While we won’t know about the full calendar year until the February sales tax report is released with December sales, we do have a variety of other indicators that can help us gauge current economic conditions in Marble Falls.
First, from the sales tax reports that have come in, we know that the last twelve months have been very good. Taxable sales from November 2014 through October 2015 totaled $371,321,896.50. That’s up nearly $18 million (5.07%) over the previous period. The January 2016 report released last week—reflecting November 2015 sales—was up 6.88% over the January 2015 report, so we’re off to an even better start this year. The chart below shows how Marble Falls stacks up against other Central Texas communities.
In terms of gross sales, the Comptroller hasn’t released any new data since the Second Quarter of 2015. That report showed a total of 603 establishments reporting $198,588,805 in gross sales. The total for the four quarters leading up to and including that report was just under $766 million, a 3.6% increase over the previous year. The strongest sectors for Q2 2015 were manufacturing (10.52% quarter-over-quarter growth), retail trade (+3.08%), and accommodation and food services (+7.37%).
Overall, hotel receipts continue to be strong. From January through October 2015, nearly $8.2 million was collected, compared to just under $7.7 million for the same period in 2014; this represents a 6.7% increase. With that said, we have started to see the effects of reduced mid-week and shoulder-season business—without large construction projects like the hospital, the power plant replacement, and the 281 bridge replacement, we haven’t had as many guests during slow periods as we did a year ago. This points to the importance of a unified strategy for tourism and economic development efforts.
Robust November and December building reports from the Development Services department brought 2015 in line with 2014 activity. In 2015, there were 703 permits issued with a total value of $50,781,151.80, versus 760 permits with a value of $53,430,199.04 in 2014. While there was a slight decrease in the number and value of permits issued from 2014 to 2015, there was an enormous difference in the types of projects and ad valorem tax impacts. Of the $53.4 million in permit value in 2014, more than $32 million was associated with tax-exempt projects; by comparison, barely $2 million of the $50 million in 2015 was for tax-exempt projects, so the overall addition to the tax base will be much greater from the 2015 projects than the 2014 projects.
With regard to residential development in Marble Falls, the second and final year of the Build Marble Falls initiative saw some positive gains. There were 27 homes permitted in 2015 with a total value of $10,804,075, compared with 14 homes valued at $2,880,283 in 2014. Of course, with the drastic difference in average value, we will continue to have affordability challenges. When considering that there were only 30 total homes permitted in the five years prior to Build Marble Falls, however, the initiative has to be viewed as a success from the standpoint of adding housing inventory to the market. Incidentally, I am in the process of gathering additional housing information from across the Highland Lakes region for a Hill Country Builders Association Forum on January 28th. I’ll present my findings in an upcoming blog.
Finally, to examine wages, we have to expand our scope to Burnet County because data for smaller municipalities is not available. The Rural Capital Headlight reported that, from 2013 to 2014, Burnet County wages grew 5.0%, behind only Lee County (+7.8%) and Hays County (+5.3%) in the CAPCOG region. Moreover, Burnet County ranked in the top 3 of the 9-county CAPCOG region in 2014 average salary for the following industries: retail (#3), accommodation and food services (#2), manufacturing (#3), wholesale trade (#2), finance and insurance (#2), professional and technical services (#3), administrative and waste services (#1), and arts and recreation (#2). Most impressively, Burnet County ranked first in the region for average salary in the health care and social assistance industry. With an average salary of $45,020, health care workers in Burnet County outpaced those in Williamson County, the second-highest earners, by 6.6%.
What all of this points to is a dynamic and surprisingly balanced economy for a region that has experienced modest and stable growth for a number of years. Without the wild and unpredictable economic swings seen in other areas, the Marble Falls region is poised to enhance its charm and character while enjoying sustainable growth for the benefit of generations to come.