Now Hiring: Sherman-Denison remains in a worker shortage

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
A worker at Raising Canes serves the restaurant's first customer Tuesday. Officials for the restaurant chain said the location hired more than 100 workers ahead of the opening.

As the country continues to push forward to a world after COVID-19 shutdowns, many companies are dealing with one of the lasting aftereffects of the disease — a shortage of workers for plentiful jobs. Local economic developers and workforce officials said that the region is continuing to experience a months-long shortage of workers for ample jobs in most industries.

Late last month, the Texas Workforce Commission released its latest unemployment report for September. The report found that only 4.1 percent of workers in Texoma were unemployed, placing the region in what officials have previously described as full employment where the vast majority of job seekers have found employment. By comparison, the U.S. and state of Texas saw unemployment rates of 4.6 and 4.9 percent, respectively.

"There have always been cycles, but in my 40 years of workforce development I haven't seen anything quite like this in terms of so many jobs and nobody wanting to work," Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said Tuesday.

In some ways, this mirrors the conditions that the region saw before the COVID-19 pandemic, Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said.  In the years leading up to the pandemic, the region regularly saw unemployment rates around 4 percent with some drops below the 3 percent mark.

While the region did see a mild worker shortage at the time, Kaai said it wasn't as significant as it is now. The difference between then and now is the economic book that economic developers have predicted for the region has come. With it, many new industries, employers and other opportunities have spring up around the region, creating an even tighter demand for human resources.

Sherman Economic Development President Kent Sharp said that the shortage of workers is almost universal between all industries and is being seen across the country. 

While all industries are looking for workers, Sharp said the ones offering the highest wages are having the most luck in getting applicants. There aren't as many workers looking specifically for certain fields, and many are instead focusing on wages as a major factor.

Sharp said this has led some workers to jump from employer to employer based on wages. For service industry and retail, the difference could be between about 50 to a dollar, while manufacturing is seeing it more based on benefits.

"You may see a guy go from a job offering $15 an hour to  one offering $18 an hour and medical benefits," Sharp said. "That is tremendous for someone with a young family or looking to start one."

Raising Cane's is one of the employers who has had luck hiring during the current worker shortage. Officials for the company said it had hired more than 100 workers in anticipation of the opening of its Sherman location on Tuesday.

"We have just a really good culture and had word of mouth," said Samantha Silva, Raising Cane's area leader for marketing. "We hired some crew members early and they told their friends and they came and applied. We have really great benefits and are a really great place to work."

Bates partially attributed the success in hiring for Raising Cane's to the interest in the company and its first location in Sherman. She compared it to similar situations like when Target and Home Depot entered the market and saw an influx of interest from prospective workers.

While Bates agreed that wages are driving a lot of the hiring decisions, she noted that the service, retail and restaurant industries are seeing the largest impacts from this trend. During the current market, they are having to compete for workers with industries they traditionally wouldn't have.

"Now they are finding that they compete with Tyson, Ruiz, Emerson and Finisar that have great benefits," she said. "If you want people you are going to have to offer them the benefit."

Hungry diners line up outside Sherman's new Raising Cane's location Tuesday ahead of its grand opening. The new location represents the first Raising Cane's to open in Grayson County.

This has led some to offer benefits  like healthcare in a bid to attract workers.

As an example of the current market, Bates said she saw a family begging for money earlier this week at the Sherman Town Center. Nearby was a sign offering employment at one of the restaurants in the area.

"And here is Chipotle with a four-by-eight sign on their fence that says, 'Now Hiring: $16 an hour'," she said.

In addition to offering benefits, Bates said she has seen a shift in how service industries hire. While many were traditionally part time jobs, more are offering full-time positions in order to compete. With those full-time hours come full-time benefits, she said.

Another factor at play is the impact of COVID-19 on the worker mindset. In many cases, the pandemic has caused workers to reevaluate priorities and focus more on home-life and family over the workplace. This has led to some downsize and take a step down in their careers.

 "For a lot of people, if they can't work from home they've decided not to do it," Bates said. "For many of them they've decided to have different priorities in life."

While the boom has led to some of the worker shortages, Kaai said that it could ultimately be the solution to its own problem, citing the boom seen in the housing industry. As more homes are built and sold in the area, more workers are expected to migrate to Sherman-Denison, Kaai said. In time, these workers will fill these positions, leading to a balanced market.

"Over time, it will have to equalize," he said. "That is what are are waiting for."

Meanwhile, Sharp said some employers are looking at a different long-term solution — automation. Some industries are looking to automate jobs that they have had difficulty filling, leading to these jobs being done mechanically in the future.

"Once it is automated, that job is never coming back," Sharp said. "So it is now about how quickly we can take a job that took 10 employees and convert it to a robot or some other sort of mechanization."