For the month of April, the Sherman-Denison area saw its unemployment rate double amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


In its latest unemployment update, the Texas Workforce Commission reported that the Sherman-Denison area had an unemployment rate of about 10.6 percent, a sharp increase of the 4.5 percent seen in March.


Despite the increase in unemployment, area workforce officials and economic developers are breathing a sigh of relief, as early predictions showed higher increases than were reported.


“Actually, that’s lower than I thought it would have been,” Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said. “I was really pleased that were we only at 10.6 (percent) because some areas are much higher.”


For the April report, the TWC reported that there were 6,200 unemployed workers in Sherman-Denison area. This was significantly under the United States and Texas rates, which came in at about 14.4 percent and 13 percent, respectively.


“You had restaurants, salons, gyms, movie theaters and things that had to close for a while,” Bates said. “Those people were immediately laid off.”


By comparison, the unemployment rates quadrupled from where it was one year ago, when the commission reported 2.6 percent unemployment. This came as the unemployment rate has hovered between 3-4 percent in recent years.


By comparison, Sherman-Denison saw lower unemployment than many other areas, including Dallas-Fort Worth, which saw 12.8 percent unemployment. The highest unemployment areas appeared to be mostly in the southern part of the state with Beaumont-Port Arthur, Brownsville-Harlengen, and McAllen Edinburg-Mission all reporting rates over 17 percent.


Bates said the current unemployment rate for Sherman-Denison is likely a modern day record. To her knowledge, local unemployment did not pass the 10 percent mark following the Great Recession of 2008-2009.


Sherman Economic Development Corp. President Kent Sharp said he was pleasantly surprised by the lower-than-expected unemployment rates for the region.


Sharp said he thought that local unemployment may not be as bad as anticipated following the release of sales tax receipts from March. While the city estimated that these revenues could be up to 20 percent lower than last April, the city ultimately only saw a 5 percent loss.


In part, he attributed this to area manufacturers who were still open and producing throughout the pandemic. He also noted that the region is less reliant on entertainment venues and other industries that were more heavily impacted by the pandemic.


“It made me think that while we are not insulated we were protected with entertainment not being as big of a component for us than other cities,” he said.


While industry was significantly impacted, Sharp said retail took the brunt of the impact from the slow down. This primarily affected smaller to mid-level retail, restaurants and service-focused industries, he said.


Likewise, Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said Sherman and Denison were also spared in part due to the nature of businesses in the area.


Many Texoma businesses, including healthcare and many manufacturing businesses, were deemed essential and did not close, he said.


“If those businesses had not been considered essential, it would have been a lot bigger,” he said.


With regard to the future, Bates said she believes there may be a smaller uptick in June once unemployment numbers for May are released. However, following that, she hopes to see some relief.


“Restaurants are starting to call people back. Retail is starting to call people back,” she said. "So, I think we will see that number spike a bit more, then start declining.”


In recent weeks, she said there have been some signs of recovery amid businesses reopening. Despite the unemployment, Bates said about 500 jobs remain available in the region. Also, the number of calls to the WST office for assistance have declined significantly from the peek of over 4,000 a week earlier this spring.


For the majority of workers, Bates said their jobs will be available once the situation returns to some semblance of normal. For others, it may serve as a good time to retrain into a new field.


“It is a great time for people to get retrained, if they feel vulnerable and they don’t want to be in the job where they could be laid off again so easily,” she said, highlighting the current demand for healthcare.


Kaai also remained optimistic, noting that Sherman-Denison bounced back faster than other areas following the recession more than a decade ago.


“We’ve been here before and we came out of it, and we will do it again with this deal,” he said. “We have a super vibrant economy and the only thing that could slow it down was something like this. Nothing else could have done it.”


Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.