Local employers have difficulty filling jobs

Nolan County has been virtually recession proof. As most of the nation has struggled to recover from the worst economic downturn in more than 75 years, Sweetwater and surrounding areas has remained a bastion of employment.In fact, Ken Becker, executive director at Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development (SEED), estimates the percentage of Nolan County residents out of work to be just over four percent — lower than the state of Texas and the U.S. averages.A low rate of unemployment is always a good thing, but an abundance of industry has caused some difficulties among local employers seeking qualified individuals to fill the positions they offer.According to Becker, plentiful jobs in the wind industry, at local manufacturing plants and the booming oil and gas fields have all contributed to the pros — as well as the cons — of hosting such a diverse array of trade."I think employment is becoming a bigger issue," Becker explained. "Employers are having a hard time finding qualified staff. There's a group of people who can't pass a background check or a drug and alcohol test."But manufacturing is increasing," Becker continued. "Wind is still going strong. There are a lot of local companies which let some people go, but now they need to hire to meet their staff need; companies like USG, Georgia-Pacific and Buzzi (Unicem). Just as the wind industry took manufacturing jobs, the oil and gas industry is taking wind jobs — there's a lot of stress on the workforce."The lack of qualified workers is something that can be addressed locally through schooling. Becker points to Texas State Technical College (TSTC), which he said offers degrees to enrollees that can be utilized in various wind, oil and gas positions. Becker said there is a huge demand for employees who possess a commercial driver license (CDL) — another program offered by TSTC.With schools such as Sweetwater and Roscoe offering college courses at the high school level, Becker hopes a portion of area grads will consider living and working in Nolan County, seizing a high-paying career locally instead of moving away to attend a four-year school."You can start at the $50,000 per year range if you have a CDL," Becker said. "Depending on experience and how many hours you are willing to work, some truck drivers are making close to $100,000 per year."Not everybody is going to go off to a four-year institution and some that do won't graduate," Becker continued. "There's a lot of opportunity right here for people who want to get an associate degree or a certification. You don't need a four-year degree for many of these jobs, and they're well-paying jobs."Crest Pumping Technologies is an example of one oil and gas company which has set up shop in Sweetwater. Becker said Crest has only been in the area for about 18 months, but in that time, the company has acquired a workforce of 120 people and it has more positions to fill. "SEED is very fortunate we have an expanding job market in Nolan County," Becker said. "We feel strongly about bringing in companies and expanding companies to create more opportunities. Finding qualified workers to staff the companies brought in is always a top priority. TSTC and schools like Sweetwater and Roscoe are doing a great job of preparing students for the workforce."