Strategic planning and energy sector fuel economic growth
Fueled by Houston’s robust energy and oil and gas sectors combined with strategic planning, Fort Bend County job growth has increased 78.1 percent from 2000 to 2011, making it the second-fastest growing county in the nation in that period.
“Our success is by design and not by accident,” said Lance LaCour, president and CEO of the Katy Area Economic Development Council. “In Katy, our excellent public schools, access to I-10 and proximity to the Energy Corridor are helping drive our business recruitment and growth.”
The CNN Money Where The Jobs Are list ranked the county second in the nation for job growth. Most of the growth in the county has been along the east side from Katy to Missouri City.
“Katy and Fort Bend County are successful in bringing jobs to the area because we have great leadership and economic development corporations implementing strong strategic economic development plans and working hard to plan and build infrastructure, improve quality of life and place, helping existing businesses grow, and recruiting new businesses,” LaCour said.
The county has judiciously and effectively used tax abatement incentives—short-term property tax cuts—to help businesses grow and expand locally, said Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert.
In 2008 at the start of the recession, the county issued three abatements which brought 65 jobs and $8.5 million in capital investment. During the next three years while much of the nation was experiencing stagnant or declining growth, the county was still offering abatements and growing. The county issued 21 abatements from 2008 to 2011, bringing in 1,685 jobs and $400.5 million in capital investment.
“A lot of what happens here is a function of the overall regional economy, not just Fort Bend County,” Hebert said.
LaCour said all the projections he has seen call for continued growth in the region.
“Our employment in Katy ISD is projected to grow from 138,000 to 164,000 persons by the year 2016,” he said. “That is a 19 percent increase, 26,000-person increase in employment from 2011 to 2016.”
Though projections do not specify where the jobs will come from, LaCour said he feels the increase will be in all industry sectors with the greatest percentage coming from energy services, professional and technical services, information and retail jobs.
Since it’s creation in 2003, the KAEDC has helped bring nearly 10,000 jobs to the Katy area. Among those in the Fort Bend County side are PetroSkills Conference Center in 2010, Brazos Valley Credit Union in 2012, and The Mission Companies/Entrust office building project which is scheduled to start construction by the end of the year.
Oilfield services firm Hampco Services Inc. recently announced plans to open an office in Katy.
“I essentially chose Katy to be close to our drilling contractor customers in the Energy Corridor,” Hampco owner and president Andy Grieve said. “I was also very impressed by DNV’s new building up off Mason Road and worked with their architects, Powers Brown and Katy Area EDC to look for sites. We had a couple of false starts but are delighted with the site we landed with in the end. In the future, there is no reason why the site couldn’t go up to employing over a hundred as we develop the site.”
Beyond Fort Bend County
The two key factors helping the county grow are quality of life and proximity to Houston, according to area officials.
“We are very fortunate to be where we are adjacent to that great big economic engine that is Harris County and Houston,” Hebert said.
Fort Bend County is not the only beneficiary of Houston’s economy. Waller County to the northwest of Fort Bend County is seeing benefits. Vince Yokom of the Waller County Economic Development Partnership said he is spending more of his time in the Katy area.
“The area sells itself in terms of quality of life,” he said. “The Katy area has a very strong workforce.”
Yokom said Goya Foods’ new Katy facility being built just inside Waller County is bringing 115 jobs to the Katy area. He said he is also about to announce the arrival of an oil and gas exploration company to the community that will bring 450 to 600
Another factor contributing to job growth is carefully planned communities.
“One of the things ... that gives Fort Bend County a growth edge … is the higher percentage of master planned communities that we have,” said Jack Belt, executive vice president of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council.
He said the designs and plans for the communities in conjunction with existing cities has allowed the county to carefully plan for not only housing growth, but also industrial and retail growth. Belt said that in 1990 there was one job for every two people living in the county. There are now eight jobs for every 10 people.
“Fort Bend County is to Houston what Orange County is to Los Angeles,” said Perri D’Armond, vice president of governmental relations for the GFBEDC. “Access and mobility to Houston is maximized.”
Hebert said the proximity to the Port of Houston and highways such as I-10 and Hwy. 59 have aided companies in need of major shipping routes.
Hebert said it also means highways clogged with commuter traffic, which is a primary reason why the county tries so hard to bring and keep jobs in Fort Bend.
“People chose where to live based on a lot of factors such as quality of life … We tend to win that battle [with the metro area],” Hebert said.