Economist: East Texas veterans play big role

Published on Friday, 30 May 2014 21:10 - Written by Casey Murphy

Senior Economist Dr. JoJo Estrada believes veterans living and working in the Tyler area play a significant role on the economy.

Estrada, senior economist with the Texas Comptroller’s Office, said Friday there is about $185 million worth of economic impact generated annually in the Tyler area from veteran spending — taking into account their incomes, as well as businesses producing products for and workers providing services to veterans.

“That’s nothing to sneeze at,” Estrada said. “That’s a significant amount of money.”

The numbers only represent a small portion of the entire economic impact veterans have on the area.

Estrada and Dr. Lila Valencia, researcher and Legislative liaison for the Office of the Texas Demographer, presented the results of an economic impact study they conducted on Friday at a free event hosted by the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce.

Estrada looked at what local veterans bring to the table as far as economic value in the Tyler Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). He said that although there are a number of ways veterans can contribute to the local economy, he focused on veterans living and working in the area. He did not include those generating income from their service, such as retirement or disability income.

In 2012-13, veterans made up nearly 10 percent of the total population in the Tyler area, a larger concentration than the less than 9 percent of the population at the state level, he said. He looked at the 8,704 veterans ages 18-64 in the Tyler MSA in terms of employment and how they contribute to the local economy, he said.

Estrada reported that 6,415, or 73.7 percent, of veterans are part of the local labor force — working or looking for work — while 455 veterans, or 7.1 percent, are unemployed. He estimated that about 5,959 were working as of 2012-13.

The median income of working veterans is $34,939, with a disposable income of $29,698. The total disposable income of working veterans in the area is about $176.98 million. Of that, about $115.13 million, or 63 percent, is spent locally.

Estrada said 1,668 jobs can be attributed to veterans’ spending. For every $1 a veteran spends, another 59 cents of economic activity is generated by industries serving them. The Top 5 industries impacted by working veterans here are health care, retail, accommodations and food services, other services and finance and insurance.

Tom Mullins, president of the Tyler Chamber, said the research didn’t include the regional impact veterans have on the area, including those working outside of Smith County but who work and/or spend money here.

Dr. Valencia gave a demographic profile of the veteran population in the City of Tyler and in Smith County.

She said of the 159,695 residents of Smith County who are 18 and older, 16,305 are veterans. Out of 76,355 people 18 and older living in the City of Tyler, 7,080 are veterans. She said there tends to be an older population of veterans in the area compared to the rest of the state, and most living here are from the Vietnam War era.

As of 2012 data, there is a slightly higher poverty rate of veterans in Tyler/Smith County than the rest of the state and the unemployment rate is higher here.

According to information from the 2007 U.S. Census, Dr. Valencia said out of 21,265 businesses in Smith County, 1,929 were veteran owned and 1,696 were owned equally by veterans and non veterans. She said more recent data, from the 2012 Census survey of business owners, should be released soon.

The veteran economic impact reports were not the first generated by Estrada and Dr. Valencia for The Chamber. In 2012, they gave a similar report about the potential economic impact retirees have on the area.

Jessica Brown, marketing coordinator for the UT Tyler College of Business Technology, conducted three focus groups on veterans. She said the groups were broken down into business owners in Smith County, veteran students at UT Tyler and Tyler Junior College and military retirees ages 38 to 50. They were each asked a handful of questions and their responses showed they would like a centralized one-stop-shop location to receive veteran-related information in the community; more support and understanding of what being a veteran and a veteran family means; and more community activities with a veteran focus.

About 30 people attended the free event hosted by the Tyler Chamber’s veterans and government affairs committees at UT Tyler Ornelas Activity Center.