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Workforce efforts need coordination to attract manufacturing

January 22, 2018 GMT

Any discussion on how to attract advanced manufacturing to Brownsville inevitably leads to the workforce conundrum.

Companies that manufacture products using expensive, complex machinery require an adequate number of employees with sufficient education and skills that they can be trained to monitor, maintain and repair such equipment. The problem is, Brownsville, CameronCounty and the Rio GrandeValley in general don’t have nearly enough of those people.

It’s a persistent issue and difficult to solve, as economic development officials know all too well. Many serious conversations have taken place about how to fix it, usually focused on somehow tailoring high school and college curriculum to meet manufacturers’ needs.

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Gil Salinas, interim executive director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp., said workforce is the “common denominator” in economic development these days.

“It used to be where it was about, ‘How much money can you put on the table?’ and is ‘Real estate available?’ Now it’s all about, ‘Do you have the people and the skillset that we need to be successful, otherwise we won’t touch you with a 10-foot pole,’” he said.

In an interview last month with Mark Kroll about his pending retirement as dean of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship and return to teaching, Kroll was asked whether any progress has been made on the workforce front.

“My answer’s almost a cliché, but you really need a coordinated master plan,” he said. “Everybody’s got their little piece of the pie.”

Local school districts, community colleges and vocational-technical schools, the university, the county and the state are all attacking the problem, though not in a coordinated fashion, Kroll said.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

A more complete version of this story is available on www.myBrownsvilleHerald.com