There’s a great deal to celebrate in the Rio Grande Valley this holiday season. Our community continues to come together to overcome the pandemic. Our state’s leadership has protected our business-friendly environment. And employers across the region are expanding and providing more high-wage employment opportunities than ever before.

These same employers are making it a priority to secure local talent with the necessary skills and qualifications to complete their responsibilities. 

The Rio Grande Valley Partnership was proud to support increased investment in the K-12 public education system with the passage of House Bill 3 in 2019. That’s also why we are now following, with great interest, the work of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance.

We applaud Speaker of the Texas House of Representative Dade Phelan for appointing Rio Grande Valley native, state Representative Oscar Longoria, District 35, to the Texas Commission on Community College Finance. Rep. Longoria continues to demonstrate his passion to foster an educated workforce; we look forward to working with Rep. Longoria to continue to expand economic and workforce development.

This Commission’s charge is to “make recommendations… for sustaining viable community college education and training offerings throughout the state.” It is our hope those recommendations keep student outcomes, both in credential completion and employment attainment, at the front and center. Industries across the Valley depend upon it.

As one example, the healthcare and biosciences industry that is valued close to $14B generated 43% of all new jobs in the Rio Grande Valley from 2009-2019, and we project they will add over 40,000 more in the new decade. But this industry was already facing a shortage of workers that COVID severely exacerbated. Now the need for certified nurses, assistants and technicians is even greater.

Or take the architecture, engineering and construction sector. This industry is valued at $13B and is projected to add hundreds of jobs in just the next four years at an average salary of over $45,000. But even for well-paying positions requiring only a certification, the labor market is so limited that firms have resorted to poaching from one another– a tactic they recognize is not sustainable as they invest more and more into retraining.

Community colleges offer our best chance at preparing the most students for the jobs of the future, and business leaders understand this. Our organization is hosting business roundtable conversations that bring together educational partners and policymakers to understand the workforce and economic needs, like the one we hosted with U.S. Senator John Cornyn at the Port of Brownsville.

The RGV Partnership applauds the leadership of each of the Valley’s three community colleges (South Texas College, Texas Southmost College, and Texas State Technical College-Harlingen) for participating in these important dialogues and seeking to better align their offerings to local workforce needs. The Texas Commission on Community College Finance should seek to reward and enhance these kinds of collaborations across the private and educational sectors.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that new jobs created in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic are largely in fields where some type of postsecondary credential is required. Further, according to Texas 2036, 80% of good jobs today, meaning those with median earnings of at least $65,000 per year, require a postsecondary credential. By 2036, 71% of all jobs in Texas will require a postsecondary credential.

Recent polling from Texas 2036 shows that almost nine out of ten Texas voters wanted community colleges to focus on offering course programs that match the needs of the local workforce.

The leadership of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership counts itself firmly within that large majority. If you, too, agree with this statement, we encourage you to stay engaged with the Commission’s work. By increasing credential completion and industry alignment, we can ensure more members of our community can build well-staffed businesses and earn family-sustaining wages.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Sergio Contreras, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the Valley’s regional chamber of commerce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Contreras can be reached by email via: [email protected]

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