Sugar Land - Missouri City Edition | May 2022

The pandemic caused the unemployment rate across the Greater Houston area to skyrocket in 2020, but the rate recovered closer to prepandemic levels in 2021. RATE ROLLER COASTER

of in my restaurant, I used to be able to buy for $3.49 per pound, but now for the same lamb, it costs $6.54 per pound,” he said. Jankowski said other businesses have turned to Walmart or Target to stock their coolers with sodas and their shelves with cups as their usual providers limit distribution. Alongside supply chain disruptions are staffing shortages. Local business leaders agreed people have come to expect higher pay for what are coined “behind-the-counter” jobs. Jankowski said he believes this is due in part to people becoming accustomed to work- ing from home or having more flexibil- ity during the peak of the pandemic. Jankowski reported there are around 92,000 fewer workers in the Houston region now than there were a year ago. That shortage has had a trick- le-down effect on other entities, such as Fort Bend ISD, a member of the Region 4 Education Service Center alongside dozens of other Greater Houston-area districts that have experienced food service supply challenges partly due to suppliers not having enough employees. “I’ve been told, ‘We’ve got an employee shortage,’” said Matt Anti- gnolo, Fort Bend ISD’s executive director of child nutrition. “‘We nor- mally would run five assembly lines, but now we are running with two, or in some cases, one assembly line.’” Suppliers have been challenged to meet the demand across the country, and for FBISD, that has meant less available chicken for school meals alongside challenges providing non- food items, including styrofoam trays, disposable forks, spoons, napkins and straws, Antignolo said. Though the shortage has improved, FBISD suppliers are also reporting shortages for delivery truck drivers, who deliver food service products

to the district’s 80 kitchens and the roughly 79,000 students the district prepares meals for every day, Anti- gnolo said. “I know a lot of the manufacturers say that they can produce the prod- uct, but they have no way of get- ting it to us because they don’t have enough truck drivers,” he said. “It has improved, but it’s definitely not prepandemic levels.” Looking ahead While staffing shortages and access to supply lines are unfavorable, they are parts of the growing pains the economy is facing as it bounces back, Jankowski said. He said he believes the economy has made an outstand- ing recovery. The GHP reported about 316,700 of the region’s 361,400 jobs lost had been recovered as of the end of 2021. “No one thought the economy would rebound as strong as it has,” Jankowski. “A year and a half ago, when we talked about the recovery, people talked about it looking like a hockey stick, sharp drop and a slow, gradual increase; it looks like it’s been more like a check mark.” All the while, businesses are facing higher operating costs and are starting to have to divert some of that burden onto the customers. This can be seen in price increases of certain items or lim- its on menu options as the availability of certain goods varies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of plastic products increased 24% from March 2021 to March 2022. In that same time span, the price for beef and veal went up 16% and chicken 28.6%. The energy industry has been simi- larly affected, including ChampionX, a Sugar Land-based oil and gas equip- ment supplier that announced April 11 it would enact a supply surcharge until it could put in place permanent

Unemployment rates from 2012-22


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pricing arrangements “that reflect the current cost environment,” the company said. “The energy industry has been impacted by increasing global unrest in addition to an already constrained supply environment, which have all combined to drive ongoing high infla- tion. That has made it necessary for us to take this step,” saidDeric Bryant, the company’s chief operating officer and president for chemical technologies, in the announcement. Fort Bend County, meanwhile, has experienced its own supply challenges. The county’s new emergency opera- tions center, which was planned for a late March opening, is delayed until late May because of supply delays, the county announced Feb. 28. However, while the county has experienced delays with its emer- gency operations center, the same cannot be said for road and bridge projects, County Engineer Stacy Slawinski wrote in an email.

“The county deals mostly with con- struction materials manufactured in this region,” Slawinski wrote. “Ship- ping heavy material such as sand and stone is costly, which is why our roadway projects use local and regional products.” Moving forward, Jankowski pre- dicted the community will not see the same exponential growth seen in 2021, meaning businesses such as Mint n Chili will continue to implement their pandemic changes for the sake of their customers and employees. “They’re simply going to go and do what it takes to keep the doors open,” Jankowski said. “So the small business by nature tends to be what the small business lacks in financial wealth with all the makeup for nimbleness.” Sierra Rozen contributed to this report .

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