The Waco economy created more jobs during 2014 and 2015 than originally thought, according to revised figures prepared by the Texas Workforce Commission and included in a report released this week by Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald.

“On average, about 1,200 jobs were added to the monthly employment estimates for 2014, and about 1,875 jobs were added on average in 2015,” Ingham reported.

With those adjustments in play, the Greater Waco Economic Index improved slightly in February to 121.1, up from 121 in January and up from 117.3 in February of last year.

The report, which relies on a base line established in 2000, takes a monthly snapshot of economic trends, including employment, spending, home sales, home construction, automobile sales and lodging revenue.

Whitney Richter, manager of business development and marketing at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, presented the latest findings during a news conference Wednesday at the First National Bank of Central Texas.

Richter said the index has been moving up for four years, suffering dips in only two of past 49 months, though one of those occurred in January.

“The Greater Waco Economic Index reached its trough in January 2012 on the heels of the 2009 recession and has been on the rise ever since,” Ingham said.

Spending on automobiles, which has been a mainstay of the GWEI’s improvement, saw only a modest increase of 0.1 percent in February. But for the first two months of the year, spending reached $84 million, which is 3.4 percent more than during the first two months of 2015.

Home sales

Existing homes sold in February totaled 164 units, down from 186 in February last year. So far this year, 296 homes have been sold, a 10.3 percent decrease compared to last year.

Still, several people at Wednesday’s session discussed the “frenzied” demand for homes in the area. They said retirees are finding Waco attractive, and others have fallen in love with the community by viewing the popular “Fixer Upper” television show on HGTV starring Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Jeff Bird, who leads a home selling team at Keller Williams Realty, said a home appearing on the Waco Multi List Service will attract a buyer within 115 days, but those in prime locations could be sold in less than a week. He said the Waco market has only a 2.2-month supply of homes on the market, meaning that if home sales were to continue at their current place, the inventory of homes available now would be depleted in a little more than two months.

He and Richter both said Waco needs an infusion of new home construction, though the number of available lots is waning.

Homebuilding statistics presented by Ingham address only homes going up within the Waco city limits, not in surrounding communities including Robinson, China Spring and Hewitt.

The average price for a home sold in February reached $158,670, up 4.4 percent from the average a year earlier. For the year to date, the average sale price has jumped 5.8 percent to $163,269. The average price during the baseline year of 2000 was $87,930.

Still, Bird said homes in Waco remain bargains compared to those in the state’s larger metropolitan areas.

General spending on goods and services skyrocketed during much of 2015, with the arrival of new stores and restaurants and a tightening of the job market. This year has seen a sluggish start, with spending up by only 1.6 percent for January and February compared to the same months last year.

“Spending remains at record levels, but year-over-year growth rates have moderated in early 2016,” Ingham said.

The cities for which sales tax is aggregated and analyzed include Waco, Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Hewitt, Lacy Lakeview, Lorena, McGregor, Robinson, West and Woodway.

Richter said the Waco chamber and other Waco- promoting entities want to take advantage of the Magnolia phenomenon and the fact that the Magnolia Market at the Silos is attracting 20,000 visitors a week. She said their goal is to make these visitors aware of other attractions.

Matt Meadors, president of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will make several “tremendous” industrial announcements in the near future. Still, the falling jobless rate continues to raise concern about whether Greater Waco has a qualified workforce large enough to meet the needs of prospects.

Meadors said it may get to the point Waco must look outside its borders to find talent.

The SpaceX rocket testing facility in McGregor already recruits engineers from outside Waco and Texas.

Karr Ingham concluded his report by saying, “At this point, there is little to suggest the Waco economy will not continue to be a growth economy in 2016. However, the statewide Texas economy has slowed significantly in the fourth quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 with declining sales tax receipts and flattening rates of employment growth. And in fact, slowing rates of growth at the broader economic levels — state and national — are likely the principal threat to continued growth in the Waco metro-area economy.”

He said general economic growth “will likely occur at a noticeably slower pace compared to the last four years in which the GWEI expanded by 4.5, 4.8, 5.2 and 4.2 percent.”

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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