asked readers around the country to offer observations on the state of their local job markets. Here's what readers in the Southwest had to say.

Although the job market here had been booming for the last few years, 1999 has seen a slowdown. As a matter of fact, the job growth rate in Houston has been on a downtrend for 1999 despite steady wage increases and strong retail spending and consumer confidence. The unemployment data released recently indicate Houston has exceeded the national average at 5.3% as of June 1999. It's rather understandable since Houston's economy is primarily dependent on the energy market. The ongoing consolidation of energy companies has resulted in a rash of layoffs. Now with



getting ready to cut 6,000-8,000 more jobs, the labor market will only loosen up that much more (even though the job cuts aren't all in Houston). Also, a major local utility company is finalizing its integration with a natural gas company, which means they'll be announcing some layoffs soon.

I think we've seen the top here in Houston, and it should get worse from here.


Charlie Wu

My name is Jane McCarty from Dallas and Austin markets. I've commuted in both markets for the last eight years and what we are seeing here in both markets is less and less employees to hire. Wages even in the lower-level industries, such as food service and landscaping, continue to go up and up because there are just no workers. I got out of a very high-paid job in the food service industry because I could no longer take the lack of employees there were to hire in order to keep the doors of our fast-food restaurants open. (I was over 26 stores.) I just don't see it getting any better in the short term. My attitude about opening new stores, even though there might be areas of development, was "how will I staff it?" So I got out of it.


Jane McCarty

A semiconductor worker writes:

Depends on what you are talking about in terms of wage increases:

Engineers -- especially electrical engineers -- are becoming very difficult to hire. New grads claim salaries high enough to cause compression problems with last year's grads and the year before that. I expect internal increases to base salary to be in the 4%-6% range for most in my company. The emphasis is now less on immediate compensation in terms of base salary and more on other forms of compensation like stock options, discounted stock purchase plans, cash awards, incentive awards, etc.

This is the semiconductor business, however, and given its cyclical nature, tomorrow could be a different story.


Name Withheld

I live in Orange County, Calif. Here things are going crazy. One of my co-workers, a software engineer, quit recently. He gave up hefty company stock options to join a neighbor company just cross the street. While we are making upper-five-digit wages here, his new employer offers him middle six digits. A 40% increase! He got has three years of experience with an M.S. degree. This was incredible just one year ago. This makes us all feel we must be worth more.


Wu Hong
Orange County, Calif.

Speaking for four computer consultants in Salt Lake City, Utah, the job situation is not too rosy. We are all finding the market to be very soft, the wages very low and the hiring managers expectation outrageously high. The consulting agencies all say the same thing ... companies don't have enough money to hire anyone right now. We all lowered our salary expectation tremendously after spending a couple months pounding the pavement, being rejected and finding discouragingly low salaries. We have a lot of road construction going on which I think seriously distorts the economic picture. While it makes the unemployment numbers look good, it has numerous hidden negative effects on businesses. Utah has historically had low wages and from our experience, not much has changed.


Marie Neeham
Salt Lake City

I am inclined to agree with the person who suggests wage inflation is stronger than the


would have us believe. There is no question that the economy in our local area is firing on all cylinders.

We have hired three employees in the last year as graphic artists and production staff (effectively doubling the size of our small company), and have plans for three more before year's end. I have made three -- count 'em -- three budget revisions on wages in the last several months, simply because entry-level wages are not what people think they are. There's so many damn jobs available, when we find somebody we want we have to close on them hard, and for more money, because they usually have three job offers pending.

What we've had to do is extol the virtues of working at a small, noncorporate company. We buy our people lunch a lot and do little things like cancel production on Friday afternoons when the weather's nice to make working here a little less stressful.


Jeff Thalman
President of The Recognition Source
Provo, Utah

I am employed by an alumina plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. Skilled labor has become quite a commodity in this market as the wages here are markedly lower than they are 150 miles north of us. Many facilities, including ours, have had trouble finding competent skilled labor. In several discussions I have had with friends in the job market, I am told that significantly higher wages and better benefits have not been seen or forecast for our market area. Lots of unskilled counter jobs are available though, and they are starting to pay above minimum wage to attract workers.


Name Withheld
Corpus Christi, Texas

Austin, Texas, is growing tech jobs faster than Silicon Valley from a recent report. The local unemployment rate is 2.3%. Wages are becoming less important as stock options become the currency of choice. More IPO's out of Austin this YTD than ever:











. Housing prices up 14% last year. Tree huggers are found huddled in large groups weeping over the pace of local growth. Twelve-year-olds are driving Ferraris. I'm an ex-stockbroker and business owner turned trader two years ago. After trying




and the rest of the browser-based trading systems, I've traded up to using professional trading software, coincidentally developed by an Austin company, whose revenue is up more than six-fold in one year to $18 million. Another IPO waiting to happen. Welcome to Boomtown USA.


David Corey
Austin, Texas

Smoking! If you can't find a job here, you can't find a job anywhere -- especially in high-tech and telecom.


Drew Milleret

Here in Houston the job market is extremely tight. People are able to ask for more money and companies are using creative ways to hire new employees. I know of employers who will pay up to $2,000 to current employees for leads just to get computer specialists to come to their company. Many also are adding benefits such as more options to their 401(k)s and better health benefits.


Trey Mirenda

Hawaii as a whole has been suffering serious economic problems for approximately eight years. However, for the first time in eight years, the Kona side of the big island has started showing improvement in 1999.

Normally, Hawaii is 14 months behind the mainland, but for some reason, Hawaii completely missed this cycle. I think it has a lot to do with Japan's poor economy. Hawaii's economy is tied as closely to Japan's economy as it is to the mainland U.S. economy, and maybe more so.


Edward Britton
Waikoloa, Hawaii