The U.S. Department of Labor released new numbers last month indicating that the unemployment rate in Texas continued to decline in 2013.

The U.S. Department of Labor released new numbers last month indicating that the unemployment rate in Texas continued to decline in 2013.

Unemployment, the percentage of the labor force who have no job but have actively searched for one in the past four weeks, was 6.3 percent in Texas last year. This is a decline from 6.7 percent in 2012. These numbers mirror the trend of the United States economy as a whole; national unemployment dropped from 8.1 percent in 2012 to 7.4 percent in 2013.

Unemployment in Texas has declined steadily since 2010.

"We’ve definitely had our share of new jobs and investments in the Texas economy," Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said.

According to Kaai, a strong state economy is helping drive growth in local communities. Kaai gave Texas’ business-friendly policies much of the credit for an estimated 1,200 new jobs in the Denison area created over the past 24 months.

Bob Rhoden, director of external relations at Workforce Solutions Texoma, cautioned against using unemployment numbers alone as an indicator of economic growth but noted that there "are a lot of good jobs open, and a lot of people are hiring."

Texas was able to deal with the recent recession better than many other states, said Rhoden, and recent growth in manufacturing, health care, and call center operations has helped Texoma specifically. "When you look at the region and compare it to the ‘90s, in the days of big manufacturing, we have lost a few jobs, but we are getting back up and holding our own."

The report also offered encouraging numbers on labor underutilization. This broader category includes the unemployment numbers mentioned above, but also takes into consideration those without jobs who have looked for work in the past 12 months but not the past 4 weeks, as well as those who are employed part time because they could not secure a full-time job.

In 2013, the underutilized made up 11.3 percent of the Texas labor force, dropping from 12.1 percent in 2012 and well below the national average of 13.8 percent.

Like unemployment, underutilization in Texas has been dropping since 2010

Scott Connell, president of the Sherman Economic Development Corp., credits a diverse economic base, the booming energy industry, and a growing work force for the positive numbers. The growth is "a function of a lot of things, and that’s exactly what you want in the economy."

An increase in construction projects and businesses such as Tyson and Presco Polymers adding more jobs are signs that the Texoma area is not being left out of the statewide growth, said Connell.

The new report does not make any predictions for the current year, but Kaai is hopeful that this growth will continue.

"There are people out there still looking for work, but there are also employers looking to hire," Kaai said. He said his organization will continue to focus on providing skills and training to make workers more employable.

Rhoden, too, was optimistic. He noted that 35 companies have already signed up for Workforce Solutions Texoma’s spring job fair. "We have companies that are literally begging for people," he said.

Connell, however, suggested taking these numbers with a grain of salt.

"These rates may look good as a statistic, but we are really talking about individuals," Connell said. "It’s still spotty out there, and that impacts us locally."