he 12 regions of Texas are home to a deep and wide variety of towns, from Marble Falls to Henderson, Bowie to Harlingen. The institutions in these regions are just as wide, deep and resourceful when it comes to turning out the workforce that companies need.
There are nearly 160 different university, junior college and community college campuses serving Texas citizens and employers, and that’s not even counting the dozens of health science centers and medical schools. When it comes to the communities that comprise the Texas Economic Development Connection, community colleges especially play a crucial role.
The 50 community college districts in Texas contribute $10 billion to the state’s economy and support nearly 78,000 jobs, according to the state’s Comptroller of Public Accounts. Nearly 78,000 jobs are supported by the colleges’ spending. Moreover, 61% of Texas community college graduates stay within 50 miles of the institution they attended.
That doesn’t mean all is well. The Comptroller reported that Texas currently ranks 36th in educational attainment in the nation, with 43.5% of its 24- to 34-year-olds holding a degree or certificate when the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board aims to have at least 60% of the state population hold a degree or certificate to ensure Texas remains competitive in the global market.
But that’s where solutions borne of partnerships come into play. Just ask Rush Harris, executive director of Marshall Economic Development Corp.
“We’ve have been very busy with our educators and industries to align training curriculum to regional demand,” he writes. “One year ago, Marshall EDC initiated the Workforce & Education Alignment Group (WE Align Group). It started with conversations and basic communication of industry needs versus educational offerings. We went from three in the room to a banquet of over 100 people across industries and educational groups in less than a year. Businesses and educators are paying attention. That collaborative communication group is now transitioning into a council that will have the goal of focusing educational training dollars where local industry needs them most.”
The thrust of that work aligns well with state goals. As Work Shift reported, a panel of community college presidents, policymakers and elected officials in October 2022 approved a legislative proposal “that would dramatically increase funding for community colleges and tie much of it to workforce outcomes. The model also would — for the first time — include substantial funding for short-term programs.”
Marshall EDC recently worked with Texas State Technical College (TSTC) on a High Demand Job Training (HDJT) grant with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) for electrical lineman training.
“Our EDC contributed $150,000 toward the training program and the State of Texas contributed a 1-to-1 match for a total of $300,000,” says Harris. “We also pursued a HDJT grant with East Texas Baptist University to train front line supervisor and management positions for $150,000. This 1-to-1 match was accepted by TWC as well. Neither of these programs would be possible without the pursuit, assistance and guidance from Workforce Solutions East Texas (WSET) and TWC business development representatives who are reaching out to the furthest corners of our state to make Texas the best state to do business in.
“Workforce is the No. 1 demand by existing, expanding and recruited businesses,” Harris adds. “Skilled talent is the key to the well-being of our community’s future.”
TRUE to Your Schools
Awardees of a new state grant program are a strong indication of where the rubber meets the road in workforce development.
Passed by the Texas Legislature in 2021, the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) Grant Program aims to “build a talent-strong Texas through the creation, expansion, or redesign of workforce education and training programs in high-demand occupations.” An initial awarding of $26 million in grants to 46 institutions in November 2021 was followed by 29 grants to colleges and consortia in 2022. A number of them went to schools in Texas Economic Development Connection communities. What follows are snapshots of some of the schools and the communities they serve.
In the first round of TRUST awards, Blinn College received a $50,000 grant. The college, which maintains presences in the cities of Schulenberg and Sealy in addition to its main campus in Brenham in Washington County, provides $370.1 million annual benefit for local economies according to a 2020 analysis by EMSI.
Boerne and Cibolo, in Kendall County, are served by Alamo Colleges, which received a $500,000 TRUE grant from the state in 2022.
Photo by Pierce Ingram courtesy of Travel Texas
Among the programs at Blinn is a Mechatronics Program based in the school’s new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Innovation Building. Students in the program can either build credentials for transfer to other schools or directly enter the workforce. Such is the case with one student recently profiled by the college, David Garcia, who found a job at Brenham-based electronic parts supplier BENCOR, LLC, after a freshman-year career fair. “It’s really cool because we have this project that we’re working on at work,” he said, “and in my robotics class we’re talking about step motors and programming, and what I’m learning in class is literally what I’m applying at work.”
Kilgore College received a $102,000 TRUE award in 2021. The college in recent months has hosted streaming media and coding camps for middle school and high school students. It’s also reactivated its Surgical Technology Associate of Applied Science degree at its KC-Longview campus in partnership with Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center. That spirit of partnership is also present in a new agreement with The University of Texas at Tyler whereby students can dual enroll at KC and UT Tyler with the assurance of a seamless transition of credits from one institution to the other. The partnership also includes $10 million from Texas Capital Construction Assistance Projects funding that UT Tyler will deploy at the Longview University Center (LUC).
Partnering with employers is front and center for KC too. The biggest news may be the May 2022 groundbreaking for the Roy H. Laird Regional Medical Health Sciences Education Center in Kilgore being developed by CHRISTUS Good Shepherd, the Roy H. Laird Memorial Hospital Foundation, the city and Kilgore College.
“This expanded facility will establish a graduate ‘pipeline’ to help address the nationwide, ongoing challenge of finding and recruiting qualified health science professionals,” said Jim Gaton, vice president — operations, CHRISTUS Good Shepherd Health System.
