Unemployment rates for the Sherman-Denison area dropped half a percent for the month of April, leaving it below both national and state averages, the Texas Workforce Commission said Friday in its monthly jobs report. For the month, the rate dropped from 4.2 percent to 3.7 percent, marking the largest percentage decline in over a year, the report said.

This dropped the local unemployment rates beyond the 4 percent mark that typically represents full employment. Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said this usually means that everyone who is actively looking for a job in a community has found employment. This has proven to be a hindrance for some industries that still have open positions, she said.

“They are all still begging for more employees is the main thing to take from this,” she said. “The things we are trying to do are to train and educate. That’s the biggest thing you can do in these situations.”

Bates said area economic developers have been working on developing a pipeline of workers for these locally available positions in what has been describe as “middle skills” career paths. Middle skills has been used to describe careers that require some post-secondary training, but may not require a four-year degree. Locally, these include many advanced manufacturing and health-care positions.

Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said two of the biggest fruits that have been born from these efforts have been the industrial maintenance and advanced manufacturing programs that have been started in recent years in partnership with local school districts and Grayson College.

Last week, six students graduated through the industrial maintenance program, marking the fourth class to graduate since the program’s introduction.

“That’s a great thing, but we still need more,” he said.

Last year, Sherman and Denison started offering the advanced manufacturing program, which will see students split their time between Grayson College and the high schools. During the first year of training, the students will focus on introductory courses before transitioning to hands on equipment training for the remaining three years of the program.

Earlier this year, Workforce Solutions received a $200,000 grant to outfit and equip the new lab that the students will use with industrial lathes, presses and other equipment. Kaai said through additional grants and other funding, the equipment should be in place in early 2018.

Despite the promise of this program, Kaai said it will still be another three years before this first class of students is trained and ready to go into local industries.

“The time gap is getting those students and families to recognize this opportunity and set aside a 100-year culture regarding the opportunities industry offers,” he said.

Sherman Economic Development Corp. Executive Vice President Frank Gadek said the region is still lacking in one aspect needed for job creation: housing. In particular, he said the region is still in need of quality multihousing options, including apartment complexes.

As proof of the demand, Gadek referred to the many multifamily developments that are ongoing in the region.

“If the demand wasn’t there, then people wouldn’t be investing,” he said.

Regarding short-term solutions, Bates said Workforce Solutions and its partner groups have held four job fairs over the past year, with plans for more this fall. During its latest job fair, which was held in April, Bates said 45 people were hired that day, with an additional 10 offered jobs following the event. One employer also conducted 10 interviews based on the event, she said.

Sherman-Denison’s unemployment rate remains below the state and national averages, which also dropped half a percent last month. This brought the state and national rates to 4.5 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively.