Jim Gaines at Economic Outlook

Jim Gaines speaks during an Economic Outlook Conference at the College Station Hilton on Wednesday.

Population growth and economic expansion were the buzzwords inside the College Station Hilton on Wednesday as more than 500 area leaders from numerous fields gathered for the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce’s annual Economic Outlook Conference. 

Keynote speaker Jim Gaines, chief economist for the Texas Real Estate Research Center at A&M, told the gathering that Texas is expected to gain congressional seats and electoral votes after the upcoming census, a result of population growth relative to the rest of the country. Gaines also said that about 87% of Texas’ population lives along or east of I-35.

Gaines also said that Texas experienced employment growth of more than 23% over the past decade, with unemployment figures at near-historical lows of 2.7% locally and about 3.4% in Texas. He said Bryan-College Station added about 2,700 jobs from November 2018 through November 2019, an increase of 2.3%. Gaines said the private job sector is growing faster locally than the government job sector, something he credited to the various individuals and groups working to attract businesses to the area. Private jobs are now about 64% of the local economy, he said.

“College Station-Bryan is doing great. We’re doing just fine. Our economy is still solid and strong and stable — and let’s look forward to another decade of that kind of stability and growth,” Gaines said.

Chamber of Commerce President Glen Brewer said that this year’s conference was the third consecutive gathering to sell out. Brewer described the gathering as a “data-driven” conference and said the goal is for business leaders and other attendees to receive helpful information that can inform their decision-making processes.

“This shows the importance of everyone coming out here and trying to get a handle on what’s coming in the future,” Brewer said after the conference. “We know where we’ve come from, we know that things have been well — and we want to make sure we can continue that in the future.”

Matt Prochaska, CEO and president of the Brazos Valley Economic Development Corporation (BVEDC), said of the 2019 active projects (companies and site selectors) the BVEDC pursued, 25% involved manufacturing companies, 19% were tech companies and another 17% were biotech firms.

“We’re aggressively targeting a wide range of sectors — because our area has a wide range of benefits,” Prochaska said. “Our region is garnering increased attention across the country and around the world.”

Joey Dunn, Bryan’s deputy city manager, said that the current estimated population for Bryan is 90,404, which is up from the official census count of 76,201 in 2010. A record 594 single-family home permits were issued in 2019, up from 466 in 2018 and 445 in 2017.

Dunn said that median household income in Bryan is $43,310 with a median home value of about $197,000.

“It is an extremely positive outlook for Bryan — you’ve heard this over and over, but we believe that and the numbers support that. We’re reaping the benefits of past investments…at the same time, we’re investing and preparing for the next 20 years.”

Dunn also noted the Bryan City Council’s approval of a $75 million bond earlier this month, much of which will go toward the forthcoming regional park off Villa Maria Road at the former site of the municipal golf course.  He also mentioned numerous other projects, including indoor and outdoor athletic facilities.

Natalie Ruiz, director of economic development for the city of College Station, delivered a presentation that focused on redevelopment and retail trends and patterns in the city. Ruiz noted recent top rankings College Station has earned from Forbes and WalletHub, among other outlets, as a city that is growing and is friendly for businesses and residents alike. 

She said that the Northgate area has added about 6,500 beds in the past five years. Ruiz said the 2019 population estimate for College Station was 122,738, and said the city has averaged about 3.5% population growth annually since 2010.

“In trying to keep up with that growth locally, we have a very aggressive capital improvement program,” she said. The city’s current fiscal year budget includes about $70 million in infrastructure investments, Ruiz said, notably the College Station Police Department’s forthcoming 74,650-square-foot facility at the southeast corner of Krenek Tap Road and Dartmouth Street, which should open this summer. Ruiz also mentioned that a new College Station city hall will break ground later this year.

Attendees got video glimpses into the work being done by Bryan school district students at the district’s new Career and Technical Education Complex.

David Reynolds, CTE director, told attendees that students are getting hands-on experience that helps them build marketable skills in a variety of fields from welding to woodworking to engineering. He said that the district offers programs in 41 of the 42 high-skill, high-growth targeted occupations listed by Workforce Solutions Brazos Valley. There are 176 students enrolled in the construction trade program, 127 in computer programming, 269 in accounting and 143 are in the auto technician program.

Katherine Kleeman of Spherion Staffing Services delivered a presentation titled “2020 Workforce Trends” and said that the average hourly wage in the Bryan area is just over $14.50, which is up from $13.74 in 2018 and $13.59 in 2017. Kleeman said that according to a recent Spherion Emerging Workforce Study, 42% of employees are dissatisfied with their salary, while 71% of employers believe they offer enough with total compensation packages.

“We’ve been studying the workforce for 22 years, and I will tell you that the number one people take a job and the number one reason people leave a job is salary,” Kleeman said.

“We understand that skills are not worth anything if students do not have strong employability skills and strong character traits,” Reynolds said, as attendees viewed a slide listing some of those skills — work ethic, cooperation and punctuality among them.

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