The jobless rate is falling, but the declining number of people actually holding down jobs in Greater Waco could become a source of concern, according to the latest report from Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham.
Ingham uses data dating to 2000 to craft his Greater Waco Economic Index for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald. The index provides a monthly snapshot of factors including spending, construction, employment and home sales. The GWEI in November remained unchanged from October, hitting 125.5, a fractional increase from the November 2016 index score of 124.7.
“This makes the fourth month in 2017 in which the index has achieved 125.5 — February, June, October and November,” Ingham said. “And while that is also the all-time index high point, again it suggests that very little in the way of aggregate growth has occurred thus far this year.”
Payroll employment in November slipped to an estimated 119,000 from about 120,300 in the same month of 2016, a decline of 1.1 percent, Ingham reported.
“That marks the first time the rate of year-over-year employment decline has exceeded 1 percent since the Waco economy was exiting the recession in 2010-2011,” he wrote.
This trend “might be cause for at least mild concern,” Ingham said, though he cautioned against reading too much into numbers that may change.
He said the Texas Workforce Commission each year adjusts its employment and wage data using information provided by employers. This process sometimes produces changes in estimates.
“Right now, data is available only through the second quarter of 2017, but that second quarter data actually suggests that monthly total employment in the second quarter is up by an average of 2.7 percent compared to the second quarter of 2016,” Ingham said in his report. “Newly revised employment estimates for 2017 will be released in March. Until then, we can be cautiously optimistic about the likelihood the Greater Waco metro area employment situation is in considerably better shape than the current numbers might suggest.”
Kris Collins, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, questioned the workforce commission’s numbers.
“Given the hiring we continue to see within the community, along with home sales, it’s hard to believe our labor force has been declining,” Collins wrote in a prepared statement. “As (Ingham) mentioned, numbers will be recalculated in early 2018, and we look forward to the update information.”
Projects underway in multiple industries also hold promise for growth next year, she said.
Waco’s housing market continues to create good news. Ingham reported new home sales totaled 448 through November, a 22 percent increase over last year and an all-time record.
The average home sales price stands at $195,149 through November, an almost 8 percent jump compared to the first 11 months of 2016.
“These higher prices propel the total dollar volume of residential real estate sales in the Greater Waco metro area to record levels for both the month of November and the year-to-date through November, which are up 18 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively,” Ingham said.
Through November, home sales have reached $497 million.
Home construction, meanwhile, is gaining steam at a time of year when builders typically prepare to hibernate. The city of Waco last month issued 37 permits to build new homes, a 42 percent increase from the 26 issued in October and almost double the 19 issued in November of base year 2000.
“It’s the Park Meadows influence,” said Scott Bland, president of the Heart of Texas Builders Association.
D.R. Horton and Stylecraft Homes plan to place homes on 1,500 residential lots in the subdivision near Hewitt city limits.
The binge of securing permits to build homes is extending into December, according to a report Thursday by the local office of the Associated General Contractors of America. It released a newsletter showing D.R. Horton, John Houston Homes and Stylecraft Builders secured a total of 22 permits between Dec. 21 and Wednesday to place new homes in Waco.
New subdivisions are also underway in communities surrounding Waco.
Permits for general construction projects were valued at $17.5 million in November, a slight increase from $16.5 million a year earlier. But through last month, the category lags nearly $60 million behind last year.
Spending at lodging establishments through November increased 9 percent from last year, reaching almost $48 million, as Magnolia Market at the Silos continues to attract an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a day, according to Ingham and local tourism officials.