Cause for optimism in latest RGV unemployment rate

McALLEN — After a brief dip over part of the summer, the Rio Grande Valley’s unemployment rate took a turn in the right direction in August, leaving local officials with optimism about the local economy for the distant future.

McAllen’s unemployment rate for August was 4.9 percent, the lowest of any city in the Valley, with Edinburg close behind at 5 percent. Harlingen was third at 5.7 percent.

More people were employed in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties in August. The unemployment rates at that time were 6.2 percent, 6.6 percent and 9.1 percent in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties, respectively.

“The primary contributor to the employment gains in our region was the government sector, with an estimated 1,400 new jobs,” wrote Mike Willis with Workforce Solutions, the workforce development board under the direction of the Texas Workforce Commission. Willis added, “This is likely the beginning of the return to work for public education support staff who were laid off during the summer months. We expect to see additional gains in the September reports when they are released.”

Steve Ahlenius, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, pointed to advancements in the medical and education sectors.

“We are the land of opportunity in the RGV,” Ahlenius said, citing the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s medical school, and the new Texas A&M campus in McAllen. “I talk to businesses who are struggling to find folks with the right skill set, because people are employed. Just great indicators for what’s happening in our region.”

Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, just returned from a work trip to Seoul and Tokyo, which has sent many companies to the South Texas and northern Mexican border. Patridge was optimistic about new employment, and furthering local employment, after his trip.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was equally encouraged by the employment numbers.

“Talking to businesses, they’re looking for more skilled workers, so that’s our challenge,” Darling said. “And those higher-skilled jobs also mean higher wages. So that’s why I like all the internship programs and co-op programs we have going on.”