Nueces is the most populated county in the Corpus Christi metro area. This county makes up 60 percent of the Coastal Bend region's population. Despite little well drilling activity within the county, the area is heavily exposed to oil and gas production in the Eagle Ford region.
Nueces County experienced strong economic growth during the shale oil boom between 2011 and 2014. Its unemployment followed closely the Texas statewide average most of the time, except in the past two years. Due to its exposure to the fall of the oil and gas industry since early 2015, local unemployment has inched up from 4.4 percent at the end of 2014 to nearly 6 percent two years later.
Rising unemployment rates in recent periods were accompanied by falling employment growth through the middle of 2016. A construction boom around the Port of Corpus Christi contributed to a resurgence of employment gains in recent months. The surge in construction employment has not only offset much of the impact from the falling oil and gas industry, but it has also helped boost job growth in various service industries, including hotels and motels, restaurants, and some professional services.
Gauged by local sales tax collections, the county's overall business sales activity marked a peak at the end of 2014. By late 2016, the area's sales tax volume returned to the 2012 levels and business sales began to stabilize from a two-year downtrend.
The area's housing market has been solid. New home construction has expanded at a steady pace since 2011. Despite fewer monthly new homes built in 2016 than during the 2005-2007 housing boom, home prices averaged at about $185,000, compared to $125,000 a decade ago.
Nueces County is home to the city of Corpus Christi with a rather diversified economy. Its military installations help make the government sector the largest local employer. The second largest sector is health care, accounting for 16 percent of area employment. As one of the Texas state's top travel destinations, the accommodation and food services sector is also relatively large, hiring more than one in 10 employees in the area.
Compared to the above industries, mining and construction are both smaller, but their employment shares are much greater than the same industries nationwide. In 2016, people working in the mining sector, mostly in the oil and gas industry, made up 2 percent of the local workforce but that employment share was about five times greater in Corpus Christi than the national average. Likewise, the employment share of the construction sector in this county is nearly double the national average. The relative sizes of the mining and construction sectors have also expanded in Nueces County since 2005.
Expansion of construction activity is especially unique to this area, due in large part to the local construction boom that unfolded at the beginning of this decade. Nationwide, construction employment declined between 2005 and 2016. Over that same time period, accommodation and food services, mining, and transportation are the only sectors that added jobs as a result of the growth trends nationally along with regional growth.
The average annual earnings of employees in Nueces County have historically been about 10 percent less than the Texas state average. This income gap is associated with its workforce's relatively lower educational attainment. Only 20 percent of the adult population in the region holds a Bachelor's degree or higher, compared to nearly 30 percent nationwide.
Business formation in this county had been strong until the 2007-2009 national recession. Since then, the number of local business establishments has fallen rapidly. In 2016, there were 22.5 business establishments per 1,000 residents in the county, compared to 25.6 in 2007.
Nueces County's population size has been influenced by its employment growth. For nearly two decades before the shale oil boom, more people left the area than people relocating there. Population growth reached a record level in 2013 and then tapered off as domestic migration slowed down.