Not as many people were employed in Greater Waco last year as first thought, but the local economy continues to perform well thanks to robust retail sales, general improvement in the jobs picture and increased spending on automobiles and stays in lodging establishments.
That is according to Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham, who released a report Wednesday showing the Greater Waco Economic Index reached 112.8 in February, up from 112.7 in January and 107.9 in February a year earlier. The snapshot of local trends is sponsored by the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald.
Retail spending in February exceeded a quarter of a billion dollars, reaching $251 million, up 6.6 percent from February of 2013.
Spending typically is linked to job creation, Ingham said, and the number of people working in McLennan County grew by about 1,800 during the past year.
Still, Ingham said the Texas Workforce Commission’s year-end revisions in local employment figures were sobering.
As it does annually, the TWC in January updated its estimate of local employment from the previous year, using the latest information available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It found that employment in McLennan County had been overestimated by an average of 2,500 people per month throughout 2013.
That comes on the heels of a TWC decision to revise Waco-area employment figures downward by an average of 1,400 a month in 2012.
“This (revision) does not mean jobs were lost in 2012 and 2013,” Ingham said in his report. “In theory, it means simply that they never existed in the first place.”
He said revisions “could be due to any number of circumstances, most of which we will never know because they are specific to individual companies and employers.” The bottom line, he said, is that he is using the new benchmarks to calculate the index going forward, beginning with this month’s report.
He said the changes did serve to lower GWEI values during the past two years, a period when it moved into record territory.
“Still, the index looks solid in 2014,” he said. “The January GWEI under the new benchmarks increased sharply to 112.7, up from 111.9 in December 2013.”
In February of 2000, which is the base year of the index, it stood at 100.3, according to Ingham’s report.
Whitney Richter, marketing and research manager at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said revised employment figures do not detract from Waco’s economic recovery.
“We’re still talking about creating an estimated 1,800 jobs during the past year, and seeing our jobless rate drop significantly from February a year ago,” she said.
In other areas, spending “is up a hefty 7.7 percent compared to the first two months of 2013,” Ingham said.
Cities for which sales are aggregated and analyzed include Waco, Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Hewitt, Lacy Lakeview, Lorena, McGregor, Robinson, West and Woodway.
Auto sales sparkled once again, with inflation- adjusted spending on new and used vehicles rising 10.8 percent from February a year earlier.
Permits for general construction projects were valued at $17.4 million in February, up from $15.6 million, while hotel/motel tax receipts climbed 19 percent to $170,760.
On the negative side, the number of existing homes sold in February slipped to 131 from 163 in February a year ago.
And the city of Waco issued only 22 permits to build single-family homes, a drop of nearly 60 percent.
March showed signs of recovery, with builders securing 44 permits, said Cathy Groppe, who oversees the inspection services department.
“The strong post-recession trends of economic recovery and growth remain in place moving into 2014, with the Greater Waco-area economy improving sharply and steadily since early 2012,” Ingham said in his summary. “The GWEI stands at a record level in early 2014, and there is every reason to expect further improvement throughout the year.”