DALLAS -- Major Texas metropolitan areas are showing sustained patterns of economic growth for the first time since the oil bust in the mid1980s, according to Standard & Poor's CreditWeek Municipal.

"With improved economic fundamentals -- such as increased diversification, low cost of living, strong immigration, improving transportation networks -- this growth is likely to continue through the end of the decade," the Oct. 24 article said.

Standard & Poor's said the recovery has gained some lift from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has prompted firms to relocate to Texas because of the state's proximity to Mexico.

In addition, the major metropolitan areas have made great strides in reducing their dependence on oil and gas.

Standard & Poor's said that Houston, the nation's energy capital and a victim of the oil crash of 1986, is recovering economically and should show an annual increase in employment of about 2.7% through 1996, according to DRI/McGraw-Hill. Service and construction industries are expected to lead this growth.

The petrochemical industry also is expected to add strength in the Houston area while Nafta is predicted to benefit the shipping industry because the Port of Houston is the largest single conduit for Mexican waterborne trade, the credit agency said.

Dallas, which has emerged as a center for regional and national corporate headquarters, has been recovering in the 1990s as the battered finance, insurance, and real estate industries return to healthier states, Standard & Poor's said. Commercial banks are generally profitable again, and total office occupancy rose in 1993 after two consecutive years of declines.

In the future, Dallas is expected to benefit from Nafta, racking up 40% of the up to 116,000 jobs that the trade agreement could create in Texas from 1995 to 2000.

Dallas is becoming the Southwest's largest wholesale trade center and is a natural hub for warehousing and distribution because of its central location on the non. h-south corridor for trade between Canada and Mexico.

Fort Worth, which lost many jobs because of defense and aerospace cutbacks, has seen some employment stability in recent months, partly because ofcallbacks by leading manufacturers and expansions in the service sector, Standard & Poor's said.

Accelerated employment growth is projected through the end of 1996, with an avenge rate of 2.1% for 1995 and 1996. The transportation industry, which accounts for almost 10% of employment, remains the key to the region's economy, the agency said.

San Antonio's employment growth ranked eighth in the nation from 1990 to 1994, according to DRI/McGraw Hill figures, and that trend is expected to continue.

Both tourism and health care have been major contributors to the city's economy. San Antonio has become a regional medical center and opened new attractions from Fiesta Texas Theme Park to the Alamodome. It is becoming a center for international trade.

The Austin-San Marcos metropolitan area has shown good employment growth of 14.5% since 1991 because of expansion of high-technology manufacturing, Standard & Poor's said. Austin ranks second in the nation as a destination for relocation and expansion ofhigh-tech firms, with total emlaloyment in its metropolitan area projected to grow more than 3% through 1995.

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