Here's the plan to ramp up Jim Wells County's economy
The big oil boom has come and gone for Alice, a community that has spent years feeling the financial pinch of a lack of diversity in the economy and job market.
But a shift could be coming, according to Larry Martinez, the economic director for Jim Wells County.
That's because Martinez, who took on the role a year ago, has a vision on how the area can bounce back.
"Although there are multiple variables the main focus is diversification of the job market and training locally to keep students here with jobs that pay," Martinez said.
He plans to meet with officials from Coastal Bend College 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 nurses are in demand," he said. "These are attainable short-term goals but the larger picture for long-reaching changes will take planning and the keyword 'diversity' something that is the main focus when utilizing the American Rescue Funds wisely."
Alice native Belinda Swan is also on board with solutions to build toward economic stability.
She is graduating from the University of Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) with a master's degree in public affairs. Swan, who now lives in Austin, used her capstone project (graduating thesis) on collecting data on Alice's economy.
"The data shows a more diverse economy can buffer the effects when one industry declines," Swan said. "I think one of the more notable attributes in Alice is the talent pool of the area. Oilfield work is no joke and it requires a certain hard work ethic that Alice has. The area needs to find ways to capitalize on the talent pool to offer jobs in other areas."
Swan's data show employment trends from 2009-2019 with a spike in the middle of the time period due to the Eagle Ford boom. That ended in 2019 with only a 1.18% employment growth while the national employment growth was 17.88%. Her data highlighted a gap analysis of more potential employees than actual available jobs. This data would support the population decline reported from the 2020 Census.
"The lack of diversity in Alice makes the area's economy vulnerable and the data also shows neighboring communities oil prominent could sustain a better economy when diversity was an option in transportation and warehousing, recreation and arts and other industries," Swan said.
Swan suggests funding opportunities from the U.S. Economic Development Administration that offers grants to economically distressed areas in the U.S. She notes the research and leg work for these grants can be time-consuming but funds are available to help implement an analysis to support expanding infrastructure to attract transportation, warehousing and logistical firms.
Martinez has worked with Swan to help him gain insight to work with Coastal Bend College, investors and stakeholders to create a better economy.
"I plan to do everything possible to bring Alice and Jim Wells County forward with a more sustainable economy," Martinez added. "As a community (we) are in this together and my hope is collectively we can work on creating a more positive narrative for our area. The negative social posts about Alice can have long-reaching effects when companies consider the area for business so I hope we can work together to be more positive and diversify."