Local unemployment rates remained at near-record lows for the third month in a row, the Texas Workforce Commission said Friday, when it released its monthly jobs report for the month of December. The report found that unemployment for the Sherman-Denison area dropped one-tenth of a percent from 3.1 percent to 3 percent for the month of December.
The low unemployment coincides with the recent announcement that electronic components manufacturer Finisar Corp. plans to start production in the former MEMC building later this year. With the addition of 500 new jobs through Finisar, area economic developers said this will put additional demand on an already reduced labor market.
“In my 35 years of economic development, I have never been in a position with full employment, job growth and then having a Finisar move in,” Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said.
This week’s report comes just two months after the local unemployment hit 2.9 percent — the lowest in at least two decades. With near-record low unemployment, area economic developers said this week that the region remains in a state of full employment where the vast majority of the workforce has found employment.
Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said the low unemployment rate has led to a shortage of candidates for locally available jobs. This has impacted all sectors of employment, but has had a major effect on the local manufacturing and health care industries.
This shortage of workers has caused some employers to make changes aimed at enticing job seekers to apply for positions. The efforts have included raises, increases in benefits and other incentives. In one case, a local health care employer has offered to give away a car to employees, Bates said.
In recent years, a major focus has been placed on training initiatives and programs aimed at preparing students for available jobs in manufacturing and health care starting at the high school level. On Friday, this focus bore fruit when Grayson College unveiled its new $1.4 million Advanced Manufacturing Lab.
Kaai said this program will help give students an advantage while preparing for more skilled positions in area industries.
“Advanced manufacturing will still be entry level, but will be well above the average high school graduate,” Kaai said.
While not everyone may have the skill set needed for more advanced manufacturing and industrial positions, Kaai said the market is at a point where even unskilled workers can get a start in the field. As an example, he said Ruiz Foods is currently recruiting and offers on-site job training.
Kaai noted that this approach may take time to deliver results, as it will take years for students to graduate through the new program. During the interim, he said area industries will need to focus on bringing workers into the community. As a part of these efforts, Kaai said local interests have started advertising campaigns aimed at sharing information about jobs available in Texoma.
Following the recent focus on manufacturing, Kaai said local economic developers are preparing to shift their focus now to health care positions. Unlike manufacturing, Kaai said there has historically been a large interest in graduating students in this field.
“With health care, you do not have to overcome the historic perception that follows manufacturing,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bates said an intermediate solution to finding candidates for jobs may come in courting individuals who are not employed and not seeking jobs. These include people who may have stopped working due to a sick relative or to take care of children, she said.
“A lot of people who have been off the market may think they have no skills, but the reality is that most employers are willing to train on site,” she said.
This latest report put the Sherman-Denison unemployment rate below both the national and state levels of 3.9 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.
“Texas ended 2017 with record-level job creation numbers during the fourth quarter, with 10 of 11 industries expanding over the year and an annual gain of 306,900 jobs,” TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar said in the report. “TWC looks forward to another year of strong partnerships with innovative Texas employers as they continue to create valuable opportunities for the Texas workforce and contribute to our state’s economic success.”