City leaders expect more jobs in next five years due to ExxonMobil move and better mobility

A majority of the jobs in the Tomball and Magnolia area are held by people living outside the region, while nearly 40 percent of the cities' residents commute to Houston for work, according to research prepared by the Greater Houston Partnership. In total, there are 42,345 jobs in the Tomball and Magnolia area, which the GHP research defined as a 10-mile radius around Pinehurst.

Leaders in both cities expect the number of total jobs and the number of jobs held by residents to increase in the next few years due to the expansion of the Grand Parkway and Hwy. 249 and the 2014 opening of the 497,000-square foot ExxonMobil campus in Spring.

Tomball is preparing for this growth with its 96.5-acre Business and Technology Park, which is expected to have shovel-ready sites in late 2013 and will look to attract companies in the energy, oilfield and medical services industries.

"We're going to see a large growth in oil-related jobs," Tomball City Manager George Shackelford said. "With 30,000 people coming into the area with the ExxonMobil move, that's going to be huge for the [entire region.]"

In Magnolia, city leaders are continuing work on a 20-year comprehensive plan to set guidelines for future growth.

"Our challenge is how do we combine a community where you get to live, work and play," said Deborah Rose Miller, Magnolia's economic development coordinator.

Diversified housing

More than 70 percent of jobs in the Tomball and Magnolia area are held by workers living outside the region, and the reason most cited by city leaders is the lack of diverse housing options.

"When you look at the housing stock in Tomball, there's two different spectrums: apartments and smaller lots in downtown and then larger, custom family homes," said Kelly Violette, executive director of the Tomball Economic Development Corporation. "There's not much for someone who is a young professional, and that's one reason we have found why people work in the area but don't live here."

Violette said that the lack of housing options was one of the areas the city looked at when it completed its 20-year comprehensive plan in 2009.

"I would agree that there needs to be more affordable housing offered within the region," said Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Tomball Chamber of Commerce. "There needs to be a mixture."

In Magnolia, the school district is the largest employer and less than half of Magnolia ISD's staff live in the Magnolia area.

"I'm told by realtors that some of our teachers say there is not enough affordable housing in Magnolia," Miller said. "There needs to be a better range in our housing prices."

Industry growth

According to the Greater Houston Partnership research, the largest number of jobs in the Tomball and Magnolia area are in the educational services industry with 9,790 jobs; followed by health care with 5,096 jobs; retail with 4,874 jobs; and manufacturing with 4,077 jobs.

Violette said the three areas she expects the most growth in the next five years is in health care, manufacturing and construction. With the Tomball VA clinic set to open in 2013, Tomball Regional Medical Center changing from a public to a private facility at the end of 2011 and growth in the aging population, the health care industry is poised for growth, she said.

Growth in manufacturing and construction are both expected to be products of the ExxonMobil campus opening in the area.

"Industries like to cluster together, and we're going to see companies growing that provide support services to ExxonMobil and Noble Energy," Violette said. "There will also be an increased need for materials for that industry. And people are coming this way, and they're going to need more homes so we're going to see more development for the Tomball and Magnolia area."

Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan said the city and TEDC are already talking to companies located in Houston who have interest in moving into the Tomball Business and Technology Park once ExxonMobil moves into the area.

"Everything's coming together with the economy and Hwy. 249 and the Grand Parkway," Fagan said. "We're going to see a large growth in everything oil and gas related. It's going to have a big impact on us."

Balanced growth

As the region is poised for rapid growth, one challenge that persists is striking a balance between growing Tomball and Magnolia's commercial base, while maintaining its small town charm, area leaders say.

"What I hear from people is that they want to keep the small town feel, but they do want to see more retailers," Fagan said. "I think the good thing about the business park is it's at the southeast corner of the city, so it won't impact Main Street."

Miller said with the increased mobility in and out of Magnolia through the extension of FM 1488 and FM 1774, the area is becoming more and more attractive to retailers and business owners.

"There are not many places you can buy 20 acres of unincorporated or city land, and we have that here. So growth is going to happen with or without us," Miller said. "What we're looking at [with the comprehensive plan] is how to keep the ambiance that made you want to move out [to Magnolia] in the first place. That's going to be an ongoing process, and no one has a perfect answer for that."