AudioGardella:  When you think about workforce development, you think of Karla De La Riva

GBIC’s new CEO, Bret Gardella, says Rally in the Valley 2.0 would not have been possible without the hard work of his colleague, Karla De La Riva.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Bret Gardella, the new executive director and CEO of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, was fulsome in his praise of his colleague, Karla De La Riva, for organizing the 2023 Rally in the Valley Conference.

The networking event, held at the Brownsville Events Center, connected high school students from Brownsville ISD with prominent industry partners offering student internship opportunities. The Texas Workforce Commission participated, including Aaron Emerson, the commissioner representing employers on the TWC board.

“I’m really grateful for Karla, who has put this together and I’m going to ask you all to not just give her a round of applause but I want to see a standing ovation for Karla De La Riva for putting this together for you guys,” Garella told the packed ballroom. The students obliged. They stood up and gave De La Riva a huge round of applause.

Gardella continued: “I’m going be very sincere when I tell you, when you think about workforce development you’re going to think about Karla De La Riva as you move forward. Not just here in Brownsville but in the state of Texas. She is an amazing woman.”

Aiming his remarks at the students, Gardella said: “If you’re thinking about a career, and if you need a mentor, you call our office you ask for her. And she will take the time to have that conversation with you and do everything she can to help you. And what she can’t help you with, she will engage you with one of our local employers who can.”

Gardella added: “So that is a pledge for me to you, and I hope you take advantage of it.”

Bret Gardella

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service at the conclusion of the conference, Gardella again wanted to single out De La Riva for praise. As this was his first Rally in the Valley, the Guardian asked Gardella if he was impressed with the program.

“Very impressed,” he responded. “And I want to say this with all the respect in the world, I’m more impressed with Karla De La Riva for putting this together. Her vision for what these students can achieve in their future is probably even greater than what these students are seeing for themselves right now. And the importance of me realizing that and the importance of Karla realizing that… to bring these employers together, to showcase what the future can be for these students, is having that vision that they don’t have yet. But, they’re going to have.”

Gardella said the students were being introduced to Next Gen businesses.

“It’s no disrespect to our school systems. But they’re just not seeing it yet. You’ve been here most of the day. You’ve seen what Next Decade is putting on, what the LNG sectors are bringing in, the types of engineering jobs they need, the types of PhD jobs that they need.”

Gardella was also impressed with the remarks Mark Hodgson made on a panel titled: “Bridging the Workforce Gap Between Industry and Education. Hodgson is regional general manager of SA Recycling. The company recycles ships at the Port of Brownsville.

“I’ll even bring it back down to the last panel, (with what) we just discussed with our recycling folks. Being able to take a ship apart down to the minute pieces and having the commodities that they develop, the nickel, the gold, the silver, that comes out of recycling of a ship that they then take to an open market and sell. That’s fascinating. Commodities are typically sold in Chicago or New York. These are literal items that are sold right here in Brownsville and people don’t realize that. Our students don’t realize. It’s not just the recycling you put on your curb. These are fascinating Next Gen opportunities that our students need to be taught. And Karla has put it in front of them.”

Gardella said he has seen and been involved in jobs fairs before, but nothing as advanced as Rally in the Valley. The difference, he said, was the internship component. 

“When you can think about how you can get an internship at a company that you may have thought to be out of reach or you may not have even thought about because you haven’t been introduced to that industry. That’s what’s more fascinating about this type of an event.”

Gardella thanked the Texas Workforce Commission for being part of the program, especially Commissioner Demerson.

“Commissioner DeMars is just a fantastic man. He has been a supporter of GBIC for years. And I know he’s a absolute supporter of Karla’s. And so for her to be able to get him on the phone and ask him to come down here and have him be a speaker is tremendous.”

The Guardian also interviewed De La Riva. Her title at GBIC is associate director of business retention and expansion.

“Rally in the Valley 2.0 was a great opportunity for students to get connected with industry partners,” De La Riva said. “Definitely we’re very proud and excited to host this event for a second year in a row. And that we have claimed this event as ours and we will be hosting it every year. Every year is it is going to get bigger and better. Because we just want to make sure that we are able to offer these opportunities to our kids and our industry partners.”

De La Riva said she wanted to thank Gardella for supporting Rally in the Valley “and for being so supportive not only of the GBIC staff but all the initiatives and commitments. He has great experience, not only in workforce but also economic development. So we’re very lucky to have him as the head of GBIC.”

She also thanked Texas Workforce Commission and industry partners like NextDecade, Bechtel, Creative Liquid Coatings, and SA Recycling for participating at the conference.

“We look forward to continuing to host this event and just working together with the community. We are a team of institutions, Workforce Solutions-Cameron, UTRGV, TSC, the ACE program… we work very closely to provide opportunities for our citizens, for our students. Because we are one. We are Brownsville.”

Editor’s Note: The podcast below features some of the remarks of Bret Gardella at Rally in the Valley, plus an interview with Gardella and Karla De La Riva.

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