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Longview area tops state in job growth, report says

By Mike Elswick melswick@news-journal.com
Aug. 23, 2011 at 11 p.m.

The Longview metro area is the top spot in Texas for job growth.

The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M on Tuesday released a report showing the Longview metro area of Gregg, Rusk and Upshur counties posted a 4.2 percent rate of employment growth for the period of June 2010 through this June.

That rate outpaced 25 other metro areas in Texas, including Dallas, Houston and Austin. It also substantially topped second-place Odessa, which had a job growth rate of 3.5 percent for the year, according to the Real Estate Center.

Longview businessman Tript Tidwell said his firm is experiencing good times that not only provided him the confidence to move forward with a major expansion completed in the past year, but also to hire more staff.

"We've been extremely busy and are feeling very blessed," Tidwell said Tuesday. His Tidwell Tire has gone from nine employees to 13 since the first of the year, and he's looking for a couple of more workers.

Longview Mayor Jay Dean said a strong oil and natural gas exploration and service sector is a big plus and an important part of the local economy's strength. The Texas Workforce Commission this past week reported the Longview area added about 1,700 jobs in the mining, logging and construction sector in the past year - that includes energy industry jobs.

"We're even outpacing other big energy areas in the state like Odessa and Midland," Dean said.

While the energy industry has been a big boost to the region, Susan Mazarakes-Gill, executive director of Longview Economic Development Corp., said the Longview area's job growth has been much broader.

"I'd say the largest contributing factor is the diversity of our economy – that's what gives us such vitality," she said. "We are strong in all 12 of the industry sectors the Real Estate Center tracks, not reliant on just one or two."

Mazarakes-Gill said even within broad job categories there is diversity.

"Take manufacturing for example. We have companies in the Longview area that produce chemicals and plastics, container manufacturers – boxes, plastic bags, cans and food containers," she said. "We also have companies that mold, cast, machine and fabricate parts for oil and gas, mining, automotive and others."

That helps stabilize the overall economy, she said. And, when a variety of job sectors are doing well, it can provide a big boost to the area's economy like that of the past year.

"Right now, just about every sector has increased production so we are doing very, very well."

Dean said the fact that LEDCO and East Texas educators have realized the importance of preparing people for the jobs that are available is also helping.

"The work force development program we have is doing a good job of preparing students for jobs," he said. He cited the collaborative effort of Kilgore College, Texas State Technical College Marshall and public school districts as making a difference in training students for jobs that actually exist.

"For example, Longview High has about 200 kids in their dual credit program with Kilgore College," Dean said. He also said the school is doing a good job in providing programs such as its welding courses to help ensure local manufacturers have a trained work force in the future.

The fact the state's economy as a whole is doing well also helps, according to Mark G. Dotzour, chief economist for A&M's Real Estate Center.

"Texas, aided by a robust private sector, gained 225,200 non-farm jobs from June 2010 to June 2011," Dotzour said. That represents an annual growth rate of 2.2 percent compared with the national job growth rate of 0.9 percent, he said.

The Longview metro area also compared favorably with other East Texas areas in job growth, Dotzour's report said. Tyler ranks No. 20 out of the state's 26 metro areas with a 0.4 percent growth rate, while Texarkana at No. 21, had no growth.

Five Texas metro areas - Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, Wichita Falls, San Angelo, Brownsville-Harlingen and Abilene - had fewer jobs in June of this year than in June 2010, Dotzour said.



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