McALLEN, RGV – At their board meeting on Wednesday evening, the directors of Workforce Solutions selected Francisco “Frank” Almaraz as the group’s chief executive officer.

Almaraz, aged 59, was born and raised in McAllen. He is a certified public accountant who has been serving as interim CEO at Workforce Solutions since last November. He has also served as deputy director and chief financial officer for the group.

“I am honored by this opportunity and excited to lead such a vibrant and ambitious organization with a clear and focused mission – to provide job seekers with the skills, and business the talent, they need to be successful,” Almaraz told the Guardian.

“I am also looking forward to continuing to work with our community partners, and elected officials, to maximize resources for our customers, enhance their skills set, and prepare them to compete in a global economy.”

Workforce Solutions covers Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties. It has 29 employees and an annual budget of about $42 million a year, with about 99 percent of that budget coming from the federal government. It is one of 28 such workforce boards in Texas and regularly wins statewide awards for its efficiency and effectiveness. Its administration costs are roughly six to eight percent of the budget, compared to the statewide average of ten to 12 percent.

Of the $42 million budget, about 85 percent goes to one, single, contractor, C2 Global Professional Services. This is because Workforce Solutions cannot provide direct services to customers. The five satellite centers the group has, in Edinburg, Mission, Weslaco, Rio Grande City, and Raymondville, are run by C2, which employs about 150 workers at those centers. “C2 does an excellent job,” Almaraz said.

Workforce Solutions has 25 directors on its board. They are appointed by the county judges of Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties and by the largest city in the service area, McAllen. All the directors have to be confirmed by the Governor of Texas. While the board comprises a number of officials from the non-profit, education and literacy arenas, 51 percent must be from the world of business. They meet once every two months.

Asked to define Workforce Solutions’ mission, Almaraz told the Guardian: “We help businesses find the talent they need to be successful, that is our main goal, and we also help job seekers find employment. And, if they need training we provide them with training and support services so they get the skills they need to find a good paying job.”

Almaraz said about 50 percent of Workforce Solution’s budget is related to child care. “Child care can be provided while our customers are training or, if they are low-income or disabled, to help them keep their jobs. We help offset the cost of child care. If the person can prove that the cost of child care is an obstacle that keeps them from working, we can offset the cost,” he said.

Traditionally, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties have higher than average unemployment levels. That is still the case today but Almaraz says those figures do not tell the full story.

“We are still not where we need to be but the unemployment rate is trending downward. Forbes, Magazine has recognized this region as one that is growing fast and we are bringing businesses into the Rio Grande Valley. SpaceX is a good example of that. We also have the I-69 interstate designation, Eagle Ford to the north and Mexico’s version of Eagle Ford Shale to the south. There are a lot of opportunities here,” Almaraz said.

Recently, Workforce Solutions partnered with Halliburton to put on a job fair in Mission for Rio Grande Valley workers who are looking for employment in the Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas play. Such jobs can pay $50,000 to $70,000 a year. Workforce Solutions will be doing a similar job fair with Lewis Energy in Weslaco on September 11. Again, the jobs pay well, some of them in the range of $18 to $21 per hour. “We want to capitalize on those opportunities and provide the skilled workers for that industry,” Almaraz said. Asked if the Valley could provide workers for oil and gas exploration and extraction in the Burgos Basin of northern Mexico, Almaraz said: “It is something we need to explore.”

One upcoming event Almaraz is excited to be involved in is a roundtable discussion that will focus on landmark education legislation passed at the state level, otherwise known as House Bill 5, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which has been crafted at the federal level. The roundtable is being coordinated by Workforce Solutions and U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. State Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, has confirmed his participation. The event will take place on September 23, probably at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

Hinojosa said WIOA aims to modernize and improve existing federal workforce development programs, help workers attain skills for 21st century jobs, and foster a modern workforce that evolving American businesses rely on to compete.

“We as a nation must be inclusive in our workforce, and this bill provides better services to workers young and old, those with disabilities, and those populations that have significant barriers to employment. It also addresses the need to improve services for English language learners that will ease their participation into our nation’s workforce,” Hinojosa said.

“Having a well-trained workforce strengthens the economy and improves the quality of life for residents of South Texas and across the country. I am pleased to see the progress we are making in the Senate and in the House and look forward to having this bill signed into law.”

Almaraz said the Sept. 23 roundtable would likely be of great interest to public and higher education leaders, economic development corporations and chambers of commerce.

Before joining Workforce Solutions in 2007, Almaraz was deputy director and chief financial officer of Workforce Solutions Capital Area in Austin. He worked there from 1998 to 2006. He has also worked for the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. He studied at what was then Pan American University in Edinburg. “I majored in accounting and my background is in auditing and investigations,” he told the Guardian.

Almaraz’s wife Marisa was at the Workforce Solutions board meeting on Wednesday evening to watch his selection as CEO of the group. Board Chair Dalinda Guillen offered this comment on Almaraz’s selection: “We chose Frank because of his extensive knowledge and deep technical expertise on the issues that affect the organization and the populations it serves, as well as the organizational and leadership skills required to lead a growing and innovative organization. Frank shares our commitment and passion to foster a dynamic regional workforce and improve the community’s quality of life.”

In his interview with the Guardian, Almaraz pointed out that funding for workforce development from the federal government has been declining in recent years. Asked how he and his group overcome this, he said: “There is a lot of work to do. We will be working with our partners, and we have a lot of those, to leverage resources in order to do a better job of providing services to our customers.”