For the first time since 1974, The Woodlands area collectively lost jobs, as announced during the 36th annual Economic Outlook Conference on Feb. 11.

Gil Staley, chief executive officer of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership, said there were 1,987 jobs lost compared to the 2021 report with a total of 36,673 employees, although the number of major nonretail employers remained the same at 84. Staley defined major employers as having at least 100 employees.

In 2021, there were 38,660 jobs represented in the report. The current year shows a drop to 36,673.

“This is hugely impactful,” Staley said. “It has always been steady. For the last 10 years, we have enjoyed that.”

Staley said he was worried during the previous Great Recession from 2008-10, where jobs remained steady during the time.

“Flat was the new high,” Staley said.

Staley highlighted the diversity of the top 10 employers for the area, which include education, chemical, health care, professional and business services, and utilities.

Conroe ISD remains the number one employer in the area with a total of 4,596 employees.

Health care continued with its third year in a row of making up the most jobs in the area, with a total of 11,144 jobs reported, which makes up 30.4% of the total jobs represented in the report. In the 2021 report, health care made up 28% of the jobs represented.

Staley said the energy sector continues to decline in the area, falling to the fourth largest employer compared to third last year.

“There is a reason for that,” he said. “It was impacted by a major relocation of a company that moved out of our community. ...To us, we lost those jobs on this report, so that had a huge contribution to the results.”

Staley added he is optimistic looking ahead, as The Woodlands Area EDP has a five-year high for requests for proposals for out-of-state and out-of-country businesses to relocate to the area.

“I am very optimistic,” Staley said. “The projects range from corporate headquarters to cell therapy manufacturers. We are confident that will happen.”

Regional forecast and issues

In regards to the Houston region, Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership, said he is optimistic about economic and job recovery to pre-pandemic levels.

Jankowski said there are four major industries that are still hurting for jobs—energy, construction, manufacturing and wholesale trade, which struggled prior to the pandemic.

“COVID[-19] made their struggles even worse,” he said. “Energy [jobs] peaked in February 2019, a whole year prior to COVID[-19].”

Information from Jankowski indicates the highlighted industries are keeping the Houston region from having pre-pandemic employment numbers.

Overall, Jankowski said he is optimistic about 2022 for the region’s economic outlook, as oil prices broke $90 per barrel as of Feb. 11 and exports are up for the area.

Jankowski said around 151,000 jobs were created in 2021, a record high since 1981 when 126,000 jobs were created.

“That is between two and three years of regular job growth, depending on oil prices,” Jankowski said.

Jankowski added construction in the Houston region is on the rise as well, although noted it is around $100 million below the amount of contracts awarded in 2019.

The Greater Houston Partnership is forecasting 75,500 jobs to come to the region over the next year, higher than the average of 65,000-68,000.

“This economy should have a good year in 2022 and 2023, barring something happening at a national or global level to affect growth,” Jankowski said.