By Vic Kolenc \ El Paso Times
El Paso’s job market got a jolt in recent days when two large El Paso employers announced plans to lay off almost 500 workers this year and next year.
Despite that bit of bad news, economists and employment experts expect a fairly healthy El Paso job market this year with some modest job gains, and a rate of job growth projected to be slightly better than the national rate.
Two of El Paso’s larger employers — high-tech giants Hewlett-Packard and Automatic Data Processing — increased their workforces last year, and they plan to hire more people this year.
However, Leviton Manufacturing announced last week that it would close its West Side factory and lay off more than 300 people, and on Jan. 10, Boeing announced it would cut its Northeast El Paso factory operations in half, and lay off about 160 workers by the end of 2014.
Economist Roberto Coronado, who oversees the El Paso branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said he expects El Paso to add 5,000 to 6,000 jobs this year — better than last year.
Data released Friday show El Paso’s rate of job growth in 2012 was around 1.3 percent, when seasonally adjusted, which is near the historical annual average of 1.4 percent, Coronado said. Those data could be revised later, he noted.
“If we compare the local labor market to the national labor market, you see El Paso has actually outperformed the national economy by far” during the recession and during the post-recession recovery period, Coronado reported at the Border Economic Forum at UTEP last week. “Today, El Paso has 2.6 percent more jobs than back in 2007 (when the recession began), while the U.S. is still struggling to gain back jobs. The U.S. is down almost 3 percent” in the number of jobs since late 2007, he said.
Tom Fullerton, an economics professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said, “Both Texas and El Paso should observe fairly healthy job growth this year. But given the policy disagreements (in Washington and Austin), it probably will be a choppier growth record than would otherwise be the case.”
He expects El Paso to add about 7,000 jobs this year and to have a job growth rate around 1.9 percent.
El Paso’s unemployment rate remains well above the state and national rates. It increased in December to 8.9 percent, compared with 8.5 percent in November, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported Friday. El Paso had an estimated 27,500 people unemployed and actively seeking jobs in December, the Texas Workforce Commission reported Friday.
Lorenzo Reyes, CEO of Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande, last week characterized the El Paso job market as stable. He said he expects some employment growth this year, especially in the retail industry.
“Some businesses will be opening, especially in retail and restaurants. With the Fountains at Farah (shopping center) opening in the fall, there will be some additional employment opportunities there. Unfortunately it’s in one industry, and we’d like to see growth in other areas — in manufacturing, in high-skilled jobs,” such as those being added by HP and ADP, he said.
Automatic Data Processing, or ADP, a Fortune 500 company based in New Jersey, last month announced it would add 585 jobs in El Paso from 2013 through 2017, and eventually spend about $21 million to build and equip an additional El Paso facility, probably next to its client-solution center on the West Side.
Terry McGreehan, general manager of ADP’s West Side center, said ADP expects to hire 75 to 100 people in El Paso this year. It currently has about 40 openings, he reported last week.
ADP now employs about 1,100 people at its main facility at 1854 N. Resler in the Northwest Corporate industrial park, and in the 100 N. Stanton Tower Downtown. The employees provide payroll and human resources services to business customers nationwide, and provide auto-dealer-related services. The jobs involve complex business matters, and usually require a college degree.
California based Hewlett-Packard, or HP, another Fortune 500 company, last summer completed expansion of its El Paso software applications and development center in the Northwest Corporate industrial park.
The company employs several hundred technology professionals in El Paso, but it did not divulge its local employment numbers.
Since 2011, HP has hired more than 260 people here, El Paso Times reports show, and HP officials have said the company will continue hiring in El Paso this year.
Early this month, it held a job fair to fill 50 jobs, including software developers, testers, project managers and data analysts. The jobs typically require a bachelor’s degree, or a technical degree, and experience in software-related jobs.
El Paso’s large call center industry usually has many job openings throughout the year. For example, the Dish Network, a provider of satellite TV service, plans to hire about 100 call-takers in the next two to three months at its large call center at 1285 Joe Battle on the East Side, said Aaron Johnson, a Dish spokesman at its Denver-area headquarters.
“We’re looking for people throughout the year,” because the large center always has job turnover, Johnson said.
It looks for bilingual people fluent in English and Spanish, and English speakers for the jobs, which are open to anyone age 18 and older and with a high school diploma or equivalent, he said.
“We train employees” so experience in a call center is not required, Johnson said.
Dish recently increased its starting wage to $10 and $10.50 per hour, with the higher wage for bilingual workers, he said.
The El Paso construction industry has job openings due to some large construction projects under way and more planned. Fullerton, the UTEP economics professor, said the construction industry should be an “ongoing source of strength” in El Paso’s job market this year.
About 200 people showed up Friday at a construction industry job fair at Workforce Solutions’ Downtown office. Only two companies, with only about 25 to 45 jobs, were represented at the fair, a Workforce Solutions official reported.
CF Jordan, a large El Paso general contractor, had only four jobs available at the fair. But it probably will have more jobs open later this year when it’s expected to start construction of a new minor-league baseball stadium Downtown, and start a major landscaping project at UTEP, said Bea Sanchez, human resources manager at CF Jordan’s El Paso headquarters. The company employs about 500 people in Texas, including about 280 people in El Paso.
“We’re always on the lookout for good people, and we’re always accepting applications,” Sanchez said. “We’re always looking for project managers, superintendents” and some field workers — concrete finishers, carpenters and laborers, she said.
SolarCity, a California solar-installation company, is in the process of hiring about solar-panel installers and other workers for a large project at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range.
Ceci Miles Mulvihill, president of RMPersonnel, an El Paso employee staffing agency, said that despite the recent Leviton layoffs, El Paso’s distribution and manufacturing industries continue to have many openings for temporary workers. Many temp jobs are open for forklift operators, and manufacturing machine operators, she said. RMPersonnel employed an average of 900 temporary workers each month last year.
“The market (for temp workers) is more robust for us now, than last year at this time,” Miles Mulvihill said. Some of the temp jobs turn into permanent jobs, she noted.
Vic Kolenc may be reached at email@example.com, 546-6421. Follow him on Twitter @vickolenc