Houston economy drawing plenty of newcomers despite energy downturn

- Despite the bottom falling out of global energy prices Houston led the nation in population growth last year adding more than 159,000 residents just as oil producers began paring down their payrolls.

"We lost 50,000 to 60,000 jobs in the energy sector last year, even with those losses we've managed to eek out a 15,000 job net gain," said Patrick Jankowski, an economist with the Greater Houston Partnership.

But over the next 12 months the Bayou City will attract far fewer newcomers as momentum from the energy boom peters out.

"The population will slow down. The memo is out and people are reading the memo now and we are not going to see that kind of population growth again for several years," said Bill Gilmer, an economist with the University of Houston.

And while a critical industry suffers others have picked up the slack due, in part, to a recovering national economy.  Health care continues to add jobs, many exporters are thriving and low energy prices have fueled an unparalleled degree of expansion and prosperity in petrochemicals and refining.

"It is going to be an anchor for the economy, something that helps stabilize the economy for many, many decades to come," said Jankowski.

In the meantime, most Houstonians are hanging tough. Vehicle purchases, year over year, are down just slightly while single family home sales are actually up.

"It shows that people are still confidant about their future in Houston," said Jankowski.

A future business climate that still requires higher crude prices to truly hit on all cylinders. Economists say that recovery is coming, later than most Houstonians would like, but coming none the less.

"We may well be 12 to 18 months away depending on whether we have really seen the bottom in oil prices or not," said Gilmer.

"It's a resilient economy. We'll do fine. We'll get through this. We just need to keep the faith," said Jankowski.

According to a GHP report 40 percent of Houston's new residents last year came from other countries with 18,758 originating in Asia and 16,109 from Central America.

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