Unemployment in the Sherman-Denison area reached its lowest levels since its record low in November, the Texas Workforce Commission said earlier this month in its monthly employment update. For the month of July, unemployment dropped to 3.5 percent, a decrease of 0.4 percent over the previous month.
This leaves the Sherman-Denison area within full employment, where nearly everyone who is looking for a job has found one or could find one easily. While the TWC update focused on Sherman-Denison, officials with Workforce Solutions Texoma said this trend extends through much of their coverage area of Grayson, Fannin and Cooke counties.
“These are near historic lows for our unemployment rates,” Marsha Lindsey, deputy director of Workforce Solutions Texoma, said.
Lindsey said that Fannin County has had similar record numbers, with July unemployment at 3.4 percent and has been following similar trends in Grayson County for the past year.
Despite the good news of low unemployment, Lindsey said local employers, particularly those in manufacturing, industrial trades and health care, are having difficulties recruiting with such a limited labor pool. This has led some employers to get creative with recruiting tools and ways to reinforce their workforces.
The effort to recruit younger workers comes as the United States is expected to experience a worker shortage in coming years with the retirement of baby boomers and a lack of younger workers to replace them.
“There are some concerns from our industries that more than 10 percent of workers are considering retirement within the next five to ten years,” she said.
Many have joined forces with local development for projects aimed at developing a local workforce from the ground up starting in the school system. These efforts include the promotion of these jobs and education and training programs for the next generation of workers.
“Whether that is looking at paying for students who didn’t plan to go to school or using on-site training or apprenticeships … these employers are looking to start early, so the workers will be ready upon graduation,” she said.
Part of the trouble with recruiting new workers for these positions and training programs has been misconceptions with the job, she said. In the past, many of these positions were considered dirty jobs with hard labor. Now many are technical positions that require specialized training and computer skills, she said.
Likewise, many of the apprenticeships have shifted in new directions. In previous years, these programs would often favor trade skills and unionized programs, but Lindsey said new programs include health care and pharmacy apprenticeships.
“Manufacturing isn’t grease-up-to-your-elbows,” Sherman Economic Development Corp. President John Plotnik said, “Today it is high-tech, with computers and CAD (computer-aided design) systems.”
Lindsey said the trend of jobs outpacing the workforce is particularly noticeable if you look at the number of jobs created since January. This year, Grayson County added an additional 1,070 jobs, but only grew its workforce by 840 with a total of 61,754 workers in July.
Lindsey noted that the workforce is known to shift as people move out and into the region. As an example, the regional workforce was 61,532 in July 2016, she said, noting that the workforce dropped at some point between July and December last year.
While local interests are concentrating on breeding the next generation of worker, Plotnik said SEDCO is also setting its eyes on an immediate solution by marketing the city in areas where unemployment is high. This includes regions and cities that once were thriving industrial centers that have fallen on harder times.
“If you lose your job welding tanks in Michigan you aren’t going to find another job,” Plotnik said. “But we are trying to get the message out that there are honest, high paying jobs here in Sherman, Texas.”
Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said the unemployment rate doesn’t always paint a full picture of the economic health of a community. As an example, he said the rate only includes those who are actively seeking employment. As a market improves, discouraged workers and others may begin searching again, thus pushing the unemployment up.
Additionally, if a market is healthy, it may encourage people to move there in search of a job. This could cause the unemployment rate to rise. Likewise, if an area is declining, with people leaving, the rate may drop, he said.
Still, Kaai said the market in Grayson is healthy and that the recent demand for housing is proof of this. As more housing is put on the market, Kaai said he was optimistic that the demand and stock will come to a balance in time.