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Houston 6th in nation in key economic recovery rankings

January 1, 2013

Houston has had quite a year sprinting to the top of a steady stream of economic reports — not to mention that we’re even the coolest city in the nation, according to the soothsayers at Forbes.

In the latest quarterly heavyweight report that gauges success over a wide range of economic measures, it looks like the city is still on its game — for the most part.

The Houston area ranks sixth among the nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas in terms of economic recovery, according to the report out this week from the Brookings Institute. Houston slipped from fourth to sixth in the latest quarterly ranking, covering the third quarter of 2011 to the third quarter of this year.

Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program’s “MetroMonitor” index of economic recovery compared the 100 cities on how far they have recovered from their lowest recession period doldrums in employment, economic output and home prices.

Houston is No. 5 in employment recovery, gaining 7.4 percent of its workforce back from its lowest period in the fourth quarter of 2009, and also No. 5 in terms of output, measured by gross domestic product, showing a gain of 15 percent since the depths of the recession in 2008. That economic output ranking, by the way, is one notch lower than Austin.

Only 10 metro areas nationwide — six of which, including Houston, are in Texas — have fully recovered their prerecession employment levels, the report said.

Comparing the job market in Houston over the past 12 months, the picture is still encouraging, with most job sectors showing strong gains, including mining (including oil and gas), construction, and leisure and hospitality. Just this week, a report from IHS Global Insight predicted that, by the end of the decade, the number of workers employed in the extraction of oil and gas from shale formations in Texas would almost double.

The biggest problem faced by Houston employers these days is partly a direct result of the city’s rapid growth — the scarcity of skilled workers for both white collar and manufacturing jobs across several sectors, from energy to biotech and technology, partly due to the retirement of the legion of Baby Boomers. Others have delayed some hiring in the fourth quarter due to the nation’s political machinations.

As for housing prices, Houston ranked 11th in terms of recovery since the second quarter of 2011. Also this week, a separate report from Trulia projected that Houston would have the healthiest housing market in the country in 2013. Nationwide, Brookings said the economy is headed in the right direction.

“Recent economic reports point to a national economic recovery that is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly,” according to the report. “The unemployment rate continues to edge down, housing prices are recovering, and GDP growth has been relatively strong.”

Greg Barr runs the day­to­day operations of the Houston Business Journal newsroom and website, as well as overseeing the weekly executive living section, H­Town.