Houston: The U.S. Boomtown

It's the sound some cities haven't heard for months — the sounds of construction and growth ring out throughout Houston.

In 2008, new construction permits for the city are up 30 percent. At least 100,000 new jobs have been created, and Mayor Bill White just proposed a $4 billion dream budget, calling for more police and firefighters while lowering property taxes.

Houston's boom was set off, in part, by the skyrocketing prices for oil and gas, which are the city's central commodities. Here, million-dollar homes are in high demand.

"They're selling faster than they come on the market," said Martha Turner, local real estate agent in Houston.

Government figures show that existing home sales have fallen 4.7 percent in the United States since April. It's a trend that has completely passed over Houston.

Check out how your state's and town's economy size up next to Houston's.

While dust is settling on diamonds in jewelry stores around the country, Houston jewelry shops are earning profits. Last week a customer bought four Rolexes and then asked the store to locate a rare diamond, Bradley Marks, vice president of I.M. Marks Jewelers, said.

The customer's bill totaled between $50,000 and $60,000. Marks said that it wasn't even a special occasion. No birthday or anniversary. He shelled out the cash just because his wife had asked for it, he said.

Million-dollar yacht sales are also up. But longtime residents are resisting the temptation to gloat. They remember the 1980s, when oil prices collapsed and a quarter-million jobs disappeared.

"We were so bruised," Turner said. "Deep down I knew it couldn't go on forever, and of course it didn't."

Since that collapse, Houston's economy has diversified. In the 80s, energy accounted for about 70 percent of Houston jobs, which has since diminished to 48 percent. In its places, jobs in technology and at the Texas Medical Center have rounded out the economy.

Diversity has tremendously strengthened Houston's economy. "This is a very, very different scenario today," said Arthur Warga, Dean of C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. "I think we'll find the strength of this economy in Houston remains for quite some time."

Businesses related to the oil industry are advertising for workers as far away as Chicago.

"It gives them an opportunity not just to flip burgers," said Karen Kupsa, assistant professor at the College of the Mainland, a community college in Texas City, Texas. "The operators today are pulling in $100,000 a year." At this college, students are in high demand for $30 an hour plant operator jobs.

The price of gas may be hurting some cities, but today, it's one of many things that have caused Houston to thrive.

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