Experts provide a look ahead at local, state and national economy

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar provides his perspective on the future of the state's economy.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar provides his perspective on the future of the state's economy.

Economists, researchers and the state comptroller spoke during a Dec. 15 Austin Chamber of Commerce event to provide insight on the future of the economy in Austin as well as Texas and the United States.

Glenn Hegar, Texas comptroller of public accounts, said Texas faces some challenges because of job losses in the oil and gas industry; however, the state has a higher rate of young workers than the rest of the nation. This trend shows Texas has one of the best business climates, he said.

“Do we face some headwinds, absolutely," Hegar said. "But, we’ve got some really nice tailwinds that can counteract those as well."

Texas in 2016 will not see the 5.8 percent growth rate that occurred in 2015, he said, but he is still optimistic.

“Texas is a good place to do business, it’s a good place to call home. … [Texas revenues and sales taxes have] gone down in the last few months, but Austin, for example, has continued to trend positive,” Hegar said.

Meanwhile, Ted C. Jones, chief economist at Stewart Title Guarantee Co., cautioned Austin for its rising unemployment rate. He said those who are unemployed do not have marketable skills, and a lack of skilled workers in Austin is the biggest economic hurdle the city could face.

Jones also pointed out that Austin home values will continue to rise if the lack of new housing supply continues. Many experts believe six months worth of housing inventory is what is needed for a healthy housing market, however Austin currently has 2.6 months of inventory compared with 4.6 months of available inventory nationwide, Jones said.

Daniel Culbertson, an economic research analyst for job search site, said now is the time for the nation to put The Great Recession in its rearview mirror based on 2015 trends. He said this is the first year the economy has experienced consistent improvement every month for 12 months.

Culbertson said The Federal Reserve System will likely decide to raise interest rates either Dec. 16 or in early 2016. When and if that happens, he said construction and manufacturing are the two industries to watch because both rely heavily on loans.

When the panel was asked how Austin should handle its existing challenges, such as traffic, water shortages, rising housing prices and a gap in skilled workers, Jones said fixing traffic congestion, especially along I-35, should be the city's focus. He said Austin needs “pony-up leadership” to solve the problem instead of waiting for those challenges become more insurmountable.