Area sees job growth amid oil slump Despite plummeting oil prices, jobs have increased in the Greater Houston area, which includes the employment centers of Uptown, the Energy Corridor and Texas Medical Center.[/caption]

Nearly 5,000 new jobs were added in the Katy area between 2013 and 2014, according to a May 11 economic survey statement from the Katy Area Economic Development Council. The job growth—mainly in the engineering, accounting and research industries—helps offset the recent widespread layoffs in the oil and gas sector, the statement said.

U.S. Silica Company, a domestic producer of the commercial silica used in the oil and gas industry, announced in May it leased 17,464 square feet in Katy Ranch Phase I near Katy Ranch Crossing. Civil engineering firm Michael Baker also announced it will open a location in June in the Grandway West Building 1 off Franz Road.

“These developments will help bring new residents to Katy and allow Katy residents to work closer to home,” KAEDC President Lance LaCour said. “It also helps grow and diversify the office workforce, which is a prime focus of the EDC.”

In the Energy Corridor, the declining price of oil has not affected the area’s development, said district communications coordinator Mark Klein. In the next two years, 5.4 million square feet of office space is slated, much of which is already preleased, he said. While some companies within the district have suffered from the oil price drop, others have not, Klein said.

“For perspective, it’s important to realize that while a drop in oil price hits oil and gas exploration companies, and particularly oil field services companies, it can help downstream firms—for example, refining—because feedstock prices are low, and there are a lot of downstream companies in Houston,” Klein said.

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New developments

Katy Ranch Phase 1 is a six-story, 151,000-square-foot office building in the Katy Ranch Crossing mixed-use development center on I-10. An additional tenant that wishes to remain anonymous has leased the first floor, but there is still 131,888 square feet available, according to parent real estate company Moody Rambin.

U.S. Silica will move into the building this summer, according to Kurt Kistler, vice president of Moody Rambin.

“[U.S.] Silica chose Katy Ranch because of its location and the proximity of its workforce,” Kistler said.

While the possibility of new job creation is still up in the air, corporate consolidation could result in workers moving to the Katy area, he said.

Rambin is also responsible for marketing Mason Creek Office Center II, a three-story, 128,000-square-foot building at 21700 Merchants Way, west of I-10 and the Grand Parkway. It sits next to the existing Geico facility, which is slated to hire several hundred more workers this year, Rambin Managing Director Bob Cromwell said.

Although tenants for Center II have not been finalized, Rambin is looking to secure a maximum of two companies to make use of the facility’s large floor plans, such as engineering firms or call centers, Cromwell said. Construction on Center III will begin this summer and will similarly feature large floor plans that total 93,000 square feet.

This summer Michael Baker International will relocate its Westchase District engineering office to 1904 Grand Parkway N. in The Offices at Grandway West. There will be no immediate job creation because the move is simply a relocation, but there will be growth in the long term, said Erik Spicker, structural manager for MBI.

“We chose the Katy location due to its proximity to the freeways and therefore easy access to the area, the lower lease rates than other areas, and the large volume of young folks—future hires—that are within a short drive to the location,” Spicker said.

The company is an engineering firm that provides services and support to federal, state and local governments as well as private developments and commercial clients. MBI expects to see growth over the next five years, he said.

“New commercial development is good for the economy because it creates jobs. Income and dollars that multiply produce economic impact and grow the economic pie for the region,” LaCour said. “The development supports the tax base, which supports schools and public services.”

Hope after cutbacks

Company relocations and expansions provide opportunities for workers exiting the oil and gas industry, especially to industries where skills can be transferred, said Mona Digs, a supervisor at Workforce Development in Katy.

“These transferable skills can help [workers] in a related occupation, like working as a machine setter, molding core maker—jobs in manufacturing and machinery,” she said.

“These transferable skills can help [workers] in a related occupation, like working as a machine setter, molding core maker—jobs in manufacturing and machinery."

–Mona Digs, a supervisor at Workforce Development in Katy

For some workers, a layoff provides a new opportunity to pursue additional educational opportunities and expand their skill sets, said Keith Wolf with Murray Resources, a career consultant company in west Houston. This could mean going back to school to earn a master’s degree in business administration or enrolling in community college classes during the evening, he said. But all workers should re-examine their resumes and think creatively about how they can apply those skills to other industries, he said.

Wolf said younger employees who are new to the workforce should be aware of the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry, and that this is the time to take risks.

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“If you’re on the early side of your career, use this time to volunteer for challenging projects and those that others shy away from,” he said. “The additional exposure will be an asset down the road as your background and expertise is viewed as more well-rounded.”