BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Assuming his children listen to him, how would Alex Meade plot their education path?
This was a question state Rep. Rafael Anchia posed to the president and CEO of Mission
Economic Development Corporation at a joint Texas House hearing that focused on manufacturing and international trade.
Without hesitation, Meade responded: Computer Sciences.
“By 2020 we are expected to have 1.4 million jobs in computer science in the country, but we are only producing 400,000 graduates that have that type of training. In the State of Texas, I think we have about 40,000 jobs available today. When I say computer science, I mean computers and technology. A skill like computer science can take someone from a low-income community to a middle- to high-income salary,” Meade said.
Anchia, a Democrat from Dallas who chairs the House Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs, followed up by saying: “We cannot fill that gap in human capital by importing it from other countries. We have to produce it here.”
Meade agreed. “When companies come down here (to the Rio Grande Valley) they look at this labor that we have. We work well with our hands. So can the rest of the state. But, I think it is time we showed the rest of the country that we can also work well with our brains. Something like computer science teaches you skills that can transcend to any industry.”
Meade testified at the joint House hearing, which was held at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville. In addition to Anchia’s panel, the hearing comprised members of the House Committee on Business & Industry, chaired by state Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville.
Meade started his testimony by telling a story about how he was spurred into action by the president of a plastics injection molding firm that was looking at opening a plant in Mission. The firm was also looking at moving to Alabama. Meade said the three things the firm was looking at when weighing its decision were whether Mission had good infrastructure, the quality of the local workforce and what incentives were available. Meade said Mission won out.
“They invested about $50 million. It was a plastics injection molding company and they built a 360,000 square-foot plant. The plan to hire 400 people, and have hired 200 so far. The president of the company said, the incentives are great but what are you going to do about the bench?
“What he meant by that was, what are you doing about the workforce. Well, at first we thought we would set up a meeting with the local college, the university, the school districts. He said, you are not listening to my question. What are YOU as an economic development entity going to do about my bench. At the time we were not doing much.”
The conversation spurred Meade into action. Since then, Mission EDC has started a nationally recognized program, called Code the Town, to help students learn computer coding.
In his testimony, Meade made a recommendation to the two House committees that computer science be made a core course in Texas high schools.
“We need a technical workforce. Under House Bill 5 we can allow students to take computer science that teaches you critical thinking. But, it only counts as an elective. Or you can take it as an AP class. We should allow students to take a computer science course as a third math or a third science. A lot of the needs in manufacturing are related to computer science,” Meade testified.
“We are not saying we want to create a density of computer scientists but the skills that you learn in a computer science class teaches you skills that can transcend to any other industry. If we can allow students, a junior or a senior, to take a computer science class to count as his or her third math or third science as a core credit, then we are going to be producing more kids graduating from high school with skills that are needed by manufacturers and other industries.”
Meade underlined his key point with this message to the legislators: “Workforce development is something we really do need to push more and something like computer science or technical training is very important.”