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Victoria businessman tries to solve workforce shortage

By ALLISON MILES
Sept. 28, 2013 at 4:28 a.m.
Updated Sept. 29, 2013 at 4:29 a.m.

16 x 9 workforce shortage

Employment assistance

Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent has services available to help both job seekers and employers through the search process. For more information, visit gcworkforce.org or call 361-578-0341.

Breaking it down

For more information about the largest industries throughout the Crossroads region, employment numbers and more, read the story on Page H1.

With incoming industry, plant expansions and ongoing oil and gas activity, some say a shortage of skilled workers has a grip on the Crossroads.

But one Victoria businessman hopes to keep those numbers from becoming bigger issues down the line.

Victoria businessman Dennis Patillo plans to start a dialogue with Victoria elected officials, large employers, educators and more to better prepare for the city's up-and-coming growth.

A report put out by Waco-based economic and financial analysis firm The Perryman Group projects the Victoria metropolitan statistical area will see 3.37 percent growth in real gross product between 2012 and 2040. That outpaces statistical areas such as San Antonio-New Braunfels, McAllen-Edinburg Mission and Corpus Christi.

"If we've asked these companies to make Victoria their home, I believe we have an obligation to fulfill their workforce needs," Patillo said.

The oil boom is a mixed bag for Victoria Oliver Co., said Lindsey Johnston, who works in accounts payable. While the business sells tractors, mowers and other heavy equipment to those in oil and gas, a position for a skilled trade diesel mechanic has sat vacant for months.

"We have an upside, and a downside," Johnston said, noting the company suspects the trouble comes because so many people have moved on to the oil and gas industry. "We have people coming in to take applications, but pretty much all of the skilled ones are taken."

People apply daily at Fastenal, a chain with a Victoria location that provides industrial commercial supplies, said David O'Bryan, who works in outside sales. The trouble is they can't pass the employment test.

"We've been looking for the last three or four months. It's kind of like, 'Nobody knows the trouble I've seen,'" he said, crooning the song's lyrics.

Fastenal has occupied booths at area job fairs, he said, and plans to keep looking.

"We just can't find qualified candidates," O'Bryan said.

Henry Guajardo, executive director of Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent, said the center has assisted employers in solving those worker woes.

He noted some pockets throughout the Lone Star State - along the Rio Grande Valley and in East Texas, for instance - maintain higher unemployment rates than the Crossroads. Employers might consider recruiting from there, he said.

The center has also worked with area school districts to educate upcoming graduates about opportunities within the community.

"There's been some discussion about reaching out to other states, too," Guajardo added. "But unless we come up with a unified effort, we, for one, don't have the resources to do so."

It remains a hurdle the region must meet, he admitted.

"As the unemployment rate gets lower and lower, we're going to find that it's going to be a little more challenging to hire individuals and even to retain individuals," Guajardo said.

Victoria's unemployment rate was at 4.9 percent in August, according to numbers released by the Texas Workforce Commission. In August of last year, that rate sat at 5.4 percent.

The secret to Victoria's future is two-fold, Patillo said. It's letting area youth know there are opportunities available right here at home and letting others realize that Victoria is a great place to raise a family.

And, while his plan remains in its infancy - he said he hopes to organize the first meeting next week - the overall goal is to form both a message and a mechanism for increasing local workforce opportunities.

"We need to let people know Victoria is a viable alternative to the big cities," he said.

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