Riding strong showings in consumer spending and construction, the Greater Waco Economic Index posted a slight increase in August after a record-setting surge in July, according to a report released Wednesday by Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham.
The index improved to 114.3 in August from 114.2 in July, said Ingham, who began tracking local economic indicators in 2000 and now prepares a monthly report for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald. It was well above the 111.2 in August of last year.
Inflation-adjusted taxable spending per August sales tax receipts was up nearly 4 percent compared to August of a year ago, “signaling continued healthy growth in general household and business activity,” Ingham said.
He added that spending remains more than 5 percent ahead of the pace set last year during the first eight months.
Cities whose sales tax he analyzed include Waco, Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Hewitt, Lacy Lakeview, Lorena, McGregor, Robinson, West and Woodway.
Improved spending often is linked to increased employment, and the Waco economy is creating jobs at a moderate but steady pace, Ingham said.
During the past 12 months, the area has seen an increase of 1,500 jobs locally, including 400 in construction, 700 in trade/transportation/utilities and 500 in leisure/hospitality. Those additions add up to more than 1,500, but the area has seen small decreases in other employment categories.
“We have hotels that have opened, and more coming, and some restaurants that have opened. Those would contribute to the increase in leisure and hospitality employment,” said Liz Taylor, director of the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Baylor’s new McLane Stadium also would contribute to that figure.”
The unemployment rate of 5.6 percent in August compares favorably with the August 2013 jobless rate of 6.2 percent.
Auto sales for months have been setting a torrid pace, but they braked in August, with spending on new and used automobiles down by about 3.2 percent compared to a year earlier. This is only the second time this year spending has been down compared to the previous year, and spending remains 8 percent ahead of the first eight months of 2013.
The construction sector in Waco continues to put up strong monthly year-over-year increases, with the value of building permits in August eclipsing last year’s total by 37 percent.
But, the year-to-date total is down by 25 percent compared to January through August of 2013, primarily because a permit for the $266 million McLane Stadium was among the permits issued during that period last year, Ingham said.
He said the value of permits issued so far this year totals $352 million.
Single-family housing construction was slightly improved in August, with 21 permits issued compared to 19 in August a year ago.
A total of 230 existing homes were sold in August, a dip of more than 5 percent from August of last year.
But year-to-date, existing home sales are running a “respectable” 4.6 percent ahead of the first eight months of last year.
The $161,000 average sales prices of those homes is nearly 7 percent more than the average in August a year earlier.