Employment up in Harlingen

BROWNSVILLE — The October unemployment rate in the Brownsville-Harlingen Metropolitan Statistical Area sank to a level not seen since before the Great Recession.

So observes Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. interim executive director Gilberto Salinas, citing a new report from the Texas Workforce Commission.

The report shows a 5.5 percent unemployment rate for the Brownsville-Harlingen MSA in October, compared to 6.9 percent from the same month last year.

The last time the MSA saw a 5.5 percent unemployment rate was May 2007 and April 2008, just before the U.S. housing crisis triggered a global economic meltdown followed by recession, and the lowest since Brownsville’s economic boom during the late 1990s.

The recent local gains took place against a backdrop of lower unemployment for the state generally.

According to TWC, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October fell to 3.9 percent, the lowest in 40 years.

“We haven’t seen this kind of economic activity in about a decade, when the housing boom was in full effect and the national economy was at its peak,” Salinas said.

The 5.5 percent rate reflects the fact that 154,400 people out of a workforce of 163,300 in the MSA were employed in October. The unemployment rate fell nearly a whole percentage point from September.

While the MSA experienced job losses in the “information” and “trade and transportation” sectors, according to TWC, increases were recorded in the “construction,” “leisure and hospitality” and “professional and business services” sectors.

Recent construction of two new hotels and an Olive Garden restaurant likely contributed, Salinas said.

Manufacturing held steady at 5,500 jobs, representing 4 percent of the MSA’s total employment base, he said.

Among that sector’s contributors is Pennsylvania-based auto parts manufacturer Cardone Industries, which now occupies half of the former Titan Tire facility on Paredes Line Road. Cardone has added a remanufacturing line to the plant to support the company’s operations in Harlingen and Matamoros, Salinas said.

Being able to provide an adequate workforce with which to lure advanced manufacturers always has been a challenge for the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

GBIC, an economic development arm of the city of Brownsville funded by a 1/4-cent sales tax, is working with the Brownsville Independent School District, Texas Southmost College, the South Texas Manufacturing Association and Workforce Solutions-Cameron on developing a strategy to grow that workforce to satisfy the needs of local industry and advanced manufacturers, Salinas said.

Meanwhile, a 5.5 percent unemployment rate is a vast improvement over the dark days of the 1980s, when unemployment in Brownsville rose as high as 24 percent at one point due to a combination of factors such as the state’s oil crisis, back-to-back crop-destroying freezes and a massive peso devaluation, he said.

“We’ve come a long way since,” Salinas said. “However, there’s still much work ahead of us, primarily with our human capital and increasing their skill set for a new wave of companies looking to do business in the city.”

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