|EDINBURG, November 24 - What happens if UT spends a lot of money developing a top notch new university in South Texas that delivers on its goal of producing tens of thousands of well-educated students… but then those graduates cannot get good jobs and end up leaving the region to make a career elsewhere?
This is a big issue for Keith Patridge, president and CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, and he made public his concerns at the 3rd Annual Border Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Symposium hosted by the UTPA/Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas last Friday.
At the symposium, which was held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Patridge explained what the bottleneck often is when MEDC tries to lure big companies to the Rio Grande Valley. He said a company will like the area, like the cost structure and like the skill set of the local workforce. What is missing, he said, are five or six key professionals. For example, a senior vice president for engineering with eight to ten years of work experience.
“It is not unusual for us to see a company that is going to bring 500 jobs down. The whole issue revolves around their ability to fill five positions. In a big city, like Dallas, or Austin, or Houston, they know they can steal workers with those skill sets. Here, they cannot do that. They say, ‘if I cannot fill those positions I would rather not take the risk’ and we lose them,” Patridge said. “We lose every time if we cannot prove to the companies that they can not only fill the jobs today, but also fill those jobs five years from now.”
Patridge said the Valley needs to start developing a database of the thousands of graduates that have left the Valley but who might want to come back to be with their families. “We have been providing skills sets that have been leaving the Valley for a number of years because there have not been jobs here. If I had access to those résumés from people that are from the Valley that would like to come back for a job opportunity, then when the companies want to come here I can pull out 15 résumés of workers originally from the Valley, that have family here, that might to want to come back.”
Patridge said McAllen EDC has created a website to house those résumés. It is called SouthTexasJobZone.com. “We have to get it out to the people from the Valley that would like to come back,” he said.
Interviewed later, Patridge told the Guardian: “The new university has to become a partner with the community to make sure we bring the jobs into South Texas at the same time the university is educating the students. Otherwise they are not helping the community at all. They are helping the students because they are going to get a good job someplace else.
“If they (UT) really want to help the Valley they have to figure out how to take this university and help it become a partner to the communities in the Valley to create the jobs here that will allow the graduates to stay in the Valley, if they so choose.”
Patridge added: “We have got to be able to access those students we have been shipping away forever. We have to have access to those that might want to come back. We need to offer them a career opportunity. We need for these workers to be able to post their résumé and hit a button and it is confidential, with the only thing that shows up being their skills set, not their names and address. Then, more companies will start posting jobs on the website.”