A common way of thinking about the profile of an economy is in terms of economic sectors, parts of the economy devoted to particular kinds of activities or products, cattle ranching, cotton growing, travel and tourism, information technology, etc. Looking at the relative size of economic sectors is a useful way to think about where economic activity is taking place - where money is being invested, profits are being generated, and people are working. The Texas economy has become much more diverse in the relatively short period since the oil downturn of the mid-1980s, the culmination of several decades of population growth and economic development trends that resulted in the emergence of a much more modern economy as the 2000s began. Energy continues, however, to play a major role in the state's economy, as illustrated in a talk by Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams recorded at UT - Austin in 2006.
The general structure of the modern Texas economy can be glimpsed in the list of the 100 largest publicly traded employers in the state measured by their average number of workers - the so-called Texas 100. The Texas 100 list published in January 2003 by the state's Comptroller of Public Accounts (based on the number of employees in the last two quarters of 2001 and the first two quarters of 2002) shows the continued importance of the energy sector. But it also shows growth in areas that either didn't exist or were shaded backwaters of the economy only a few decades ago.
Many Texas-based companies outside of the petroleum industry are leading businesses in their industries. The high-technology sector includes such household names as Dell Computer Corporation, the personal computer maker based in Round Rock Texas, Southwestern Bell Communications (San Antonio), and Texas Instruments (Dallas). All three companies are among the top 100 employers in Texas. Several of the top employers in the retail sector are headquartered in Texas. These include: 7-Eleven, Inc. based in Dallas, J.C. Penney Company (which also owns Eckerd Drug) based in Plano, Radio Shack in Fort Worth, and Winn Dixie also based in Fort Worth.
In the services and finance sectors two Texas based companies enjoy a presence among the top 100 Texas employers. Administaff, Inc. is based in Kingwood, while Cullen Frost Bankers claims San Antonio as home. Metal products maker Trinity Industries of Dallas rounds out the list of Texas based companies among the 100 largest employers in the state.
The largest companies operating in the state in other important industries, such as retail and manufacturing, generally are not headquartered in Texas. The prominence of these out-of-state corporations reflects increased integration among the regions of the state and the integration of Texas in the national economy.
The list also shows the considerable importance of the travel and chain restaurant industries. Three national airline carriers and the country's dominant travel reservation company are headquartered in the state. The airline and air travel industry has benefited from Texas's fortuitous location roughly halfway between the two coasts, and from the state's burgeoning and increasingly urbanized population.
The presence of several corporate chain restaurant companies (including Church's, Popeye's, Chili's, Red Lobster, and Luby's, among others) in the table of top employers in the state suggests how the dining and entertainment business is linked to the national highway system, and, in turn, the proliferation of suburbs and exurbs across the state. Extensive retail activity follows the expansion of residential developments, which in turn are connected by new highways and roads. The result is a group of linked economic interests that support the continuation of a model of economic development that hinges on autos, roads, and expansion beyond "the city limits."