Rebounding from the oil and gas downturn and the future of the state and local economy were the overarching topics at the annual Economic Outlook Conference hosted Friday by The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce.

“If you look at the Texas economy, yes, the Texas Legislature has a tougher session this cycle because they have 2.7 [percent] less in revenue than they did last cycle, but the fact is, the future of Texas looks bright,” said Glenn Hegar, keynote speaker and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. “People want to move to Texas for an economic opportunity.”

Although the Houston area has been dealing with ripple effects from low oil prices since late 2014, Hegar said the Houston of today is different than the one during the 1980s oil slump.

“The Woodlands is a prime example of that,” he said. “The Woodlands of the 1980s is vastly different than today. In part, The Woodlands is helping drive the Texas economy and helping make it that $1.6 trillion economy that’s the 10th largest in the world.”

Despite the low price of oil, The Woodlands did gain new jobs over the past year, said Gil Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership.

“If you had asked me four or five months ago, I thought we were going to be at a loss,” he said. “I truly did.”

Data that examines at The Woodlands' major employers, which includes non-retail companies and those with more than 100 employees, shows the community has 33,128 jobs, up from 32,618 jobs in 2016, according to the EDP.

The top five major employers are Conroe ISD, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital, Aon and ExxonMobil, according to the data. Those five companies alone make up more than 12,000 employees.

Energy remains the largest sector of the community’s major employers, but health care—up three percentage points from last year—comes in second at 21 percent. Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital will open in July with approximately 550 jobs, and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital added 403 jobs year-over-year, according to the EDP. CHI St. Luke’s Hospital also added 90 jobs year-over-year, and Texas Children’s Hospital in The Woodlands will open in April with more than 1,000 employees.

“Health care is addressing the needs of a growing community, and we are thankful for that,” Staley said.

Tim Welbes, co-president of The Woodlands Development Company, also shared plans for upcoming retail and office projects in the community, including a site suitable for retail development north of the H-E-B on Lake Woodlands Drive in Town Center.

“In addition, there is a parcel on Research Forest Drive—56,000-square-feet of retail and probably two restaurants will find a home there—that is under lease-up,” he said. “Our team is working on that as we speak.”

Additionally, the Development Company is pursuing a project to turn an existing parking lot at 10 Waterway Square—near Grimaldi's Pizzeria and Cyclone Anaya's—into an office building.

“If we are successful in getting a tenant to lease space in a building, that will turn into structured parking with an office above,” Welbes said. “That is on our horizon of things we’d like to achieve.”