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Dr. Art Cavazos

McALLEN, RGV – Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund A. Paredes has asked a Rio Grande Valley businessman to put his ideas for a statewide initiative to improve workforce training in writing.

Paredes was one of three state agency chiefs to participate in a workforce, education and employer roundtable discussion held at South Texas College’s technology campus in McAllen.

McAllen Economic Development Corporation President Keith Patridge moderated the event, during which Paredes, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and Texas Workforce Commission Chair Andres Alcantar listened to ideas from employers, educators and community stakeholders.

Robert Lozano
Robert Lozano

After the forum ended Paredes told the Rio Grande Guardian that he particularly liked an idea from Dairy Queen franchise owner Robert Lozano.

“I am excited about the enthusiasm in the Rio Grande Valley over integrating education and work force development more effectively. I was impressed with some of the ideas, for example, Robert Lozano’s idea about making students more conscious about what it is like to work and hold on to your job. We are going to ask him to put his ideas into writing and we will follow up on them,” Paredes said.

Asked about the level of cooperation between the worlds of education and business in the Valley, Paredes said: “The energy is extraordinary down here and it is very clear we have reached a point in the history of the Rio Grande Valley where people have a real sense of the promise and potential down here.”

Dairy Queen, often abbreviated DQ, is a chain of soft serve ice cream and fast food restaurants owned by International Dairy Queen, Inc., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. Lozano and his family has the franchise for 41 Dairy Queen restaurants in the Valley. A 42nd, in Brownsville, is set to open soon. In an interview after the forum, Lozano explained how his company helps develop the skills of his workers.

Raymund A. Paredes
Raymund A. Paredes

“We definitely want to pay as much as we can but we recognize that our industry as a whole has a lot of entry-level people that are paid close to the minimum wage. We have tried to instill in our people a concept whereby we are paying with life currency, something more than they take home in a pay check,” Lozano said.

“That life currency is things we can give our team, give our staff, a lot of them entry level, first timers that come into the workforce. We can teach them things that the places they are hoping to get to go to tomorrow… we only want to be stepping stones, those basic things. We call it pride, personal responsibility in delivering excellence. That encompasses many things. It encompasses personal hygiene, showing up to work on time, how to treat a customer. All of those things that are important in the workforce in any job and hopefully better jobs.”

Lozano was asked to explain how statewide initiative might work.

“How can we incentivize all the concerned parties to get that better education, to take that life currency and to move up in our communities into better paying jobs? The concept I was floating here was this idea where we could, at a state level come up with a program whereby we incentivize the team member, the employee to put a little bit away for their education, the employer is going to do something on behalf of this effort, and then the public are investing by giving employers like ourselves that are willing to sign up to a certain curriculum, to teach these kinds of things, and get some kind of incentive to do that, a credit of some kind. A true partnership for the benefit of all.”

Asked where the idea came from, Lozano said: “I have lived it. We started with one Dairy Queen and now have nearly 1,000 team members. I have watched the struggles they go through. We are doing something internally by ourselves to help but how can we do something at a state level, across our community that is a partnership for all.”

Lozano added: “We are opening up our 42nd in Brownsville in a few weeks. The Rio Grande Valley has been incredibly good to us. Working with the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the McAllen EDC, is one small way we can give back to our community.” Lozano is currently chairman of the board of McAllen EDC.

Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the leaders of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Education Agency, and Texas Workforce Commission to hold forums around the state to come with new ideas on how to better integrate education with the needs of business and industry. For the panel in McAllen, all three TWC commissioners were present. In addition to Alcantar, the other two are Ruth Hughs, who represents industry, and Julian Alvarez, who represents labor. It was Alvarez’s first official visit to the Valley since he resigned as president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. On his trip Alvarez visited Mission Economic Development Corporation’s soon-to-open Center of Education and Economic Development.

South Texas College President Shirley Reed gave opening remarks. Salvador Contreras, associate professor of economics at UT-Rio Grande Valley, gave a power point presentation on the state of the local economy. Mike Willis, executive director of South Texas Manufacturers Association, gave a power point presentation on the state of the local jobs market.

Five Topics Discussed

Five different topics were discussed at the forum. The five were:

1)    Are the tools and data being used to determine specific workforce needs and required job skills in the Region adequate? How are employers communicating their workforce and skill needs to the education, training partners, students and community?

2)    What innovative workforce development models are being used in the Region that have resulted in a measurable increase in post-secondary education success or an increase in job ready candidates? How can we build on these models to insure students have the marketable skills needed in the Region?

3)    How is the Region supporting efforts to make college more accessible and affordable for students?

4)    How has the Region identified and addressed the needs of veterans entering or reentering the Regional workforce? How can we improve?

5)    How effective are the web-based education and career awareness systems used in the Region in linking students, parents and educators to the broad array of high demand jobs in Texas? How effective are they in guiding students to the appropriate courses necessary to secure those jobs?

Among those to give opinions and offer suggestions were Starr-Camargo Bridge Company President Sam Vale, Sara Van Wyk, a sales executive with Manpower Temporary Services, Stella Garcia, provost of Texas State Technical College-Harlingen, Harlingen CISD Superintendent Art Cavazos, PSJA ISD Superintendent Daniel P. King, South Texas College board trustee Paul Rodriguez, Olga Gabriel, director of the School of Public Health Texas A&M Health Science Center in McAllen, Dr. Stephanie A. Sokolosky, owner of S&S Behavioral Consultants, Mission Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Alex Meade, Region 1 Education Service Center Executive Director Cornelio Gonzalez, Dr. R. Armour Forse, chief academic officer of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, and Rodney Rodriguez, director of the economic development center at Laredo Community College.

There was concern among some of the organizers that too many of those offering an opinion were from the world of education and not enough from the world of business. Patridge, president of McAllen EDC said afterwards that business owners may have preferred a smaller gathering. There were over 140 people in attendance, more than organizers expected, including plant managers from maquilas in Reynosa. Overall, however, Patridge was pleased with how the forum went.

“What I was most impressed with was that we had three commissioners here and the entire Texas Workforce Commission. As we talk to our companies and work with our school district, that is what everyone is looking at, bringing workforce, skills training, schools, academic training, and higher education, bringing all of these sectors together to try to work out a plan where they all contribute. The ultimate goal is to provide a skilled workforce,” Patridge said.