After a strong spring, the Metro Houston economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has surged past the halfway mark, according to a major survey released by the Greater Houston Partnership on June 16, 2021.
The survey estimates that as of April 2021, the Houston Metro area had recovered 52 percent of the jobs lost during the pandemic.
When asked about reopening, some 50 percent surveyed said they had never closed or had already resumed full operations. Another 16 percent expected to be reopened by the end of this month and 90 percent expected to be fully up and running by September 2021.
About the Greater Houston Partnership Survey
The Greater Houston Partnership, which traces its deep roots back to 1840, serves 900 member companies in the 12-county Houston region.
The organization conducted an economic survey of its members in early June 2021 with responses coming from 140 companies across 15 industries.
One-third of the responses came from companies with 500 or more employees; one-third with 51 to 500 employees; and one-third with 50 or fewer employees.
Employment Exceeds Pre-Pandemic Levels in Some Sectors
Strong jobs numbers in the spring, with 60,000+ plus jobs created in three months, boosted the Houston area recovery including:
- 18,700 jobs created in April, the third best April on record.
- 32,200 jobs created in March, the best March on record.
- 17,200 jobs created in February.
According to the survey, employment now matches or exceeds pre-pandemic levels in several subsectors:
- Refining, hardware, grocery, and general merchandise stores
- Transportation and warehousing
- Finance and insurance
- Legal services
- Computer systems and design
- Landscaping and janitorial services
“The easing of the pandemic locally should help lift the region’s growth as well. 60 percent of the population 18 and up in Harris County has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The number of new cases in Harris County has fallen 90 percent from the January peak,” the survey said. “The reopening of schools, daycares and summer camps has also allowed parents who stayed home to take care of their children to return to work. And Governor Greg Abbott’s suspension of the additional $300 in unemployment benefits should force reluctant job seekers to reenter the labor market.”
Houston Area a Magnet for Tech Workers
The Houston area has been the second-most popular area in the country for migrating tech workers during the pandemic, according to AXIOS analysis of LinkedIn data.
According to the analysis, almost 50 percent of U.S. tech workers relocated during the pandemic, with Houston gaining 10.4 percent software and IT workers between March 2020 and February 2021.
Only Miami, with a 15.4 percent gain in over-the-year migration out-paced Houston for adding new tech jobs.
“Workers migrated out of dense, high cost metros on both coasts, including longstanding tech hubs such as San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and Boston,” the Greater Houston Partnership survey said.
Price of Oil Up but Energy Sector Recovery Lags
Despite the price of oil hitting its highest levels since October 2018, with West Texas Intermediate light, sweet crude trading around $70 per barrel, the energy sector is still lagging in the pandemic recovery.
As of mid-June, the domestic oil rig count remained 332 rigs below where it was prior to the pandemic.
The Energy Information Administration estimates the United States produced 11.2 million b/d in March, some 1.6 million b/d below its December 2019 pre-pandemic peak.
“Houston is unlikely to experience a surge in energy industry hiring,” the survey said. “In mid-April, upstream energy (exploration, oil field services, equipment manufacturing, the production of pipes, valves and flanges, and engineering), employed 196,000 in Houston. That’s 38,300 fewer than in March of last year and 103,000 fewer than December 2014, the peak of the fracking boom.”
Other Key Houston Metro Economic Indicators
Other Houston metro economic indicators from the Greater Houston Partnership survey include:
- Aviation: The Houston Airport System handled 3.4 million passengers in April 2021, up from the 242,000 passengers handled during April 2020 and the highest monthly total since February 2020.
- Foreign Trade: The Houston-Galveston Customs District handled 77.0 million metric tons of goods and commodities in the first three months of 2021, a 17.7 percent decrease over the comparable period in 2020. These shipments were valued at $53.2 billion, down 10.2 percent from 2020.
- Purchasing Managers Index: Houston’s economy continued to expand in May, though the signals of that expansion were slightly weaker than they were in April, according to the most recent Houston Purchasing Managers Index (PMI). The May 2021 PMI of 54.2, down from 55.6 in April, marks the 10th consecutive month above 50. Readings above 45 correlates with expansion of the overall economy, below 45 a contraction. For Houston’s goods producing sectors, however, the PMI needs to top 50 to signal expansion.
- Sales Tax: Sales and use tax collections for the 12 most populous Houston-area cities totaled $992.9 million in the 12 months ending April 2021, up 0.2 percent from $990.8 million for the same period a year ago. Collections for the month of April totaled $88.9 million, up 31.9 percent from $67.4 million in April 2020.
- Unemployment: The unemployment rate for metro Houston was 7.1 percent in April 2021, down from 8.0 percent in March 2021 and 14.0 percent from April 2020. The Texas rate was 6.3 percent, down from 7.1 percent in March and 12.7 percent in April of last year.
- Venture Capital: Houston companies raised $433.5 million in Venture Capital funding in Q1/21, up 95.5 percent from the same period last year, according to a Partnership analysis of PitchBook data. The four-quarter total ending in Q1/21 was $1.035 billion, an all-time high.
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