The top question on any site selector’s mind when they’re researching a location — other than infrastructure and utilities — is workforce,” explained Pat Hobbs, Executive Director of Workforce Solutions Cameron. It’s a question he’s more than happy to answer.
“We’ve got a workforce of about 175,000 here in Cameron County, only,” said Hobbs. “In the whole four-county Rio Grande Valley region along the border, the workforce is about 1.2 million. So, we’ve got a large, young workforce — unlike some other areas of the country that are aging out.”
Building the region’s talent pipeline and getting a head-start is key to the county’s continued forward momentum — particularly in the region’s largest industries, including advanced manufacturing, health care and aerospace. Staying on top of tomorrow’s talent needs means working collaboratively as a community and being nimble enough to create new opportunities when the need arises, said Hobbs.
“We have a lot of things popping up around here, plus the normal growth, and we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve,” said Hobbs. “We’ve got a lot of students in different programs, and we’re trying to build the pathways early on — in the middle school ages. We want students to know what kinds of industries are here locally and get them interested in certain pathways. We work closely with the high schools, the Career and Technical Education programs and the community college in Brownsville and the technical college in Harlingen to provide the programs training to our people and to satisfy the available jobs.”
Texas’ Southmost College Meets
Workforce Needs Head-On
The oldest higher education institution in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas Southmost College (TSC), is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year. As the first accredited community college in the state, TSC prides itself on its legacy of ensuring students have access to affordable education in their own hometown. That’s why the TSC Board of Trustees has lowered tuition fees twice since 2013, making the college the most affordable institution of higher education in the Rio Grande Valley.
TSC works with local employers to develop traditional high-demand programs in welding, plumbing, pipefitting and electrical. But the college is also developing training programs at the forefront of new technologies, including orbital tube welding, vertiport drone maintenance, cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, as well as innovative programs like Forensic Macro Photography and Industrial Insulation — the only programs of their kind in the nation.
“As the destination for regional workforce training, TSC collaborates with industry to develop customized workforce programs,” Angela McCauley, Director of Special Instructions for TSC, said, pointing to several recent examples of successful partnerships.
With Brownsville quickly becoming an aerospace industry hub, this fall Paragon VTOL Aerospace announced TSC as its training partner to make Brownsville a leader in vertical launch technology.
Also, capitalizing on Brownsville’s designation as a port city, TSC collaborated with SteelCoast, LLC to provide training to expand their naval ship reclamation, remediation and recycling business to 300 jobs, taking advantage of TSC’s new state-of-the-art welding center and American Welding Society testing site. In addition, the college’s partnership with BrandSafeway to develop a one-of-a-kind industrial insulating program and a scaffolding program have led to 100% job placement for each graduating class.
TSC also has vast experience meeting the needs of local industry clusters. For example, TSC worked with the South Texas Manufacturers Association to develop programs and degrees to meet their needs for forklift drivers and Industrial Mechanics and Maintenance technicians. The college also works with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to produce training in emergency management, incident command, and emergency preparedness.”
Fair Winds at Texas State Technical College
Texas State Technical College’s (TSTC) campus in Harlingen is one of the system’s largest campuses. The college provides customized training programs in partnership with local employers to keep the region’s talent pipeline flowing. Popular areas of study include medical, information technology, manufacturing and wind energy.
As the wind energy industry continues to expand across the region, TSTC offers unique programs to meet the high-tech needs of its workforce. Students can earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in Wind Energy Technology and a Wind Energy Technician certificate from TSTC.
From College to High School, UTRGV Has Cameron County Covered
Consistently ranking among leading universities for the best value and best student outcomes, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s reputation belies its age. Founded in 2013 by state legislators, the university has several campuses across the Rio Grande Valley, including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City and South Padre Island. The comprehensive academic institution is also home to a new School of Medicine, which graduated its first class in 2020. UTRGV is also a Carnegie Classified doctoral university.
In November, UTRGV, the City of Harlingen and Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District (HCISD) celebrated the opening of a new specialized dual enrollment school, UTRGV Harlingen Collegiate High.
The new facility, which welcomed students in October 2021, specializes in career tracks for computer science, engineering and teacher preparation. UTRGV-HCH offers bachelor’s degree programs that focus on academic core curriculum requirements, engineering, computer science and education. Students can earn up to 60 hours of college credit by the time they graduate high school.
UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the new facility is a milestone for Valley students. “This is a great facility for Harlingen, and it’s great for the Rio Grande Valley,” Bailey said. “There is nothing like this in the state of Texas or UT System — not to this degree of collaboration. For all of you students, we are fully committed to your success. We want you to graduate, and we want you to stay in the Valley. We couldn’t provide this kind of education without partners like HCISD and the leaders we have here,” he said.
The $14 million facility broke ground in 2019 after the City of Harlingen gifted a 6.3-acre parcel that now houses 64,000 sq.-ft. of state-of-the-art classrooms and teaching labs.
“The new facility is further representation of UTRGV’s institutional commitment to expanding educational opportunities for students throughout the region,” said Michael Aldape, director of Dual Enrollment within the Division of Strategic Enrollment and Student affairs. “The work that these students will engage in under the guidance of our faculty will undoubtedly launch their postsecondary success — what an honor it is for us to be part of their academic and professional journeys.”