(By Dale King) FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas – A confluence of favorable forces helps to maintain the good life in Fort Bend County, says a study by SmartAsset, a New York financial technology company.
The county located a tad southwest of Houston ranks as the 7th best place in the nation, and 3rd best in Texas, for buying power, the report notes. With a purchasing index of 96.16, Fort Bend proves it’s an affordable place to live, where a resident’s standard of living can easily be maintained.
Fort Bend County has a population of 716,087, up 22 percent since 2010. It has grown 218 percent since 1990. And while population numbers have soared, crime remains historically low.
SmartAsset came up with its study data using a cost of living calculator that evaluated living expenses, housing, food, education, childcare, transportation, health care costs and taxes. The study then compared median income to cost of living data nationwide to find the counties where people have the most purchasing power. Median income in Fort Bend County is $86,407 while the cost of living is $43,255.
With its diversity of industry, high-wage jobs, a favorable system of maintaining infrastructure and a quality school system, the county draws newcomers from all over to share in its success.
“Fort Bend County is Greater Houston’s finest address,” said Jeff Wiley, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council. “For those looking to locate a business or family, it should be compelling evidence that ‘The closer you look, the better we get.’”
These good stats, he said, “are more impressive when you consider that Fort Bend is a metro market and is a very populous county, ranking in the top 10 in Texas and top 200 in the nation for population.” The expansive region includes cities such as Sugar Land, Rosenberg and Richmond along with smaller towns.
“All communities in the county are growing,” said Wiley. “However, the fastest growing ones are found in the unincorporated areas, typically in one of the larger cities’ extra-territorial jurisdictions.”
In the Greater Houston and Fort Bend markets, most new homes are built using municipal utility districts (MUD). The MUDs construct roads, install sewer, water and drainage lines and then recover costs through property taxes.
Since residents within city limits do not have to deal with infrastructure costs in their neighborhoods, residential district tax rates remain fairly stable.
Another feature that attracts residents is varied home styles, ranging from master-planned communities to brownstones and townhouses.
Wiley describes the local housing and construction market as “booming.” Housing stock, he said, “is well-balanced and affordable.” Home prices can be at or above 25 percent of income.
Fort Bend County isn’t immune to economic slippage, such as declines in oil and gas prices and office space rentals. “Oil prices impact the larger economy, regardless of how diversified your local business community is,” said Wiley. Fort Bend’s strong business sector helped the community fare better during the oil price drop, he noted. And “although our vacancy rates are fairly steady, we have seen a slowdown in interest for office space rental and in developers looking to build additional office space.”
Still, it is “large [business] relocations and expansions” that work to keep wages up. “Schlumberger’s consolidation of its North American headquarters in Sugar Land represents a significant upside to the community, even in the midst of the upstream energy downturn experienced over the past few years.”
Fluor Corporation is heavily involved in construction projects. “In addition, we have a flourishing medical sub-market of the Texas Medical Center in various cities such as Sugar Land, Richmond and Katy.”
Leading industries in the county “are energy, energy services, engineering, food distribution, medical construction and hospitality/leisure,” said Wiley. “Obviously, we also have a growing education sector as population growth dictates expanded public and higher education infrastructure.”
Several nearby schools of higher learning include a new Tier 1 University of Houston campus in Sugar Land; Texas State Technical College in Rosenberg and Houston Community College and Wharton County Junior College. Texas State Technical College will open at its new location in Rosenberg this fall, working with local companies to fill gaps in workforce training and to meet the needs of the local business community.
UH has a long history of working with Fluor Corporation, one of Fort Bend’s largest employers. Fluor recently donated $1 million to the UH College of Technology to help establish a construction management education program focusing on research and professional development.
“The variety of available lifestyle options,” said Wiley, also helps to keep graduates home. “The county is rich in community amenities, recreation choices, nightlife, shopping and dining centers.”
The cultural community also benefits from a generous population. It supports the 6,400-seat Smart Financial Center, which is nearly complete; Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land and the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center, to be located in Imperial Market, now under development. The Stafford Center is a popular concert venue.
“Individual cities within the county have invested in cultural arts in a variety of ways,” said Wiley, leveraging city and state contributions with local private fundraising to grow the arts community county-wide.”
May 11, 2016
Dale King is a contributing writer for Realty News Report, a Texas-based publication.
For more on the SmartAssets study click here.