Economic slowdown apparent in one area

March 31, 2009 4:39:36 AM PDT
New unemployment figures show a continuing downturn for Texas. [FIND A JOB: See listings for jobs around the Houston area]
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Last month, 480 Texans lost their jobs every day. Each day, more than 80 Houstonians went to work in the morning and came home without a job.

There's one place where you can literally see the economy slowing down.

Sheldon Road isn't on anyone's tourist map of Houston. Out in the northeast corner of Harris County, it is an industrial stretch of flat land where hundreds of acres hold million of pipes used in the oil field.

The stacks of pipes are now a lot taller than they were last year. And when stacks climb, it means they're not moving to new wells and work is drying up.

"Basically we come here and walk around and find something to do. There isn't that much work," said Sheldon Road employee Victor Martinez.

Martinez is actually one of the lucky ones here. Ten days ago, five of his coworkers were laid off. His hours were cut, but he still has a job. Across the street, there's a different quiet lot, but with the same story.

"A few weeks ago, we were doing two 10-hour shifts, seven days a week," said Gary Patterson, Sheldon Road General Manager. "Now we're down to one eight-hour shift, five days a week."

In January Texas lost oil jobs for the first time in five and half years. February actually saw a slight rise, but in recent weeks oil giants Baker Hughes and Schlumberger among others have announced thousands of layoffs.

And Patterson's company is, too.

The Houston economy, once hailed as the nation's bright spot, is coming back to earth.

"I just laid off 60. They laid off 75 across the street," said Patterson. "That's within a few hundred yards. There's not a lot of work."

"We're not recession proof?" we asked.

"No."

Oil doesn't dominate our economy anymore, but the University of Houston Institute for Regional Forecasting says it still drives growth here and it is slowing down. U of H now predicts Houston will lose 56,000 jobs this year and next, 540 Houstonians newly out of work every week for the next two years.

Job losses are expected in virtually every corner of our economy. The slowdown is just easier to see on Sheldon Road, where the stacks of pipes will likely just get taller and taller.

"I am nervous," said Martinez.

Patterson says he knew Texas' unemployment rate was low, but told me it seems there are so many unemployed people these days. And it got me thinking and checking. He's right. There were 781,000 unemployed Texans in February, more unemployed people here than in Michigan. We have more people, of course. His point was percentages don't always tell the whole story.

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