Trinity Valley Community College
Trinity Valley received a $500,000 TRUE grant in 2021. In May 2022 the school announced that it was using the funds to support a 22-week Electrical Lineworker Certificate program now offered at the Palestine and Terrell campuses. “TVCC, along with Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative, industry partners, and numerous independent school districts, form a strong partnership offering this exceptional workforce training opportunity that would eventually be expanded across the East Texas Workforce Development region,” said TVCC Associate Vice President of Workforce Education Kelley Townsend. The new program will be an expansion of TVCC’s established Electrical Power and Transmission program.
TVCC has a strong cohort 18 years of age or younger, indicating a robust dual enrollment program that now comprises nearly half the school’s enrollment. The TVCC Dual Credit department currently works with 32 public and private schools and serves approximately 2,500 students.
Grayson in the TRUE program’s first year was part of a consortium with Weatherford College and Vernon College that received one of the program’s highest awards at $2 million. That was followed by a $1.06 million grant in 2022 to another consortium with Vernon College and Paris Junior College. Grayson and Weatherford also were awarded $749,850 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for the Accelerating Credentials of Purpose and Value Grant Program, supporting the development or expansion of short-term (12-month or less), industry-recognized postsecondary credentials that incorporate skills and knowledge required by high-demand careers. Among the programs being funded are scholarships in such fields as nurse aide, pharmacy technician and medical billing and coding.
In December 2021, Grayson announced the launch of the Texoma Promise Program to advance economic mobility for North Texas student by increasing access to tuition-free college education and opportunities for the Texoma area. Grayson’s Center for Workplace Learning also spearheaded a Texas Skills Development Fund grant application for the Fannin County Manufacturers’ Consortium valued at an estimated $650,000 (the largest workforce training grant ever awarded in the county) that will help defray the cost of enhanced skills training across the region’s workforce training resources funded by the State of Texas and managed by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).
Laredo College received a TRUE grant for $253,499 in 2021. Among the school’s accolades are being named the No. 1 community college in Texas by BestColleges.com and the community college with least student debt by Community College Review; and having the No. 1 associate degree in nursing program in Texas according to RNcareers.org.
The college and the City of Laredo in October 2022 announced that a new Fire Science Program will be debuting in spring 2023. In 2021 the college inaugurated the new College of Health Sciences Building at its South Campus, one of two campuses the school maintains in Laredo.
The communities of the Texas Economic Development Connection are spread far and wide across the state. Visit texasedconnection.com.
Among the unique offerings on campus is the Laredo College Economic Development Center, originally called the International Trade Institute of the Americas when it was funded by a special state legislative appropriation in 1994. “Ongoing projects through LC EDC include Texas Workforce Commission programs such as Skills Development Fund Grants, Skills for Small Business Grants and TWC Special COVID-19 funding,” says the college. “In addition, the LC EDC provides Six Sigma Greenbelt Certification, Customs Specialist and Export Specialist Certifications in partnership with the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America,” among other ongoing projects.
Southwest Texas Junior College
With its main campus in Uvalde, Southwest Texas Junior College also maintains campuses in the border cities of Del Rio and Eagle Pass and instructional facilities in Crystal City, Pearsall, and Hondo, while providing online instruction and distance education links to 22 school districts. It serves 11 counties across the largest swath of land served by any Texas community college. The school received a $250,000 TRUE grant in 2021.
In August 2022, the school received a Jobs & Education for Texans (JET) grant worth $296,000 that will go toward the purchase and installation of equipment to prepare students for careers in diesel engine repair. That came just a few months after Union Pacific donated $380,000 to launch the La Frontera Diesel Program Expansion Project, which will grow the number of students participating in the Diesel Technology Program at the college’s campus Campus in Eagle Pass. The railroad also plans to recruit SWTJC graduates for various trade careers. “These efforts will extend to various technical trade programs in the applied sciences and workforce education departments such as professional truck driving, powerline technician, welding technology and automotive technology,” said SWTJC Dean of Applied Sciences Johnny Guzman.
In the two years of the TRUE grant program Galveston College has earned two awards totaling more than $844,000. The school serves credit enrollment of more than 2,500 students per semester and non-credit enrollment of around 8,000 annually.
The college in August 2022 announced a $5 million leadership grant from the Moody Foundation toward the College’s Building Tomorrow capital campaign. The gift will support a new three-story, $31 million Health Sciences Education Center, which broke ground in June 2022 and is projected to be complete in the fall of 2023.
A new front-line supervisor and management program from East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas, will be located in Synergy Park, a once-abandoned bank building in the heart of downtown Marshall that ETBU and Marshall Economic Development Corp. were able to acquire and refurbish.
In an episode of the podcast series “Gone To Texas” hosted by Texas Economic Development Connection Co-founder “Super” Dave Quinn, ETBU President Dr. Jay Blair Blackburn said of the new center, “The name defines its purpose. It’s a synergistic initiative ... we’ve always been a part of Marshall, part of the fabric of this city.”
“ETBU will manage and own the center to train these supervisors along with mental health counseling, speech pathology and soft skills training,” says Rush Harris, executive director, Marshall EDC. “The building will also house an assortment of businesses with a focus on workforce development and building skills capacity for our future leaders. It’s a new beginning for Marshall, and a time and place where the goal is to make our actions speak louder than our words. More to come.”