Local unemployment rate down, above state average

McALLEN — While the state touts a record-low unemployment rate at 3.9 percent, the same report shows the Rio Grande Valley’s rate higher than the state and national average.

According to figures released by the Texas Workforce Commission on Friday, the unemployment rate in the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metropolitan statistical area was at 5.7 percent in October, not seasonally adjusted. However, that’s an improvement from the rate in September, which was at 6.8 percent.

The rate for the Brownsville-Harlingen metropolitan statistical area was at 5.5 percent, down from 6.4 percent in September, according to the figures released last week.

Figures for Starr County were not included in the report released Friday but its unemployment rate tends to be higher than the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission MSA.

In September, Starr County’s unemployment rate was at 9.7 percent, according to the county treasurer’s monthly report.

Although nearly at 10 percent, the rate is 3.7 percent lower than what it was at the same time last year.

One factor that keeps the area’s unemployment rate higher than the state’s rate is the population growth, according to Keith Patridge, president and CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

“We’re a very young area and we have a pretty high birth rate, so organically our workforce continues to grow,” Patridge said. “It certainly has an impact on it because we’re always adding new people into the workforce and so our unemployment rate, or our availability rate, tends to be higher in the area.”

Another likely factor, he said, was slower than usual retail the area has been experiencing. The City of McAllen, for one, has seen declines in its sales tax revenue for the past two years. Despite that, new stores have opened with the recent unveiling of a $50 million expansion to La Plaza Mall.

“Some of what also keeps our employment rate up, I think, is the proximity to the border,” Patridge said. “The border also causes a little bit of competition from the Mexico side.”

He also noted that it was a good thing to have a large supply of people available to work because that is something that is looked at by companies that are considering moving down to the Valley. Those people, and the fact that they tend to be younger, is an advantage, according to Steve Ahlenius, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

“As the workforce ages in other parts of the country, this part of the country will become more attractive for businesses looking to come here,” he said. “So our challenge is to fill the pipeline. You’re seeing more and more jobs created and more and more opportunities; we just need to have our young people ready.”

One way to do that is to train them in skills needed to fill technical positions that have remained open because of the inability to find people with those skills, Ahlenius said.

However, he said with the advent of institutions of higher education such as UTRGV, STC and TSTC, the region has become more competitive and better educated.

“We have 86,000 students in higher-ed in some form or fashion, whether that’s technical schooling, four-year universities,” he said. “As that number continues to grow and that bubble continues to work its way into the work force, this area will continue to become more and more attractive.”

Staff Writer Mitchell Ferman contributed to this report.

October unemployment

– Brownsville-Harlingen – 5.5

– McAllen-Edinburg-Mission — 5.7

– Amarillo – 2.4

– Austin – 2.6

– Beaumont – 6.3

– Corpus Christi – 5.1

– El Paso – 3.8

– San Antonio – 2.9

– Tyler – 3.9

– Victoria – 4.0

Source: Texas Workforce Commission