Chamber sees positive progress in economy

By Ade Adesanya

The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce hosted an economic forum Thursday centered on real estate development and how infrastructural developments along Interstate 35-South, as well as the general performance of the economy, affects jobs and boosts the real estate market.

“Interstate 35 is getting widened and we are seeing developers from outside our local market starting to show interest in real estate property in the I-35 south,” Jon Spelman, owner of Jon W. Spelman real estate investment firm, said.

The Interstate 35-South expansion project will drive business start-ups in the Central Texas Marketplace area, Robinson Industrial Park and the Young Industrial Park. Central Texas Market Place is a commercial real estate property containing multiple retail outlets and restaurants located on West Loop 340 off Interstate 35 South, and the parks are located around the same general area.

Robinson is booming and Hewitt is experiencing the same thing as a result of the TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) Interstate 35 widening project,” Spelman said in reference to the Interstate 35 South Intersection with State Highway 6 North and Loop 340. Spelman attributed the business success of the Central Texas Market Place and other commercial real estate development to the access created by Interstate 35. Waco has experienced relatively minimal losses compared to Texas as a whole and compared to most of the United States, but its real estate market is also affected by the general economic slowdown.

“The sign of the times tells us that overall sales and economic performance of the community is tied to the real estate cycle,” Spelman said. “We are currently in the minimal construction phase of the cycle; existing home sales are down by 5.7 percent.”

Spelman said it takes jobs to make residential sales grow, but it takes fast residential sales growth to see economic growth.

He added that there are positive developments arising from the highway expansion due to traffic.

“The expansion project will affect business growth around the area of the IH-35 Frontage road leading to Sun Valley Boulevard where a four-way access will be created,” Spelman said. “With the Volvo and Mack truck dealership on one side [and] the Robinson Industrial Park Drive around the corner, we can expect to see new restaurants and services firms come up in that area.”

The numbers used in the economic discussion came from data collected at the end of 2010.

New economic data will be available for the economic community at the end of the first quarter of 2011 — around early April.

“We have been very lucky here in Waco. Over the last decade 2,700 new jobs have been added to our community and these jobs have been across several industries,” Scott Connell, the senior vice-president of strategic development of Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said.

At 8 percent unemployment, Texas is still performing better than most states, so it has been an attractive location for job seekers.

“Unemployment [in Waco] going into 2011 remained relatively higher than the end of 2009,” Connell said. “At 7 percent, it is high, but lower than the number in Texas as a whole; however, our unemployment numbers in Waco are higher primarily because the work force has grown. Our population has grown 9 percent in 10 years.”

Further information regarding specific demographic information is expected after census information is released and information is further analyzed.

“In the coming months we’ll focus on geographic development information and how economic development affects specific neighborhoods, races in specific areas of our community,” Connell said.

In attendance at the program, which presented was by American Guaranty Title and sponsored by BBVA Compass, were community members, business leaders, bankers, real estate agents and real estate brokers from the Central Texas economy.