The great oil boom has come and gone for Alice, a community that has suffered for years the financial plight of a lack of diversity in the economy and in the labor market.
However, according to Larry Martinez, Jim Wells County’s commercial director, a postponement could come.
That’s because Martinez, who took on the role a year ago, has a vision of how the region can recover.
“While there are multiple variables, the focus is on diversifying the labor market and on-site training to keep the students with paid jobs here,” Martinez said.
He plans to meet with Coastal Bend College officials next week. New training in Alice could help support jobs at the Steel Dynamics plant in Sinton in neighboring San Patricio County, he added.
“Healthcare is (also) a leading job market in our area and everyone knows that nurses are in demand,” he said. “These are achievable short-term goals, but the big picture for long-term change requires planning, and diversity is something that is central to the sensible use of US bailout funds.”
Belinda Swan, a native of Alice, is also on board to create solutions for economic stability.
She graduated from the University of Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) with a Masters in Public Affairs. Swan, who now lives in Austin, used her capstone project (thesis) to collect data on Alice’s economy.
“The data shows that a more diverse economy can cushion the impact when an industry is in decline,” said Swan. “I think one of Alice’s most notable attributes is the region’s talent pool. Oilfield work is no joke and requires a certain hard work ethic that Alice has. The region needs to find ways to capitalize on the talent pool with jobs in other areas. ”
Swan’s data shows employment trends from 2009 to 2019, with an increase in the middle of the period due to the Eagle-Ford boom. That ended 2019 with employment growth of just 1.18%, while national employment growth was 17.88%. Their data showed a gap analysis of more potential employees than actually available jobs. These data would support the population decline reported from the 2020 census.
“The lack of diversity in Alice makes the region’s economy fragile, and the data also shows that neighboring communities’ oil reserves could sustain better economies if diversity were an option in transportation and storage, leisure and art, and other industries,” said Swan .
Swan suggests funding from the US Economic Development Agency, which provides grants to economically troubled areas in the US for transportation, warehousing, and logistics companies.
Martinez worked with Swan to help him gain insights, to work with Coastal Bend College, investors and stakeholders to create a better economy.
“I plan to do whatever I can to help Alice and Jim Wells Counties move forward with a more sustainable economy,” added Martinez. “As a community (we) we’re in this together and I hope we can work together to create a more positive narrative for our space. The negative social posts about Alice can have far-reaching implications when companies consider the space for business Hope we can work together to be more positive and diversify. ”