Montgomery County Sees A ‘Real Renaissance’ — And Some Growing Pains — Amid Rapid Growth
The best evidence of Montgomery County’s prosperous growth over the past decade might be seen in Conroe.
“Ten years ago, I would’ve thought they were joking to put 1.2M SF of speculative warehouse in Conroe,” Conroe Economic Development Council Executive Director Danielle Scheiner said. “But it’s happening.”
While the growth is happening almost too quickly to keep up with, leading to a development moratorium in some cases, county officials and real estate players say people and businesses are flocking to the “suburban-urban” lifestyle it has to offer. And they don't plan to let up on drawing them in.
The Northport Logistics Center, the 1.2M SF speculative industrial project that Lovett Industrial and Cresset Partners broke ground on in September 2022, is far from the only major change Conroe has seen in recent years, Scheiner said.
“If anyone has not been to downtown Conroe in the last five years, you need to come check it out,” Scheiner said. “There’s a real renaissance happening down there, and really, it's all private developers and investors that are doing it.”
Scheiner and representatives from The Woodlands and Magnolia spoke about the county's staggering growth and what its continuation means for the future at Bisnow’s Montgomery County State of the Market event at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on Thursday.
In some cases, growth has come more quickly than anticipated.
While Conroe sits directly north of The Woodlands, a bustling hub of healthcare, entertainment and life sciences with an office market vacancy lower than Downtown Houston, the city of Magnolia remains much more rural with a population of fewer than 5,000.
Magnolia is “truly exurban,” Economic Development Executive Director Rachel Steele said, adding the city has had to hustle to keep up with new arrivals.
Late last year, the city placed a temporary moratorium on new development because the city’s current infrastructure had no more water connections to offer. But the city is working to ensure new development isn't halted too much, Steele said.
“We created a temporary water system, an 80,000-gallon offline system, pretty much dedicated just to support H-E-B,” Steele said at the Bisnow event.
Magnolia’s H-E-B will open Nov. 2, according to its website. Steele joked that the new store meant the city has really made it.
Magnolia’s population hovered under 2,000 until about 2019 but has since more than doubled to 4,800, Steele said. Montgomery County’s population was almost 680,000 in 2022, up 9.4% from about 620,000 in 2020, per Census Bureau data.
Part of the county's appeal, especially for the younger workforce, is the suburban-urban lifestyle that the region has to offer, The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership CEO Gil Staley said.
Others, like Scheiner, pointed to the county's pro-business attitudes, along with housing options that are still relatively affordable.
“You get the safety and security and the newness of the suburbs with the cool, hip factor of the urban, like densification and cool amenities that come without as much of the grit and grime that you get in the city,” JLL Senior Vice President Scott Fikes said.
Fikes, who helps tenants lease office space in The Woodlands area, said he has seen a shift in the mix of clients. Oil, gas, petrochemical and energy clients used to make up two-thirds of the client base, but that has thinned to one-third in recent years as the region diversified.
“It’s all over the map,” he said of current clients. “Banking, finance, insurance, construction, different types of healthcare. There’s a reason why people want to be here.”
Healthcare is now the top employer type in The Woodlands area, outranking energy, Staley said.
“We have over 40,000 jobs that are with what we call major employers, nonretail,” he said.
Energy has dropped to fifth place in terms of employment, largely due to the loss of two major employers through Occidental Petroleum’s acquisition of Anadarko and ExxonMobil consolidating operations at its main campus in Spring.
But the industry is far from dead, Staley said, adding he is seeing great office momentum across the area. The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership and its partners are marketing the community to corporations and businesses worldwide. Last year, Staley visited Denmark, Paris, Japan, Chicago and California in the interest of attracting businesses.
As of the beginning of the year, 33 companies had announced relocations or expansions into The Woodlands since 2020.
The Woodlands has had particular success drawing life sciences firms, accounting for 60% of the Houston region’s life sciences leases of 10K SF or more last year, according to CBRE’s 2023 U.S. Life Sciences Outlook report. Those included Nurix Therapeutics' lease of 20K SF, part of a 318K SF life sciences complex being developed by California-based Alexandria Real Estate Equities, and San Diego-based Cellipont Bioservices, which broke ground in November on a 76K SF biomanufacturing facility at 9501 Lakeside Blvd.
“During the best of times, have your foot down on that pedal [marketing yourself],” Staley said. “But do it during all times, because don’t ever sit back and take it for granted, [thinking] ‘it will come to us.’ Because it won’t. You have to work for it. And we do.”