2012 CHALLENGES & CHAMPIONS – Economic Outlook Conference

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How Tourism, Real Estate & Retail Will Shape the B/CS Economy in 2012

by Travis Lawson

Texas and Bryan/College Station have faired well during “The Great Recession” when compared to the rest of the United States, and on January 25, experts from different fields will illuminate just how brightly the Brazos Valley economy will continue to shine during 2012. The B/CS Chamber of Commerce’s annual Economic Outlook Conference is expected to sell out available seating at the College Station Hilton Hotel as four important local and national issues are explored: the economic impact of Texas A&M University’s move to the Southeastern Conference; residential and commercial real estate trends; the economic impact of tourism; and success strategies for the retail sector.

Sights Set on the SEC

Bill Byrne, director of athletics at Texas A&M, will be the keynote speaker at the Economic Outlook Conference luncheon and will focus his discussion on the economic impact of the Aggies moving to the SEC in 2012.

Jason Cook, chief communications officer for the Texas A&M System, says even though the teams are farther away, in the future there will still be more fans in Aggieland on game day and for a much more extended period of time.

“The most obvious change you will see is there will be a lot more tailgating,” says Cook. “The SEC is widely known for the travel to road games. I’m a graduate of Mississippi State, and I can remember the RVs from LSU and Alabama arriving on our campus on Wednesday or Thursday.”

The current allotment of visiting team tickets in the Big 12 is 3,800, but according to Cook, as part of the SEC the university will have to allocate between 5,000 and 9,000 tickets for the away teams, depending on the school. This begs the question, What is the University going to do to account for the larger influx of fans for home games?

While Cook could not speak to the direct economic impact and details of accommodating the large number of away tailgaters, he did say it was something that the university staff would be discussing in the off-season prior to the 2012 football season. In his lunchtime keynote speech at the conference, Byrne is expected to address a variety of local issues impacted by Texas A&M’s move to the SEC.

Divining Real Estate Trends: Population Growth & Jobs

Even though the recession was declared over in June 2009, Dr. Jim Gaines with the Texas A&M Real Estate Center believes that is far from the final word on the situation. Texas is in much better shape than the rest of the U.S. due to the state’s dodge of a major housing collapse, says Gaines, while states like California and Nevada were hit hard with large numbers of home foreclosures.

“We didn’t have the problems that occurred in other states like the subsequent wealth loss,” Gaines says. “Our economy proved to be more resilient in not having the long period of job loss like the U.S. economy.”

Instead, Texas had only about a year of job loss and according to Dr. Gaines, the state has almost fully recovered from those losses. His explanation for Texas’ economic toughness is its strong energy sector. The United States had a two-year period of job losses, a trend that had only begun shown a slight reverse to job gains at the end of 2011.

“The United States lost jobs for over two years and are a long way away,” Gaines says. “Part of the fast recovery [in Texas] is due to the energy sector of our economy. The general health of the U.S. economy is not what top economist predicted it would be at this point. In 2011, the economy was supposed to recover more than it did.”

Dr. Gaines says a substantive nationwide economic recovery will not take place for several years and the real estate market must play a large part in helping the recovery along. He also notes that consumer confidence has been one of the big contributing factors in keeping the U.S. economy down, with recent data still not reflecting a significant increase in confidence.

According to the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M, Texas’ employment rate is twice as high as the national employment rate and the state enjoys an unemployment rate lower than most states. Texas also has a civilian labor force of more than 12,000 people and a population that is continuing to grow: Texas population has grown at a rate of 20.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, more than double the rate of the United States and trailing only Arizona as the fastest growing state in the country.

During his presentation at the Economic Outlook Conference, Gaines will present statistics from 2011 for the local residential and commercial real estate market including sales, inventory and construction, and explain how those figures will likely affect the local real state market and economy in 2012.

How to Capitalize on Tourism

Penny Reeh, owner of Indigo Resource Group and president of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, will be speaking at the Economic Outlook Conference about tourism and its impact on the Brazos Valley. One of the main points Reeh says she will speak on is how tourism has impacted local economic development.

