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Industry hiring brings relief

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

Jobs in manufacturing, construction drive down local unemployment

Peterbilt is expected to hire about 150 new employees this year, one of the local manufacturing plants adding jobs and, in turn, lowering the city and county unemployment rates.

While statewide manufacturing is up 1.1 percent from last year and has increased a fraction of a percent from February to March this year, this seems to be the largest local driver of low unemployment rates, said Erica Sullivan, economic development analyst for Denton.

For March, the city unemployment rate was 4.3 percent and Denton County’s unemployment rate was 5 percent, and both are the lowest figures so far this year, according to data from the Texas Workforce Commission.

Terry Clower, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas, says there is evidence the rate is dropping because of job growth in the region. However, there’s no definite way to tell if the rate is dropping based solely on job creation because of the way the data is collected and because the rate doesn’t take into account discouraged workers — those who are unemployed, but stop actively looking for work.

Locally, though, Clower said industries in the city and county appear to be holding steady and having moderate growth, which contributes to a lower unemployment rate.

“We are not booming, but we are seeing an increase in industries like construction and residential housing building more,” he said. “It’s not a boom level like in 2006, but we are seeing gains in employment.”

The construction gains are also for retail construction. According to a new study by the CBRE Group, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the top retail construction market in the country. At the beginning of the year, about 2.6 million square feet of retail and entertainment construction was underway and about 97 percent of that is already leased.

In Denton and throughout North Texas, there is now an upward trend for job growth, and the area is seeing the job market grow by about 3 percent annually, said Kay O’Dell, workforce development manager for Workforce Solutions of North Central Texas.

“We can’t attribute that to any one thing, but it looks like existing employers are beginning to hire more, and there’s growth in existing industries,” O’Dell said. “There’s also new industry coming into Denton and the surrounding areas.”

Other local manufacturing plants, such as Peerless Manufacturing, are expanding and adding jobs in the area, Sullivan said.

When the plant opened in October, management said they planned to double staff in Denton within the next year, after they had already increased the full-time workforce by 40 percent since October 2012.

Overall, the region is on the same trajectory for stable and modest gains in lowering unemployment and improving confidence in the economy, Clower said.

“We are on the right path,” he said. “We are not lighting the world on fire, but we are doing OK.”

The Dallas Morning News contributed to this story.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.