By  on November 26, 2007

HOUSTON — The second-fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. and home to more than 5,000 energy-related companies, Houston is riding an economic wave that so far appears to defy challenging national trends — and retailing is a beneficiary.

The development and leasing landscape includes new mixed-use retail, business and residential centers; megamalls that opened in the Seventies, such as the 2.4 million-square-foot Houston Galleria, and freestanding specialty stores such as Tootsies, which is based here.

Developers will add almost 4.2 million square feet of retail space this year, up 17 percent compared with 2006, including a mix of big-box mass chains, midtier stores and designer boutiques. The city has about 140 million square feet of leasable retail space.

Record oil prices hovering near $100 a barrel are priming the economic pump in Houston, where two of every five residents work in energy-related jobs. The city has more petrochemical companies than anywhere in the world. It is a growing financial and health care center and is the home of NASA's Johnson Space Center, which employs more than 20,000 people.

Even as the U.S. economy endures fallout from the housing slump and subprime mortgage crisis, rising fuel prices and tight credit, Houston is on a growth trajectory, partly because of a diversified economy and resilient business climate. And the city has managed to keep a maverick mind-set — there are few zoning laws, for example — and an entrepreneurial spirit that encourages business start-ups.

Rather than a single central business district, multiple districts have grown throughout the city. In addition to downtown, they include Uptown, Greenway Plaza, Westchase, Greenspoint and Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world and Houston's biggest employer, with 63,500 workers.

Houston is ranked second in the number of Fortune 500 company headquarters — 22 to New York's 45 — and the economy, beyond retailing and energy segments, already includes shipping, technology, banking, film and media, insurance and education.

The Port of Houston is the largest in the U.S. in terms of international tonnage and is second overall to Los Angeles-Long Beach.

"Houston's growth...[is] a result of several factors, including our low cost of living, all the new jobs being created by the growing number of companies headquartered here and the amazing population migration to Houston,'' Mayor Bill White said in an interview.

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