Health care has risen to the position of top employment sector in The Woodlands region, overtaking energy, according to information released at The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Economic Outlook Conference at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on Feb. 21.

Health care jobs now make up 26% of The Woodlands area’s nonretail jobs, with more than 10,000 jobs in the area, said Gil Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Economic Development Partnership.

The 2020 conference focused on the theme “Innovative Solutions in a Diverse Community,” highlighting economic growth locally and nationally.

The energy sector has dropped from 27% to 22.4% of local jobs, but growth has occurred within individual businesses, as ExxonMobil has added more than 500 jobs and moved to the top tier of regional employers, Staley said.

“We’re excited about this decade ... and what the future holds for us,” Staley said.

Among other local data shared at the conference, The Woodlands Area EDP released its list of major nonretail employers for 2020. Major employers are defined as companies with 100 or more employees.

The top three employers in the region last year were Conroe ISD, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. In 2020, the top three are Conroe ISD, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center and ExxonMobil. Anadarko was bought by Occidental Petroleum Corp. in 2019, which is now at the fourth position with 2,020 employees in The Woodlands area compared to 3,666 that Anadarko had employed.

Jesse Thompson, a senior business economist with the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said that economic expansion is continuing, with modest regional growth expected in 2020. He said the Houston Metropolitan area job market grew by 1.6%, or 55,000 jobs, from December 2018-December 2019.

Thompson said there will probably not be considerable growth in the energy industry in the next two years.

“In terms of jobs, I don’t think we can count on the energy industry to have a lot of jobs this year and probably not next year unless something ... happens to cause oil prices to increase substantially,” Thompson said.

Among other speakers at the event, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, discussed economic optimism and the effects of the tax code revisions that took effect in 2017. He said since that code was introduced, 3.2 million additional jobs have been created, and unemployment is at a 50-year low.

“We have for the first time more job openings than unemployed,” Brady said.

He also said he believes income inequality is becoming less severe.

“Income inequality is declining in all measures for the first time in decades,” Brady said.

Brady said he hopes to see the 2017 tax cuts made permanent.