On the job: Area unemployment rate shows big drop in April

Metro Creative

HARLINGEN — The jobless rate in the Brownsville-Harlingen area saw a dramatic decline in April to indicate the metropolitan statistical area has reached a point which jobs experts call full employment.

The Brownsville-Harlingen MSA’s jobless rate was at 4.7 percent for April, almost a percentage point better than the 5.5 percent rate in March. Last April, the number was 6.1 percent.

“Keep in mind that 78 percent of the Cameron workforce is involved in just four industries — retail, health (and mostly in the low end of health), government and education,” said Pat Hobbs, executive director of Workforce Solutions Cameron. “And when the population grows and activity increases, all four of those types of industry expand and that’s where our people fit.”

The continuing trend in the drop of the Brownsville-Harlingen jobless numbers is starting to mirror the robust job reports in the rest of Texas, where the jobless rate dropped again in April to 3.7 percent, matching the all-time low set in December 2018, the Texas Workforce Commission reported.

“We’re getting close,” Hobbs said yesterday. “We’re always a couple of points above the rest of the state. But we’re getting pretty good. They say less than 5 percent is considered full employment, so the whole state looks good.”

The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission MSA also saw a dramatic decline in jobless numbers, recording a 5.0 percent rate in April which also was a big improvement on its 5.8 percent rate in March. Last April, the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission MSA had a jobless rate of 6.4 percent.

Texas’ economy added 28,900 seasonally adjusted non-farm positions in April. It marked the 108th consecutive month of annual growth for total non-farm employment.

Professional and Business Services led all major industries over the month, adding 8,400 jobs. Construction added 5,800 over the month while Education and Health Services employment grew by 4,300 jobs.

The Midland MSA recorded April’s lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs with a rate of 1.7 percent, followed by the Odessa MSA which recorded a 2.0 percent rate for second-lowest. The Amarillo MSA was third-lowest rate at 2.1 percent.

Trend to continue?

Workforce Solutions Cameron is one of 28 regional workforce development offices within the Texas Workforce Commission. Its director says he expects the strong Brownsville-Harlingen employment picture to continue.

“I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t,” Hobbs said “We’ve got a lot of companies moving here from other states. As that activity comes with a major industry, like LNGs coming here, there’s a whole bunch of ancillary support companies that come around them and it just starts to bubble a whole new activity.”

Although no final decision on the permits for the liquefied natural gas terminals to be built in the Brownsville area has been made, Hobbs is confident the terminals designed to export natural gas from Texas to the world are coming.

“What we’re working on right now are the LNGs, making sure that our local workforce is up to par when they need construction workers and operators for their plants,” Hobbs said. “That’s going to start in earnest because I see those permits are pretty close now, probably at the end of July.”

Hobbs also noted shipbuilder Keppel Amfels is rapidly expanding, and presently is attempting to hire 300 welders for its Brownsville operation.

Future jobs

Whether Cameron County has a workforce with the proper training to land thousands of anticipated new jobs in these heavy industries is another story.

“ And that’s what’s bothering me,” said Hobbs, who added Workforce Solutions Cameron is working closely with high schools and local colleges to ramp up certificate programs to satisfy hiring requirements for heavy industry trades jobs such as carpenters, welders, pipefitters and plumbers.

“We’ve got a year and a half to two years before they actually start needing those particular skills sets,” he said. “We think if we mobilize the whole region — not just Cameron County, I don’t have that many people — but mobilize the whole region, then I think we’ve got a good shot at a majority of those jobs being taken by our people.

“I don’t want them to bring in travelers when we have the capable workforce here to do it,” he added.

Texas jobless rates

April 2019 March 2019 April 2018

Brownsville-Harlingen 4.7 percent 5.5 percent 6.1 percent

McAllen-Edin-Mission 5.0 percent 5.8 percent 6.4 percent

San Antonio-New Brn 2.6 percent 3.1 percent 3.1 percent

Corpus Christi 3.6 percent 4.4 percent 4.9 percent

Source: Non-seasonally adjusted rates from Texas Workforce Commission

rkelley@valleystar.com