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Built-in economic advantages in West Texas — and new voter-approved help for Texas Tech University – will help the region weather economic challenges in the coming year as it has in the past, said James Arnold, president and CEO of First Bank & Trust, a division of HTLF Bank.
As President and CEO of First Bank & Trust, a division of HTLF Bank, James Arnold brings more than 20 years of West Texas banking experience with a broad knowledge of the economic outlook and local economies. His thoughts on the 2024 outlook are hopeful and positive.
“The Lubbock economy is very resilient.” Healthcare, agriculture, higher and public education are the main pillars in our local economy. Government backing helps keep employment stable for a majority of the workforce from Amarillo to Lubbock and further south to the Permian Basin and Abilene.
Steady employment drives housing and retail sales which are 75 percent of any local economy. Texas is a right-to-work state with a largely non-union workforce and a pro-business government. With the steady job market, West Texas does not have the difficulties of larger cities such as Austin or Houston.
The southern end of the bank’s market has the oil and gas industry. Although more volatile than some industries, oil and gas production adds a significant plus to the economy in West Texas.
November’s passage of Prop. 5 – a constitutional amendment which created the Texas University Fund to support research activities at state universities. It is funded by a one-time allocation from the state’s budget surplus, combined with funds from the existing National Research University Fund and interest income from the Economic Stabilization Fund.
This amendment means positions for at least one hundred new professors at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, along with support staff. These well-paid positions boost the larger local economy which, in turn, provides an optimistic outlook for 2024 as it will roll into the retail and housing markets.
Texas Tech University campuses stretch across West Texas in many of the bank’s markets. Texas Tech has major influence in the economy. The Rawls College of Business, the law school, medical school and Texas Tech Health Sciences Center all influence the economic health of the region and the new funding for research will increase that influence.
Inflation, labor shortages and supply chain slowdowns will continue into 2024. Inflation is expected to slow but will still be a factor. We are looking at a challenging 2024 in some sectors.
Commercial real estate has been hit hard with inflation. The demand for more flexible work environments means fewer employees are in the office and companies are shrinking their office space footprint by up to 50 percent. Reduced occupancy along with higher interest rates has left commercial office space developers in difficult positions. Some developers started buildings with a funding interest rate of 4 percent but are completing them with an interest rate twice that or more.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Watch Spending: Many of our customers are cutting back on spending. They are spending less on employee engagement, education, and training where they can. These are expenses they can control but it is a balancing act for companies to hire and retain talented staff with limited budgets. Companies need to help employees keep up with inflation but the capacity to increase pay is difficult in some cases.
Liquidity Management: Liquidity management is more important in this challenging economy. Access to credit is more difficult and we are seeing banks pull back on extending large amounts of credit. If you have cash, it allows you to leverage cash. It is hard to leverage debt if you do not have the cash.
HOW WE CAN HELP
Cash flow: Our Treasury Management and Commercial Card solutions allow business to improve their cash flow by streamlining manual processes and help manage liquidity to resolve working capital challenges.
Fight Fraud: Banks have done an excellent job of tightening down on electronic fraud with measures such as multi-factor identification. However, check theft has risen to its highest level in the past two years. Check fraud has become the number one way scammers are stealing money from banks. It is not digital fraud anymore; it is old-fashioned check washing. This usually involves thieves stealing checks from mailboxes, washing the ink off the check, changing the payee, increasing the amount, and depositing the check in a bank.
We offer Positive Pay to our commercial customers to combat the problem. With Positive Pay, people who write checks receive digital images of the checks they wrote the previous day, and they authorize the authentic payment before it clears the bank. This is a great layer of protection for businesses. You may see banks require that in the future for businesses that write checks.
Although there will be challenges in 2024, we are optimistic about the growth and recovery of the economy. First Bank & Trust has a team of knowledgeable and professional team members to help you with all your banking needs. “Although there will be challenges in 2024, we are optimistic about the growth and recovery of the economy.”
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