While most of the country has been experiencing the full brunt of the economic downturn for months, Houston has been fairly well insulated from the worst of it. That won't be so this year.
After spending most of 2008 as the nation's No. 1 net job producer, Houston's star is starting to dim. Two local economic observers predict that Houston will be losing more jobs than it's creating within a few months.
Local job growth has been slowing, said Joel Wagher, a labor market analyst for Workforce Solutions, which manages employment services, education and training for the area.
"Nothing is going on nationally or internationally that will speed up our growth," he said.
In fact, the slump in economic activity is accelerating, so it may only take six months before the Houston area begins to see a net loss of jobs, he said.
"I think the real declines will start sooner than that," said Barton Smith, director of the University of Houston's Institute for Regional Forecasting. He's betting Houston shifts to a net loss of local jobs by about April.
"It's not like all the sectors will get creamed," Smith said. "But if there are a handful of sectors shedding jobs and there are no sectors that you can count on to make up the deficit, then it's inevitable that the metropolitan area as a whole will lose jobs."
"I think 2009 will be rough," Smith said. It will probably be harder than anything Houston has experienced since the mid-1980s.