'Mattress Mack,' Woodlands leaders talk economic outlook, post-Harvey Houston

Growing job diversification, economic rebound and Houston's recovery post-Hurricane Harvey were the key talking points from Feb. 16's Economic Outlook Conference hosted by The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce. Here are a few highlights from the event:

As the area recovers from the oil and gas downturn of 2014, job diversification has been a major key to economic growth.
Laura Lea Palmer, vice president of operations for The Woodlands Economic Development Partnership, said the Houston area has been experiencing a "bathtub recovery" in the energy industry—a sharp decline, a long plateau then an eventual recovery. However, the area has seen significant growth in the health care industry, with the number of health care jobs more than doubling from 4,270 in 2013 to 8,625 at the start of 2018.

As sales tax slows, The Woodlands has maintained revenue levels and grown hospitality services. 
The Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch gave a brief update on the township's finances during the conference. While sales tax revenue growth has slowed over the past six years due to an increase in surrounding retail options and competition with online sales, Bunch said the township has seen growth in other revenue-driving industries. For example, the township's hotel occupancy tax collections have grown by 34 percent since 2013, totaling $8.7 million in 2017.

Companies are paying close attention to recent changes to the U.S. tax codes.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, was a key player in moving forward the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law Dec. 22 by President Donald Trump, overhauling the nation’s tax code. Many of the reform’s changes took effect immediately, including a lower corporate tax rate that Brady says will encourage large corporations, such as Exxon Mobil and Anadarko in The Woodlands, to bring overseas operations back to the U.S.

Despite the economic and environment challenges of 2017, the Houston area banded together to recover. 
The event concluded with a keynote address from Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale. Most recently known for his philanthropic work during Hurricane Harvey, McIngvale has been recognized by several organizations in the past six months for opening up his Houston locations of Gallery Furniture as shelters during the storm and helping to organize the outpour of volunteers and donations that followed in the weeks after.

"Hurricane Harvey represented the worst of times in Houston and The Woodlands and Port O'Conner and all over Texas, Beaumont and Baytown—it was a nondiscriminatory flood," McIngvale said. "It was the worst of times. But it was also the best of times because for one brief moment of time, all of us came together. Whether you were right-wing or left-wing, it didn't matter; we all came together to care about people."

Watch all of McIngvale's speech on our Facebook page here. 
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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