“Bryan/College Station has been very blessed in that it appeals to a variety of different sectors, for example, they have a very strong convention and meeting business, they have great sports facilities, and they are really blessed location wise with the University,” Reeh says.

Another issue Reeh will address is the importance of the revenue brought in through the Hotel Occupancy Tax. According to an Indigo Resource Group report, in the past the City of College Station has withheld a portion of HOT funds to build a future conference center. However, Reeh will be discussing why the city needs to put the conference center plans on hold and shift the HOT revenue to other functions.

“We did make a recommendation in our report that some of those funds would be better focused on marketing, sales and product offering of Bryan/College Station,” Reeh says. “This will produce a greater return-on-investment.”

Other topics of discussion will be the university’s role in the tourism market as well as the “twin city effect” that Bryan/College Station can offer. Reeh says both of these factors provide a great opportunity in tourism but also present interesting challenges.

“Significant conversation was placed in our report about the university and how much of a big player it was in the tourism economy,” Reeh says. “Also, the twin city relationship that College Station has with Bryan plays a role in providing a powerful backdrop because the broader your product is, the more people it will appeal to.”

Follow the Money: Retail Impact in 2012

During his presentation at the Economic Outlook Conference, Dr. Ronnie Volkening, president of the Texas Retailers Association, will highlight some of the challenges facing retailers in the current economy including retailer confidence along with action items that need to be achieved in 2012.

“I will comment on the fact that despite mixed to negative financial data for most of 2011, retailers have been actually resilient and posting moderate sales increases throughout 2011 and the challenges to continue that,” Volkening says. “Businesses need to stress a strong understanding that value means more than just a low price because customers have learned to shop for these low prices and are now going to start trying to figure out
what else comes with the deal like quality and a good shopping experience.”

Texas continues do a little better than the nation according to Volkening, who also says that Bryan/College Station has been consistent if not above the economic retail norm statewide. He also will discuss the role that retail will play in the national economic recovery. Volkening says that while he doesn’t have an economic crystal ball, he does plan to share some strategies for retail success in 2012.

“In recent history, retail has been a good barometer that perhaps the consumers are getting a little bit more optimistic and are willing to go out and shop again,” Volkening says. “[Retailers] are going to have to be nimble, be careful, be cautiously optimistic, manage inventories very tightly, and make sure to stay in touch with their customer and be sure they are meeting the needs and wants of their customer. If they can do all that, then hopefully they will have a good year in 2012.” 


Economic Outlook Conference

If You Go    

WHEN: January 25, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: College Station Hilton Hotel

HOW: Visit the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce website at www.bcschamber.org or call (979) 260-5200 for EOC reservations.

Seating is limited and last year’s EOC conference sold out. Tickets are $65 for B/CS Chamber members and $75 for non-members.

EOC Conference Schedule

7:30-8 a.m. – Registration

8-9 a.m. Session I –  Retail: Dr. Ronnie Volkening, President of the Texas Retailers Association

9:15-10:15 a.m. Session II – Tourism: Penny Reeh, Indigo Research Group

10:45-12 noon Session III – Real Estate, Dr. Jim Gaines, Texas A&M Real Estate Center

12:15-2 p.m. Lunch and Keynote Speaker – Bill Byrnes, Director of Athletics, Texas A&M University

* Speakers and times subject to change

About the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce

The Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce exists to enhance the economic wellbeing of the businesses in the communities it serves. The Chamber consists of 1,576 business investors in the Brazos County, serving as the unified business voice for Bryan/College Station. With a rich heritage of leadership and collaboration, the Chamber works in partnership with the cities of Bryan and College Station and the corporate community to promote, advocate for and expand business in the cities and further develop and market Bryan/College Station’s advantages as a premier location for doing business. For more information about the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce, visit www.bcschamber.org or call (979) 260-5200.