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Forum touches on economic outlook

By Claudia Perez Rivas

More than 130 community leaders, local officials and community members attended the College of Business Administration’s Economic Forum designed to provide a snapshot of the county’s economic outlook Tuesday at the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Student Union Ballrooms. 

The event featured presentations by Senior Economic and Policy Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas-San Antonio Branch Keith Phillips, TAMUK professor Thomas Krueger and Kingsville City Manager Vince Capell. The Economic Forum, in its third year, focused on county demographics, business conditions and an economic survey used to gauge growth. 

While a comparison was made between three Coastal Bend counties with similar populations, the focus remained on Kleberg County. The other counties compared were Bee and Aransas. Krueger said the primary means of population growth for Kleberg County was natural growth– the number of births compared to the number of deaths. There were 9.6 percent more births than deaths from 2000 to 2012, according to the report. Kleberg County also saw an increase of 7.5 percent in international migration to the county during that time period, while there was a 13.4 percent decline in domestic migration. That created a net increase in the population of 3.7 percent over the 12-year period. By comparison, Aransas County saw a net increase of 24.9 percent and Bee County saw a net increase of 1.5 percent. The State of Texas experienced 22.1 percent growth during that time period, Krueger said. In Kleberg, 75.5 percent of residents have a high school diploma, compared to 86.7 percent in Aransas and 71.2 percent in Bee. Although Kleberg County is home to TAMUK, only 21.7 percent of residents in the county have a college degree. 

The poverty rate in in Kleberg County is also the highest of the three counties studied, Krueger said. 

“Kleberg County has a poverty rate of 24.8 percent, and there are approximately 34.9 percent of children living in poverty,”

Krueger said. “That means one out of every three children lives in poverty.” Krueger said the figures are important because they show how the population is evolving. Higher education may mean more home ownership and thus more jobs, he said. 

In terms of home ownership, the rate for Kleberg County in 2011 was the lowest for all three counties at 57.1 percent, while the mean value of owner-occupied homes was $72,000. Aransas County had the highest home ownership rate at 78.8 percent, as well as a mean value of owner-occupied homes of $125,100. 

Krueger said the study showed Kleberg County to have the highest property taxes of the three counties studied. 

Kleberg’s property tax rate of 0.745 percent is twice the rate of Aransas at 0.375 percent and 60 percent higher than that charged by Bee County, which is 0.460 percent. A home with a $100,000 assessed valuation in Kleberg County pays $370 more than the same house in Aransas County, and $285 more than the same house in Bee County, the study showed. 

Krueger said that in all three counties, the largest property taxes are from the school systems. In Kleberg County, the Kingsville Independent School District has a property tax rate that is 31 percent higher than the rate in Aransas County, and 46 percent higher than the rate in Bee County. 

The study also showed a comparison between the largest city in each county and its adopted property tax rate. The City of Kingsville’s property tax rate was over 100 percent higher than that of Rockport and 45 percent higher than that of Beeville. Property with $100,000 assessed valuation exposed to all three identified property rates (county, school and city) would experience a $3,107 annual charge in Kingsville, a $1,862 annual charge in Rockport, and a $2,081 annual charge in Beeville. 

In terms of Economic Performance, Krueger said, Kleberg County shows the retail trade as the most important industry, followed by health care. According to a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, Kleberg County has shown an increase in workforce numbers from 2003 to 2013. Over the past decade, Kleberg County’s workforce has grown by 16.7 percent, Krueger said. The study shows this growth to be 5.2 percent faster than the growth in Aransas County but slower than that of Bee County, which grew at a 20.8 percent rate. 

Krueger said despite the county’s lower growth, Kleberg has seen a low and narrow unemployment rate across the past 10 years. 

“Regarding economic performance, Kleberg County has a lower and more stable unemployment level, higher earnings per job and per capita growth rate, greater retail sales per capita and a higher proportion of its workforce working in well-paying government jobs,” Krueger said. 

Capell said he was pleased at the employment situation in Kingsville, pointing out that the city’s unemployment rate had decreased since 2009. 

“When we look at employment, we still have favorable growth at the local level,” Capell said. 

Capell said the city and county are working to promote growth by expanding housing in the area. 

“This is significant in terms of population growth,” Capell said. “I think the city commission has done many things to improve the region.” 

Capell said he would leave it to the community to decide if the findings provided by the economic study are “positive or negative.”