Webb County is home to the city of Laredo. As for other U.S.-Mexico border areas, this county had historically sustained higher unemployment than the statewide average until the turn of this decade. As the Texas shale oil boom unfolded, the area's labor market improved through the end of 2014.
Low oil prices in the past two years seemed to have only modest impacts on Webb County's overall economy. Annual employment growth remained around 1.5 percent before the middle of 2016, and then growth escalated to above 3 percent by year-end. In contrast to other areas in South Texas, Webb County's unemployment rate remained below 5 percent during the first half of 2016.
This area's housing market has continued to hold up along with the overall solid economy. Home construction has been staying on a steady uptrend that began in 2010.
With the U.S. largest inland port in Laredo, Webb County's largest employers are the government and transportation sectors. These two sectors together employ more than one third of the local workforce. The retail and wholesale trade sectors combined account for another 16 percent. The health care sector is also relatively large, accounting for nearly 15 percent of area employment. The current sizes of all these sectors are the outcomes of industry and national trends, in addition to local factors.
Other than the above sectors, the share of mining employment in this county is also exceptionally large in comparison with its relative size nationally. The recent shale oil boom helped push up the Location Quotient of this sector further from 3.7 in 2005 to 4.4 in 2016. This means that the relative size of the mining sector is now more than four times larger in Laredo than in the nation as a whole.
Income earnings of residents in Webb County have historically been about 30 percent below the state average. This income gap is associated with the local workforce's substantially lower educational attainment. Only 18 percent of the adult population in the area has completed a college degree, compared to nearly 30 percent nationwide.
In contrast to the rest of South Texas, the area has continued to grow despite the falling oil and gas industry. Local economic growth generated more new businesses. The number of business establishments per 1,000 residents in the county rose to a five-year high of 23.7 in 2015 before leveling off in the following year.
Since 2011, however, the county's population growth has slowed down steadily due mostly to outmigration. A mobile workforce promotes economic vibrancy of the area, but a slow growing market base may put a damper on local business expansion.