track that is unsustainable.”

U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady spoke at the conference via a remote connection. He agreed with other speakers that we’ve experienced a lot of good progress and growth. Brady said, “The good news is if you compare where we are today versus where the experts thought we would be, everything is significantly better.”

“Wages, paychecks are growing at the highest rate in 11 years,” said Brady. “With this type of economy, we now need more workers and more customers.” Brady stated the need to address these two areas.

Laura Lea Palmer, of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership, focused on growth in The Woodlands. Palmer said, “The Woodlands has been building a sustainable model really since its inception.”

Charts revealed the job growth of our community. In 2004 top employers consisted of 47 companies with 17,205 jobs. A tremendous increase emerged into view from the statistics for 2019, with 73 companies and 38,019 jobs.

The energy sector, followed closely by healthcare, led 2019’s list of top employers. Professional services topped the other divisions back in 2004. Palmer concluded, “I think that we will see sustainable growth continue into the future.”

Jesse B. Thompson III, senior business economist at the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, brought a youthful presence to the stage. His theme was that of the overall U.S. economy “slowing down.” Thompson said, “2018 was an above average year, and it looks like 2019 might be a slightly below average year unless something changes.”

Due to a tight labor market, Thompson stated it is “getting harder to find the right people for the right positions.”

“Home sales are strong,” said Thompson. Despite an increase in mortgage rates, the statistics reveal a rise in home sales.

Three industry leaders shared insights during a panel discussion led by Gil P. Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership. When asked to advise others seeking the path to leadership, Sallie Rainier, president and CEO of Entergy Texas Inc., said, “First you have got to do your job and do your job well.” She encouraged taking chances and building diversity in your skill set. “If you are not uncomfortable when you walk into your job every day, you are not growing.”


Several brief intermissions throughout the conference allowed for continued networking and a chance to move about. A delicious lunch served on beautifully draped tables in an adjoining room was next on the schedule.

The keynote speaker during the luncheon was John Hofmeister, founder and chief executive of Citizens for Affordable Energy and former president of Shell Oil Company. Hofmeister laid out his 2019 and long-term energy industry predictions.

“A worrying note,” Hofmeister said, “Since 2014, the industry has only spent enough capital to replace 40% of the reserves of oil that we have consumed in the last five years. In other words, we're not replacing what we've consumed, and ultimately that will cost us.”

Looking to what 2019 will bring to the oil industry, Hofmeister predicts “we're going to see oil prices rising as the year progresses, from my point of view.” Hofmeister said, “But I see a tightening of supply, a movement towards equilibrium and then, by probably the end of the year, we could be pushing oil prices much higher than they are today.”

Hofmeister spoke passionately about what he believes is the future of energy. “When it comes to the future of fossil energy the industry is ready to move in some completely new directions that will actually spawn an entire(sic) new form of energy called carbon management,” said Hofmeister.

Hofmeister hopes for a future scenario in which waste management will accomplish major feats. Hofmeister said, “Between now and 2070, we, meaning we the citizens of the world, will fund and build more than 10,000 refinery size industrial plants designed to take carbon out of the atmosphere in a geoengineering technology that works and bury that carbon. Ten thousand power plants globally to take out the carbon, the co2. We could put closed-system pipelines in place to make sure we don't leak methane.”

The quality and way of life that this country has grown accustomed to is heavily reliant on dense energy consumption stated Hofmeister. “So for the life of the future, it's more energy, not less energy. And we can capture the carbon, bury it or turn it into, through chemistry turn it into, other useful products, like building materials … the consequence of this, ladies and gentlemen, is we have a world of tomorrow that in the 21st century becomes carbon-free. Not because we stopped using fossil fuel, not because we deny ourselves the benefits of life through energy, but because we capture through technology, the consequences of that energy and we just get it out of the system.” Hofmeister concluded by saying, “So this century your children and their children are going to be working in a new industry called carbon tech.”

The conference left many present with a positive outlook on the future economy. Toni Walton, a businesswoman in attendance, smiled as she said, “This is the first time that I've attended the Economic Outlook Conference. And as a first-time participant, I have found it to be very valuable information, especially knowing that we may have experienced some challenging times in 2018. However, 2019 outlook looks a little promising.” She continued, “That really does make me feel good. And it's wonderful to hear from the business leaders that we know are impacting this community in such a great way.”

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