Waco’s economy continues to hit on all cylinders, even seeing improvement last month in retail spending and employment, categories that had lagged earlier in the year, Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham reported Friday.

Ingham prepares a monthly snapshot of local trends called the Greater Waco Economic Index for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald. He uses data dating to 2000 to quantify performance of the housing, automobile and lodging sectors, and to gauge job creation.

The GWEI raw score hit a record 129.5 in July, besting the 129.0 score in June and the 126.3 grade in July a year earlier, Ingham reported.

“Once again we see a continuation of solid housing numbers, but the first thing that caught my eye was payroll employment,” Ingham said. “That category had not been performing as well as Waco’s generally good economy would suggest it should. It even went a little negative for a time.”

July produced a turnaround, though, with payroll employment reaching 122,600 people, a 2.4 percent increase from the estimated 119,700 a year earlier. The bump shows about 2,900 more residents in the Waco Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Falls and McLennan counties, were employed.

The jobless rate continues to slide, dipping to 3.9 percent in July from 4.5 percent in July the previous year. The year-to-date average stands at 3.7 percent, down from 4.0 percent through July last year.

Kris Collins, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said unemployment numbers are more impressive considering Waco continues to attract new residents seeking work.

Retail spending totaled $292 million in July and $2.09 billion through July, an increase of 2.6 and 5.9 percent, respectively. Ingham uses sales tax rebates to track spending in Waco and surrounding communities.

Ingham’s report shows the housing sector produced a highlight reel in July:

  • Waco issued 32 permits to build new homes in its city limits, up from 26 in July last year.
  • Through July, Waco had issued 349 permits to build homes, a 21 percent increase from the 289 issued through July last year.
  • A total of 274 existing homes changed hands in July, up from 265 the same month last year.
  • Year-to-date, 1,674 homes have sold, a 4.5 percent year-over-year jump.
  • Homes sold in July had a combined value of $63.7 million, a 24 percent increase from July last year.
  • The average home sales price in July was $232,029, a 23 percent increase from the $188,908 norm in July the previous year.

Ingham said the spike in average sales price in July appears to have been skewed “by the sale of two or three expensive homes,” but the housing numbers remain impressive.

Asked if Waco’s good readings are merely a reflection of a strong statewide economy, Ingham said that likely is true to a degree.

“But you can’t argue with the fact Waco has a well performing economy that is showing improvement in employment and spending,” he said.

Collins, with the chamber of commerce, said Waco is outpacing the state.

“The Texas economy is growing at 2 percent, while we’re growing at 3.5 percent,” she said. “Yes the state is making impressive strides, but we’re accelerating beyond the state average. Just look what’s happening to our labor force. From July to July, we saw employment increase by 5,200 in a seven-county region, with 4,100 of that coming in McLennan County. … We’re seeing a lot of professional business growth, and manufacturers continue to add jobs.

“There is a lot of demand in the marketplace. People are looking for opportunities, good wages, affordable living, a good quality of life. I think we’re doing a much better job of being on the radar of people graduating from college, letting them know Waco is a place that wants them to stay. That message is getting across.”

She said Waco ranks second, behind Lubbock, in the fastest commute time among mid-to-large Texas cities, according to a report cited by Texas Monthly magazine. She said getting to work takes 18 minutes on average.

Other findings in Ingham’s July snapshot include:

  • A 2.6 percent increase in automobile spending, which totaled $54.7 million in July. It is up 5.9 percent year-to-date.
  • Hotel revenue continues to surge, hitting $6 million in July, an almost 16 percent increase from the $5.2 million in July last year. Waco has become a tourist draw, attracting between 2.2 million and 2.5 million visitors annually, including 30,000 to 35,000 weekly to Magnolia Market at the Silos, according to Carla Pendergraft, who markets the Waco Convention Center.
  • Building permits for non-residential construction that includes restaurants, plants and houses of worship were valued at $23.7 million in July, a 35 percent increase year-over-year. Such permits are down 10.7 percent through the first seven months of the year, Ingham said.

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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