The Greater Waco Economic Index began 2013 with a roar but finished with a whimper, though it still managed to enter record territory.

Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham released a report Wednesday showing the GWEI hit 113.0 in December, according to a formula he created that calculates such factors as unemployment, taxable spending, construction and home sales.

That is the highest since Ingham began tracking trends using data dating to the year 2000 — and up from 107.8 in December of 2012.

But inflation-adjusted spending and job growth increased a modest 1.8 percent and 2 percent, respectively, in the fourth quarter. Commercial and residential construction and housing sales slumped during the fourth quarter, though they did show year-over-year improvement.

The slips “should not create great concern,” said Whitney Richter, marketing and research manager for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. She presented Ingham’s findings to several business owners Wednesday at the First National Bank of Central Texas, which joins the Tribune-Herald in sponsoring Ingham’s work on the GWEI.

Richter also discussed the chamber’s business recruiting efforts and their possible impact on the index. She said members of the economic development team recently attended a “SHOT” show in Las Vegas, Nev., that attracted 62,000 attendees and “probably generated more leads than we have ever received from an event.”

The acronym is short for “Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade,” and includes makers of firearms, Richter said.

Employment is considered a driving force that impacts demand for homes and automobiles. The local economy created 2,100 jobs during the year that ended in December, Ingham reported, but the growth rate of 2.6 percent per month during the first six months slipped to 1.4 percent per month down the stretch.

Waco chamber president Matt Meadors said he continues to pursue agreements with regional partners such as Temple and Belton that could generate jobs for multiple cities as they pursue industrial prospects. He said he hopes to make an announcement about those efforts in three to four weeks.

Spending on automobiles remains strong locally, climbing to $103 million during the fourth quarter and $449 million for the year, a 7.4 percent increase.

That category could see continued improvement with the recent relocation of Richard Karr Motors from Valley Mills Drive to Waco’s “Motor Mile” on West Loop 340. Karr, who sells Buick, Cadillac and GMC vehicles, said other dealers who have moved to the loop report immediate sales increases of 15 to 40 percent.

Peter Kultgen, at Bird-Kultgen Ford, said sales increases reported by Ingham hold true at his dealership, which enjoyed a 12 percent increase between 2012 and 2013.

Construction activity plummeted 21 percent during the fourth quarter, based on the value of permits issued. But overall, 2013 proved a banner year, as permit valuations eclipsed half a billion dollars, led by Baylor University’s construction of a $260 million football stadium on Lake Brazos.

Permits were issued for construction of 51 single-family homes in the fourth quarter, the lowest fourth-quarter total since 2001 and tied with the 51 issued in the fourth quarter of 2008. But for the year, the 351 permits issued to erect residences reflect a 10 percent increase from 2012, and were the highest since 2008, Ingham said.

Greg Evans, owner of Redwoods Inc., said he has seen a 10 percent increase in revenues “due to high-end remodeling” and increased construction of high-dollar homes.

A total of 2,286 houses changed hands last year, 5.7 percent more than in 2012, which in turn was up 14 percent from the year before.

The average price of a home sold during the year hit $145,042, which was 3.5 percent above the previous year’s $140,163, which is comparable to the rate of inflation.

About the Index

The Greater Waco Economic Index is a monthly snapshot of the city’s economic status produced by Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham. The 19 indicators used include retail sales, auto sales, building permits, average home sale prices, airline enplanements, employment data and other statistics.

The Trib publishes the index in partnership with the First National Bank of Central Texas.

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