The other side of the apartment complex was still being built when Helen Hill moved into her new studio apartment in Dallas. It was an easy choice for the 29-year-old Dallas-native to move back to her hometown after two years of living in China. “It’s a cool city and the quality of living is really good,” Hill said.
A decline in oil prices didn’t hurt oil-dependent Texas as one might expect. Houston has suffered job loss in the mining and logging sector since 2014 but Dallas, on the other hand, is thriving.
“The labor market in Texas is quite strong, even with such a low job growth,” said Anil Kumar, Senior Research Economist and Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “It has taken a hit because of oil but the growth rate is still positive.”
Because of its dependency on oil, Houston lost 17,700 oil production and service jobs and 23,800 manufacturing jobs from December 2014 to 2015, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Houston had the smallest employment gains out of the 12 major metropolitan areas in March over the year with an addition of 7,700 jobs.
The Dallas metropolitan region ranked number one in job growth in March out of 12 metropolitan areas, including New York City and Los Angeles. Nonfarm employment in Dallas-Fort Worth grew 3.9 percent over the 12-month period ending in March, above the national rate of 2, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Texas, it was 4.3 percent. The March unemployment rate in Dallas-Fort Worth was a low 3.8 percent compared to the nation’s unemployment rate of 5 percent. The state has maintained a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. as a whole since the 2008 recession.
Texas, a vital energy-producing state, represents 37 percent of the country’s crude oil production. Crude oil is under $45 a barrel, down more than 60 percent in almost two years.
“A total collapse in oil prices was not expected at all,” said Cheryl Abbot, regional economist at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Very few people thought it would go this low and certainly not for this long.”
So far, Texas has survived falling oil prices because it was prepared for it.
Texas was hit hard from plummeting oil prices in the 1980s and it spurred the state to create the Economic Stabalization Fund, which collects money mainly from oil and gas severance taxes. This rainy day fund that started in 1987 now amounts to nearly $10 billion.
In addition, the Texas economy, especially Dallas, began diversifying away from the oil and gas industry and developing non-oil related industries. In March, all of the industry sectors in Dallas experienced growth, except for mining, which was also negative for the U.S.
“It’s weathering a lot better than Houston,” said economist Anil Kumar.
Dallas has a booming leisure and hospitality industry. The region added 26,900 jobs in March, year over year, a job growth rate of 8 percent as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment in trade, transportation and utilities grew at a rate of 5.7 in comparison to the nation’s rate of 1.9 percent.
“The cost of living down here is excellent and I don’t have a state income tax,” said Helen Hill.
Hill began working at Trunk Club a year ago. As a senior stylist and custom sales specialist, she earns a commissions-based wage that averages $110,000 per year. The web-based company provides a personal stylist for customers at its showrooms and through at-home visits.
Hill pays $1,055 a month for a studio apartment with amenities, such as a pool, a gym and an outdoor area, at no extra cost. Even after paying an estimated $6,300 in federal taxes, her rent is still less than 9 percent of her income.
Helen Hill, who moved into an apartment complex still under construction, joins a growing population in Dallas. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area added more than 131,000 people from July 2013 to 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area added 90,797 people.
The population in 2014 for the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington region was estimated at 6.95 million people. The Dallas-Fort worth region is expected to reach a population of 10.5 million people with 6.6 million employed by 2040, according to North Central Texas Council of Governments.
On a Friday afternoon, it took Bruce Bradford 45 minutes to get home because of traffic along the L.B.G. Freeway. The commute typically takes less than half that time.
“With growth, comes congestion,” said Bradford, the president and CEO of North Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber assists the city with transit-related policies, such as setting up the Dallas Love Field airport for use, developing the buses and rail lines of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit and opening up the unused transit line Cotton Bell.
Bradford met with Toyota last month to discuss the company’s plan to move its headquarters from Southern California to Plano, which lies 20 miles north of Dallas. Executives told him that 75 percent of their workforce expressed interest in relocating to the campus. It will cost Toyota about $350 million to build the Texas facilities and will bring an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 employees to the area.
Toyota joins Liberty Mutual and State Farm in moving their offices to the Dallas area. Texas Instruments, Southwest Airlines, Exxon Mobile, Zales and Fossil already run their headquarters out of the greater Dallas area. Low property prices and no state income tax are attractive to businesses of all sizes.
Russell Kabir, a partner in the start-up incubator Eggcelerator, rents an office suite with furniture for $1,000 per month.
“It’s a great breeding ground for start-ups,” said Kabir.
Eggcelerator started four years ago and recently launched two apps: Smartactic, a platform to help real estate brokers and agents, and Reel Buddy, a social networking tool that allows users to purchase movie tickets.
“We want to build a billion-dollar company,” he said. “I wouldn’t have this opportunity if I were somewhere else.”
He plans on reaching his goal in at least four years.
“Companies are moving and growing because the business climate is so good,” said Martina Hill, 32. She relocated to Dallas in 2011 from Minnesota with Wells Fargo after frequent business trips to Texas to see clients.
Martina Hill went on maternity leave over a year ago from her job as an account executive at the insurance company, but doesn’t worry about re-entry into the labor market.
“If I wanted a job, I could get one immediately,” she said. “They’re dying to hire people.”
Hill has received 20 calls by various insurance companies to return to the workforce.
“To hire skilled talent in the area, they like to hire people from people from Atlanta and San Francisco with specialty knowledge,” Hill said.
Job growth has slowed down in the first quarter of 2016 year over year, likely driven by low oil prices, but positive job growth in Dallas is expected to continue.
“Now it all just depends on what happens to oil prices in the future,” Abbot said.