Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples believes the state must continue to maintain a job-friendly environment to remain competitive for economic growth.
About 290 people, including elected officials and community leaders, attended the luncheon at the UT Tyler Ornelas Activity Center, said Jana Belzer, coordinator of marketing for UT Tyler’s College of Business and Technology.
Dr. Harold Doty, dean of UT Tyler’s College of Business and Technology, talked about the results of the East Texas Business Outlook Index, which was started three years ago by the university. He said the report is used to determine the business future of the East Texas region and shows that in the near future and in the long term, “East Texas is going to continue to prosper.”
Doty said that for the first time in the past three years of producing the index, “we’re beginning to see some broad-based recovery here in East Texas.”
“East Texas is doing better than the rest of the nation and will continue to do so,” he said, adding that the area can expect to see more people going to work and more people working at higher wages.
However, Doty said he expects cost increases across the board, with business costs expected to rise and low interest rates going up slightly. He said there also will be energy and food inflation, which appears to be drought related.
Doty said the nation is not seeing the job growth needed, but “across time, you can see that people are starting to feel a little better” about the economy. However, people are concerned about the results of the upcoming election and health care costs.
“Texas does have a powerful story to tell,” Staples said.
Sales tax for this year in the state is 18.5 percent higher than 12 months before, and home foreclosures are much lower than other states, he said.
East Texas is continuing to maintain a strong competitive advantage, Staples said.
Last year, Texas experienced the worst drought in its history, with more than $8 billion in agricultural cash receipt losses, and the worst wildfires in state history, with 4 million acres ravaged.
“Texans see an opportunity,” Staples said. “As we look at what we’ve gone through … we know we must maintain a job-friendly environment.”
He said states such as Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, which have lost jobs to Texas, are watching closely what the Lone Star State is doing to gain jobs.
“We need to make certain that our job-friendly environment and attitude remains to continue to be competitive,” Staples said.
Although East Texas is seeing a shrinking manufacturing base, the region is working to expand the type of businesses attracted here, he said.
The state’s top weaknesses include its high school dropout rate, which is one in four students; and its budget deficit, with increasing population growth and a need for infrastructure.
Staples said Texas legislators have reigned in spending, reducing expenditures to match what the revenues should be.
“My vision is that we need to be a state government that is focused on the blocking and tackling,” he said. They need to focus on the education system, the capacity of the transportation system, water availability and reliable energy sources to attract new businesses, he added.
“There are challenges we face in the Lone Star State but would you rather be in any other place to solve them? ... We have a strong foundation in which to launch from,” Staples said.