Leaders discuss growth in northwest Harris County at economic forum Noble Energy CEO David Stover discusses the company at the Economic Outlook Forum on March 27.[/caption]

Houston may be the fourth-largest city in the country, but it is surrounded by an unincorporated area that would itself be the fourth-largest city in the country, according to Jack Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner.

"That's mind-boggling when you see that combination we have," Cagle said.

Cagle was one of a dozen speakers at the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce's Economic Outlook Forum on March 27 at Lone Star College-University Park. The forum focused on growth in the region and how different facets of that growth are being addressed.

Mobility concerns

Mobility and the anticipated effects of the Grand Parkway were a hot topic at the forum. Although Segments F-1, F-2 and G of the Grand Parkway are set to open by the end of 2015, Harris County is already preparing for rapid growth in the region with other mobility projects, Cagle said.

The Tomball Tollway, a six-lane, electronically monitored tollway along

Hwy. 249, is set to open April 12, Cagle said. The project was one of many that county officials worked to fund years ago. Officials—including Cagle and Judge Ed Emmett—developed a plan on Christmas Eve 2010 to accommodate the incoming growth through significant mobility projects countywide.

"They were all put together as a complete package with different financing from each group so we could move forward now instead of doing [Hwy.] 290 10-15 years from now, [Hwy.] 249 never, Hardy Toll Road five-10 years from now and Grand Parkway sometime in 10-15 years," he said. "All that is under construction [today]."

Transportation projects will be key drivers to growth among school districts, said Pat Guseman, president of Population & Survey Analysts, a demographics firm that works with Houston-area school districts, such as Klein ISD. Guseman said PASA often targets large, undeveloped parcels of land near new thoroughfares or major roadway improvements when projecting growth.

"These are parcels we target in Conroe, Klein, Spring and Aldine [ISDs] we think will have near-term impacts," she said.

From 2014-24, PASA estimates 23,917 new housing units will be constructed within Klein ISD, the 10th fastest growing school district in the state. About

41 percent of the new housing units will be multifamily developments.

"It's because Klein is virtually built-out," she said. "It's a mature district, and there's still a demand for living in Klein. It's a coveted school district. So the new housing simply becomes higher density."

Growing businesses

The most important indicator of growth, Guseman said, is job stability. It is predicted that there will be 20,000–30,000 new homes constructed in 2015 in the Greater Houston area, resulting in a 1–34 percent downturn depending on the area, she said. However, areas in high demand with new offices related to the energy sector may see no downturn in new housing starts at all.
"We're here to stay. We've formed a nucleus of our core operations that has [grown], will grow in the future and grow with this community."

- David Stover, CEO of Noble Energy

Job stability in the area has been a key goal for the Lone Star College System's Small Business Development Center. SBDC Senior Advisor Don Ball said within the last five months, the SBDC has helped start 29 new companies, helped clients create 231 new jobs and helped them obtain $46.3 million in capital.

"This is significant, because it shows the strength of this community as a center of growth for the Northwest region," he said.

He said the SBDC works with a number of different industries, including manufacturing, energy, service, technology, food, health care and commodities.

"It really is exciting to work with small business owners and help them stabilize their operations," Ball said.

One of several companies that has moved its headquarters to northwest Harris County in recent years, Noble Energy continues work on its second office building at Hwy. 249 and Louetta Road.

Noble Energy CEO David Stover said Noble Energy Center 1, which was built in June 2013, houses more than 800 employees. With the completion of the adjacent Noble Energy Center 2 in June, another 207 employees will be moving from the Glenborough location in Houston and another 100 positions will be added from the company's Ardmore, Oklahoma office.

"We're excited to have everybody fully located [in the headquarters]," Stover said. "Our office here in Houston is our largest office. It's our corporate office. All of our technical work [is] done here in Houston."

Stover said 30 percent of the employees live near the headquarters, a number he expects will grow. The CEO said he felt confident about the company's future.

"We're here to stay," he said. "We've formed a nucleus of our core operations that has [grown], will grow in the future and grow with this community."