Economic Study Looks at Solutions for Retaining Region's Petrochemical Jobs

A new study identifies ways to retain refining and petrochemical jobs in the Houston Port region. Houston Public Radio Business Reporter Ed Mayberry has more.

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A two-year study by economist Ray Perryman looks at ways to retain some 350,000 petrochemical jobs. Jan Lawler is president and CEO of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, which focuses on the economic health of Ship Channel communities.

"Globalization is competing for new start-ups in our area over the next several decades. We have workforce shortages as the baby boomers start to retire, not just impacting our region but the whole United States. And so we took those issues from the Perryman study and we brought in industry and community leaders so they'd have very balanced perspectives, and they looked to find what we call one solution for each of the issues."

Solutions include ensuring that the region has adequate infrastructure in place to support and attract business, as well as proposing regulatory and legislative programs that allow business and industry to prosper. Lawler says the solutions depend on collaboration.

"Get our community colleges working together, get our economic development entities working together in all the four counties, then what always happens is that innovative spirit. One of us will come up with better ideas on ways to provide training, for instance. And then when you collaborate, and then you leverage resources, and then your synergies begin to emerge."

Community colleges have formed a network to collaborate on training those entering the workforce, as well as for skill upgrading of the current workforce. San Jacinto College District Chancellor Dr. William Lindeman says baby boomer retirement is affecting petrochemical jobs in the region.

"Most of the major employers in our area--in particular the petrochemical industry--will lose between 60 and 65 percent of its workforce in the next ten years, because (of) baby boomers. And the challenge for us is to work closely with industry and partnership to make sure that they have a trained workforce. These jobs are very sophisticated high-technology jobs. In the last 30 years, these jobs have gone from manual to automated to computerized to digitized."

Lindeman says the Perryman study is a wake-up call.

"Some of the things the Perryman study tells us is how critical the petrochemical industry is to our economy. The Houston Ship Channel is a huge emerging industry. And the Perryman study focused in on that, and the Perryman study said 'look, if you want these industries to grow and be healthy, you have to do this, this, this and this.' It's a huge task, but I'm very optimistic."

Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

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