July 18, 2021

CEO Message: Challenges Balanced by Opportunities

The workforce shortage is back. In many industries it never went away.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the St. Louis Fed show unemployment for the Austin- Round Rock MSA at 4.2% in May 2021 (the most recent month available at the time of this writing). For comparison, prior to the pandemic, unemployment was 2.6% in February 2020, and skyrocketed to 11.8% in April 2020. National unemployment is at 5.9% after peaking at 14.8%.

Even during the height of the shutdown, some vocations barely registered a blip of disruption. For example, electricians and other construction trades barely slowed down. Part of this was due to the continued high pace for economic development activity in spite of the national slow down.

As we’ve emerged from that dark time, nearly all employers locally express frustrations finding the right team members, and this is acutely the case in the most impacted industries in entertainment, bar, and restaurant services. For months, as people have emerged from their homes and back out into public group gatherings, employers have struggled to keep pace in finding team members.

There are two silver linings on this cloud – one long-term and the other short-term.

In the near-term it’s important to keep in mind that our area is no worse off than any other in the nation. It may not be easy to fill positions here, but that is the case everywhere. No corner of the country has been spared the difficulties that exist because the juggernaut of the American economy is able to grow at a rate that outpaces our ability to supply workforce.

While that’s cold comfort to employers and HR directors that just want to get back to business, it doesn’t mean that the Austin-Round Rock MSA is in dire straits. Far from it. As the region has also demonstrated in the past year, the entire world is beating a path to the door of central Texas. Workers seeking new opportunities are coming to the area, and employers seeking the uniquely skilled workforce and cultural amenities of the area are looking for opportunities to invest.

The robust education, training, and research assets at all primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels have made us one of the top locations in the U.S. Every business evaluating central Texas as a location is already familiar with the challenges of finding team members. Those that visit our area understand that the education and training partners here can supply them with the customized and targeted training necessary for new recruits.

The long-term is even more exciting. Because of all the short-term reasons I’ve listed above, the economy of central Texas, and the communities within it will continue to grow over time. That growth may come with new challenges (think school funding or provision of city services). But those challenges are MUCH more easily solved than the converse – if economic growth stagnates or cities become over-built and no longer financially stable. Sadly, this has been the case for more rural areas of the U.S., where the long-term outlook is less hopeful.

As everyone navigates the difficulties of filling open positions, temper your frustrations with knowing that everywhere has the same struggle, and that some do not have the same hopeful outlook that Round Rock rightly has.



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