The metro Houston economy is on track to add 75,500 jobs next year, according to the latest annual forecast from the Greater Houston Partnership.
That’s above the long-term average, but still leaves the region 10,000 to 20,000 jobs shy of pre-COVID employment levels.
“Only eight times in the past 21 years has annual growth exceeded 75,500 jobs,” the report says. “Those years tend to coincide with rising oil prices or prices at an unsustainably high level. Factor out the booms (and the busts) and metro Houston typically creates 65,000 to 70,000 jobs in an normal’ year. Measured against that ’22 looks to be one of the better years for job growth in Houston.”
As of September, metro Houston had regained 245,600 of the 361,400 jobs lost in the early stages of the pandemic last year — about 68%.
The report found that sectors most impacted by social distancing including restaurants, bars and retail are near full recovery — between 85% and 95% of jobs recovered.
One of the strongest areas forecasted for job growth over the course of the next year will be administrative services, which the Partnership projects will add a net 9,000 jobs over the course of 2022. It’s a sector that includes contract workers and outsourcing, according to Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership.
“You always see that happen, to grow strongly in the early stages of a recovery,” he said. “A lot of employers don’t want to bring somebody on full time until they know that the recovery has legs.”
Projected to come in just behind administrative services will be business and professional services, which the Partnership forecasts will add 8,700 jobs in the Houston area next year.
That includes professions as diverse as accountants, attorneys, engineers and consultants.
Third place in projected job growth will be health care and social assistance, which the Partnership forecasts will add 8,400 positions.
“Health care is going to benefit from the growth in the population,” Jankowski said. “It’s going to benefit from new people moving here. It’s going to benefit from people getting older. As we age, we tend to consume more health care, and we’re seeing the population of people over the age of 65 grow significantly every year.”
The report projects the Houston area will add at least 100,000 residents in 2022 through a combination of natural increase â€“ that is, births over deaths â€“ and in-migration, both from other parts of the U.S. and abroad. That population growth will help to drive additional economic activity.
“People are moving here,” Jankowski said. “That’s going to drive the demand for housing (up), whether it’s a single-family home or an apartment. Those people are going to be eating in restaurants. They’re going to need new doctors. They’re going to be needing to furnish their houses.”
Other leading areas of job growth will include restaurants and bars, government â€“ specifically, school districts and community colleges — and transportation and warehousing.
Job categories that are still struggling include energy, manufacturing, construction, and wholesale trade. The slowdown in the energy sector has had an indirect effect on the other three categories, Jankowski said.
The Partnership projects global crude oil demand will reach pre-COVID levels sometime next year. That will help improve job growth in the energy, manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors.
However, construction may still remain a problem due to overbuilding in the office sector: there are about 70 million square feet of vacant office space in the Houston area, Jankowski said.
The Partnership forecasts the metro Houston jobs picture will also benefit from more traffic through the Port of Houston due to an increase in global trade. The World Trade Organization is projecting global trade will increase by 4.7% in 2022.
One potential headwind for the region is the continued effect of the pandemic, which could grow worse with the arrival of the omicron variant. But Jankowski said the effect would not be as bad as it has been.
“We’ve found ways to work around it,” Jankowski said. “I don’t think we’re going to see a government shutdown. I don’t think you’re going to see people totally staying away from the stores, but they’re going to adjust their behavior. They’re going to wear a mask. They’re going to get their boosters. They’re going to be a little bit more careful. It might slow things down, but a new variant won’t derail things. There’s just too much pent-up demand out there.”