Albeit at a slower pace, more new residents, homes and developments are expected throughout The Woodlands area and Montgomery County in 2016. Montgomery County was named the seventh fastest growing county in the U.S., according to census data released in 2015.
“Many years ago we were a bedroom community for Harris County with a lot of people commuting into Houston for work,” county Judge Craig Doyal said. “What we’re seeing now is just the opposite—you see traffic jams coming out of Houston in the morning of people trying to come to Montgomery County for work.”
An employment destination
During the week, the population of The Woodlands nearly doubles from about 110,000 residents to 200,000 individuals who come to the community for work.
“With all the commercial and corporate growth in Montgomery County, we’re seeing the shift of that bedroom community to a county that offers a multitude of job opportunities,” Doyal said. “That’s hugely beneficial from a development standpoint.”
Although growth in The Woodlands area continues, economic data points to a flattening of office and retail development based on a wait-and-see attitude with regard to oil and gas prices, said Ed Robb, chairman of The Woodlands Township board of directors.
“This region is poised for the growth that will occur,” he said. “With Exxon’s move here it will continue, though it won’t be at such a frantic pace. The Woodlands is so fortunate that we enjoy the strong economic job-based economy that we have.”
One of the largest employers to move to the area in 2015 was ExxonMobil, which opened a facility south of The Woodlands housing more than 10,000 employees. The oil and gas company also moved into two buildings in Hughes Landing in 2015 with about 1,400 additional employees.
“Bringing [such a large company] to an area has its own synergy,” said Gil Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership. “It brings retail opportunities with the buying power [employees] bring to the market, it brings housing opportunities and it raises our awareness when companies hear about ExxonMobil having such an impact on an area like The Woodlands.”
The area’s residential real estate market has seen an influx of buyers affiliated with ExxonMobil for the past two years, and many are renting while waiting for the right opportunity to purchase a home, said Realtor Diane Kink, owner of The Kink Team at Keller Williams.
“I don’t see our Woodlands market price truly going down or losing value, but stabilizing,” she said. “I think we’ll see a year of stabilizing in all price points across The Woodlands proper. All in all, people will continue to be on the move and will make decisions to upsize, downsize or right-size their family home.”
However, office space is taking longer to sell in The Woodlands. There is approximately 1.2 million square feet of office space in The Woodlands area nearing completion that is expected to increase vacancy rates.
“These are Class A office buildings, and that brings with it opportunities,” Staley said. “We don’t see the buildings filling up in the next few months, but at the same time it will give us opportunities to offer [space] to new companies.”
As the south Montgomery County area continues to grow in population, local leaders are preparing for future growth with transportation and development plans in the works for 2016.
Montgomery County officials are in the process of updating the county’s Major Thoroughfare Plan for the fourth time. The plan helps assist the county with acquiring right of way and planning future developments and has been instrumental in aiding past development projects, Doyal said.
“Helping to identify those corridors will be a huge benefit for the county, especially where there are huge tracts of land to develop,” he said.
The passage of a county bond in November will also help the county add lane capacity, enhance intersections and take other measures to increase the mobility of numerous projects.
The bond will also allow the county to leverage the bond money with Texas Department of Transportation dollars to encourage TxDOT projects to occur faster, Doyal said.
The Woodlands Township has a number of challenges and opportunities to address in 2016, Robb said. In regard to recreation, the township plans to begin renovations to one of its oldest and most popular parks, Northshore Park, and complete the development of a new sports field complex on Gosling Road.
Township officials also plan to review economic development opportunities and partnerships and consider strategies for mobility enhancements in the Town Center.
Additionally, the township purchased an 11.6-acre tract of land at the southwest corner of Grogan’s Mill Road and Lake Woodlands Drive in 2015 in an effort to plan for the future.
“The purchase of this property will enable the township to plan for future governmental needs,” Robb said. “The site may be suitable for the development of a centralized complex that could accommodate a city hall, a police station, a municipal court, a local governmental services center or other important public facilities, such as a cultural arts center, visitor center or other government public-use facilities.”
A preliminary master planning process for the site is expected to begin this year.
The population in Montgomery County is projected to continue to grow to more than 10,000 new residents through 2020, according to census data.
“All the demographers, everyone we talk to, says you can plan on growth,” Doyal said. “It may slow down, but growth is going to continue. We’re planning and preparing for that.”
Kink said outlying areas along the perimeter of The Woodlands will prosper because of lower pricing.
“I see a lot of new opportunities for buyers just outside the gates of The Woodlands that still lets buyers enjoy that same lifestyle from a few miles away,” she said.
Staley said he remains cautiously optimistic but also believes growth will continue in The Woodlands area throughout the year. The Woodlands Area EDP is in the process of performing its annual workforce survey—set to be released in late February—and has so far seen positive job growth from companies that have responded early in the survey process.
“Certainly with the way Wall Street opened this year and the way oil prices have declined, that is a concern to all of us,” Staley said. “However, we feel confident we’ll remain strong with job creation due to medical and education followed by retail. That will help guide us and hold us strong through a downturn.”