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Top Local Business Stories of the Week


TEXAS ECONOMY

Dallas Fed: State economy to pick up in 2017, but modestly: The Texas economy and labor market should grow a little sunnier this year, but a few of the dark clouds that gathered in the past two years will linger into 2017, according to economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Texas should expand payrolls by 2 percent this year, about 242,000 jobs, senior economist Keith Phillips said this month week in San Antonio. While far lower than the state’s long-run average, which typically exceeds national job growth rates, the job gains in 2017 are expected to surpass the estimated 1.6 percent annual growth rate through November of last year.

“We think the worst is behind us, but there’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” said Mine Yücel, the Dallas Fed’s director of research.

Yücel reiterated Phillips’ 2017 job growth forecast this past week during a business forecast breakfast hosed by the University of Texas McCombs School of Business.

Despite the sharp drop in oil prices that sent the energy industry into a tailspin over the past two years, Yücel said, Texas did not drop into a recession at any point. And the modest recovery in commodity prices has helped stem the bleeding of oilfield services jobs and helped buoy statewide manufacturing outlooks, she said.

Yet the same factors that dragged on the state economy in 2015 and 2016 continue to weigh on growth at the start of the new year.

While rig counts and production levels have started to recover, energy prices remain below levels that typically spur new well drilling. Meanwhile, the strong U.S. dollar and economic weakness among some of the state’s primary trading partners are hampering Texas exporters, Yücel said.

Texas still fared better than most energy states, Philips said. And the Interstate 35 corridor, particularly Dallas and Austin, remained an exception to the otherwise modest growth in Texas, he said.

“Job growth picked up in the second half of 2016 due to a stabilization of the energy sector,” he said. “With that positive momentum, the Texas economy enters 2017 poised to shift into ‘second gear.’”

HELLO, HMART

Asian grocer HMart plans first Austin store: A grocery chain known for specializing in Asian delicacies is on its way to Central Texas. HMart plans to open its first Austin store at 11301 Lakeline Blvd., near Lakeline Mall, according to filings with city and state agencies.

The store will take over adjoining buildings vacated when Bed Bath & Beyond and Sports Authority left the Parkline shopping center, documents show. Other nearby retailers include Kohl’s and Home Depot.

Once combined, the two empty storefronts will create a 68,670-square-foot space for HMart. That’s about the size of an average H-E-B store, although the San Antonio-based grocer has built several Central Texas locations larger than that in recent years.

A filing with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation indicates renovations will cost about $4.4 million and should be complete by December.

The remodeling will include the addition of “new walls, ceilings and finishes, structural improvements, and installation of food service equipment,” according to the filing.

HMart currently has four stores in Texas – two in the Dallas area and two in Houston – plus locations in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The first HMart opened in Queens, New York in 1982. The “H” in HMart is short for “Han Ah Reum,” Korean for “one arm full of groceries,” the company says on its website.

News that HMart is coming to Austin follows last year’s announcement that 99 Ranch Market, another retailer that targets the Asian community, would be opening a location here. That store is planned for The Crescent, a shopping center undergoing redevelopment at North Lamar and Airport boulevards, and should also open this year.

HMart and 99 Ranch Market, once they make their debuts, will be about 13 miles apart.

As part of The Crescent’s makeover, Kula Revolving Sushi Bar is also set to call the shopping center home this year. A concept that originated in Japan, it features a conveyor belt system that enables customers to select sushi dishes they’d like to try.

With Austin’s growing Asian and Pacific American populations, it’s no surprise a number of retailers are choosing to set up shop here, Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce president Marina Ong Bhargava said.

“The Asian Pacific community is eagerly anticipating the openings of HMart and 99 Ranch Market in Austin,” she said. “Although we are currently served by a number of smaller grocers, many of us who are familiar with HMart can’t wait for the one-stop experience for produce and prepared items that it offers. From the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce’s perspective, HMart is committed to corporate citizenship and is already a member, so we look forward to a strong partnership with them.”



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