Manufacturing jobs increase in Texas, the Crossroads

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

May 14, 2017 at 9:25 p.m.
Updated May 15, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Alexander Dean, 24, works on changing out old technology on a draw tape machine in the institutional trash can liners plant at Inteplast Group in Lolita.  Dean has been training at the plastics company for about two months.

Alexander Dean, 24, works on changing out old technology on a draw tape machine in the institutional trash can liners plant at Inteplast Group in Lolita. Dean has been training at the plastics company for about two months.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

The first time Alexander Dean saw automated robots was when he started working at the Inteplast plant in Lolita about two months ago.

"I tell people it's crazy I get to come to a job where I learn something new every single day," the 24-year-old said. "A lot of people get to do the same thing over and over again, but when you come here, it's always something different."

Dean is one of many who have recently been hired in the Crossroads for manufacturing. He is also one of the 52 employees hired for the Inteplast trash can liner plant in Lolita in 2016 and 2017.

Texas is on track to increase overall employment in 2017 by 2.4 percent, said Anil Kumar, senior research economist and adviser for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Manufacturing jobs increased on an average of 5.6 percent in the first quarter of 2017, he said. Last year, manufacturing jobs had an average growth of -1.9 percent.

"The amount of things that those robots do with the precision that they do it with. That's something that I walk past a robot, and sometimes you'll find me just standing there looking at them," he said.

Dean is working at Inteplast full time this summer and is working part time in the fall while he finishes his mechanical engineering degree at Texas A&M-Kingsville. He graduates in December and will most likely start full time as a plant engineer.

"He's a hard worker, definitely," said Peter Zamarripa, institutional trash can liner plant manager. "He picks up things really fast."

Zamarripa said in the past two years, automated equipment that packs products and makes boxes was added. The plant is part of the Integrated Bagging Systems division, which has added two new lines in the past year.

One of the lines that was added makes a new line of trash bags, and the other makes film to make bags for T-shirts.

About 700 people work at the trash can liner plant. Inteplast is hiring because there is a lack of labor, which has caused the company to reach close to full capacity of expanding, said Brenda Wilson, Inteplast spokeswoman.

The company is looking for employees who have mechanical skills, Wilson said.

"A lot of what we do is very hands-on: operating the equipment and monitoring the operation of the equipment," she said. "It takes a lot of skilled people to maintain those lines, and that's electricians and mechanics."

More than 143 million pounds of products were produced at the trash can liner plant in 2016, Zamarripa said, and the plant is on target to exceed that number for 2017.

In the past two years, Inteplast has added about 200 employees, Wilson said.

The labor market is tight in the Crossroads because of a $5 billion dollar expansion at Formosa and other local construction, Zamarripa said.

"Typically, we're always looking for people," he said.

He agrees manufacturing is increasing in Texas.

"A lot of companies are moving to Texas from places like California because business is good in Texas," he said.

Kumar attributes the growth of Texas employment to the recovering energy industry. It started recovering in the second half of 2016, and that's when manufacturing employment numbers started growing.

"What these numbers suggest is that as the energy sector weakened during the oil bust, it also affected Texas manufacturing. Manufacturing has close linkage with the Texas energy sector," he said. "Economic growth in Texas in the last three years has been driven by what's going on with oil prices and the energy sector."

Manufacturing employment was also hurt in 2016 by the strong American dollar, making exports to other countries more expensive for U.S. companies, Kumar said.

Although the manufacturing employment number was on the decrease until the middle of 2016, the industry as a whole is on its 10 month of increase, he said.

Dean's hire is an example of the growth of manufacturing jobs.

Dean moved to the Crossroads before he found a job and lives in Vanderbilt. He moved because his girlfriend was hired to teach for Industrial Independent School District.

"The first thing I learned when I got here is a lot of the community works at the plants," he said. "That's the culture down here. That's the first place I came to find my first job."

Working at the plant was not what he expected, he said.

"People told me I'm either going to hate it or love it," he said. "Once I got here and saw what I'm going to be doing every day and working with the guys that I work with, I love it."

Inteplast is always on the lookout for engineering employees who have local roots.

"When you hire someone from out of state or a big city, they're not used to the area," Zamarripa said. "They stay a couple years and then leave."

Dean said his current goal is to finish the first project he was given: a filter cleaner for a machine.

"I want to make it work properly, and that's something with it being my first project. I don't want it to be a bust right now," he said.



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