Health care first overtook energy as the area’s No. 1 employer in the 2020 report and grew from 26% to 28% of the region’s employees among major nonretail employers in the 2021 report, according to information presented by Gil Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership.
Conroe ISD remains the area’s largest employer, with 4,487 employees, and ExxonMobil fell to sixth place from third the previous year with 1,527 jobs, among other data shared at the event.
Energy represented 27% of area jobs in 2019 but is 11.2% as of the 2021 report. Health care has grown from 24% to 28% during that time, while education grew from 16% to 18.1%.
Presented by the chamber at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, the annual event includes presentations and panels on topics such as a local economic forecast, national and regional developments, upcoming developments of note and broad topics such as telecommunication and technology.
After a year marked by lengthy business shutdowns and higher unemployment numbers as a result of the pandemic, Staley said the report covering 2020 held many surprises.
“It truly was the most surprising report in my tenure. Since we started I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said in his report.
Major nonretail employers are defined as those with at least 100 jobs, he said.
The report includes 84 major employers, up from 80 represented the previous year. Staley said the four new companies listed were previously on the midsized companies list of those that employ 40-99 people.
Staley also acknowledged that the area's third largest employer, Wildcat PPE, which formed in 2020, underwent some furloughs as a result of stalled government contracts, but said he expected those jobs to return.
Health care’s lead among major employers includes occupying five of the top 10 positions on the list this year, with 10,806 jobs.
Among other speakers at the event, Robert Kaplan, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, joined via videoconference to present a report on wider economic issues.
Kaplan said he is expecting healthy growth with unemployment drifting down and year-over-year increases in inflation. He said whether this will be sustained growth is still not certain, but drops in income and spending were not as dramatic during the pandemic as expected. Vaccinations will be important to restoring mobility and jobs, and future needs will include more workforce training, access to health care and better early childhood literacy, he said.
Kaplan also said while fossil fuels make up a smaller portion of the energy sector, they will continue to see demand.
"There will be demand for decades," Kaplan said. "We possibly have not yet seen peak oil demand ... it will be an important industry for many years to come."
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, in addition to announcing his forthcoming retirement after his present term, discussed economic recovery and the need for workers as well as the need to rein in federal spending.
The morning keynote speaker, Fred Caldwell, president and CEO of Caldwell Companies, shared information about forthcoming developments in the area including Chambers Creek, a master-planned community near Willis, and a forthcoming 2,300-acre south Montgomery County community planned south of the Grand Parkway.
He said The Woodlands region and the Greater Houston area is seeing an influx of people moving from other parts of the county such as California, creating a demand for housing. However, increased construction costs such as high lumber prices mean the cost of new houses can be as much as $18,000-$20,000 higher due to these additional costs.
Additional panels included Jim Carman, president of The Howard Hughes Corp., Houston Region, and Daniel Signorelli, president and CEO of The Signorelli Co., who spoke on the continued need for physical office space despite greater numbers of people working from home.
"The need for office will remain," Signorelli said.
Carman noted the "significant investment" Howard Hughes made in early 2020 when it purchased the former Anadarko towers, rebranding them as The Woodlands Towers at the Waterway, the new headquarters for Howard Hughes.
Gordy Bunch, chair of The Woodlands Township board of directors; Christie Craddick, chair of the Railroad Commission of Texas; and the heads of the Port of Freeport and Port of Houston also shared perspectives at the event, with a final keynote speech by Mitchell Percival, senior solution engineer for T-Mobile.