Yesterday and today, December 7 and 8, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its estimates of real GDP (RGDP) for counties and for metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) for 2020. That is, for last year. Further, unlike national estimates, the local county and MSA-level estimates are only annual, and thus do not capture the large changes that occurred during 2020 in the second quarter, when Covid and Covid-related shutdowns decimated employment and business activity. But, despite the time lag and the lack of intra-year detail, this data does provide a retrospective look at our economy during the Covid pandemic, and provides some insights into the workings of the local economy.
Our local MSA is called the College Station – Bryan MSA (CS-B MSA), and consists of Brazos County, Burleson County, and Robertson County. RGDP in the CS-B MSA was $14,188 million in 2020, a decrease of $195 million or 1.4% from 2019 (our prior all-time peak). For comparison, RGDP for the entire US fell by 2.3% from 2019 to 2020, and RGDP for the state of Texas fell 1.8%.
How have the component counties fared over this period? Brazos County’s RGDP in 2020 was $9,620 million, a decrease of $119 million or 1.2% from 2019. Brazos County’s share of the CS-B MSA’s RGDP was 68% in 2020. Interestingly, Brazos County’s share of the CS-B MSA population was 87%, indicating that on a per-capita basis Brazos County’s RGDP is lower than the other two counties in the MSA.
Burleson County’s RGDP in 2020 was $1,495 million, a decrease of $210 million or 12.3% from 2019. This decline was due in part to the low price of oil and the low level of drilling activity that occurred in 2020. Roberston County, in contrast, had an increase in RGDP in 2020, with RGDP at $3,153 million, a $107 million or 3.5% increase. Burleson County’s share of the MSA RGDP was 11%, and Robertson County’s share was 22%.
Brazos County has been the leader in steady growth. Since 2007, other than 2020 Brazos County only experienced a decline in RGDP in 2011, and that was a scant 0.3%. Both Burleson County and Robertson County have seen more volatility, and this is largely connected to changes in oil prices and in drilling activity. Burleson County had five years in which RGDP declined (including 2020) since 2007. Burleson County’s highest RGDP was in 2019, and the decline between 2019 and 2020 was the largest in percentage terms over this time period.
Robertson County has also experienced high volatility in its RGDP numbers. It has experienced four years in which RGDP has declined since 2007. The largest decline was 21% in 2010, but there were declines of 9% in 2011, 2021, and 2018 as well. Robertson County’s peak level of RGDP over this time period was $3,322 million in 2009. As with Burleson County, Robertson County’s economic performance is strongly impacted by changes in oil prices and oil drilling activity.