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McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Texas Workforce Commission Commissioner Julian Alvarez, and McAllen Economic Development Corporation Vice President Janie Cavazos.

MCALLEN, RGV – Dr. Shirley A. Reed says that when she first arrived in the Rio Grande Valley to become founding president of South Texas College she remembers being told how big a job she was taking on.

“When I first came down, 23 years ago, I met Keith Patridge and Mike Allen from McAllen Economic Development Corporation. They said the entire future of this region is going to rest on South Texas College. It is going to rest on the institution preparing a competitive workforce, so we can attract and retain manufacturing companies in this region,” Reed said, speaking at a Texas Workforce Commission check presentation held at STC.

Dr. Shirley Reed
Dr. Shirley Reed

Reed then gave her analysis on how things have gone: “Keith, I think we have lived up to your expectations.”

Patridge, president of MEDC, was in the audience for the TWC check presentation. His predecessor as head of MEDC, Mike Allen, passed away a few years back. Patridge has made clear his thoughts on STC. At another check presentation, when STC was awarded $800,000 from Educate Texas for a regional STEM degree accelerator initiative back in February, Patridge had nothing but praise for STC, saying Reed had assembled “a world class team.”

The TWC event was held to announce a $391,350 Skills Development Fund grant for STC to train new and existing workers at Lineage Logistics and Wonderful Citrus Packing.

Julian Alvarez, the commissioner representing labor at TWC, said the grant will be used to provide customized training to 288 new and incumbent workers for industry-related topics with focused instruction on diesel maintenance, electrical troubleshooting, basic industrial electricity and basic programmable logic controllers. Trainees will include forklift operators, customer service representatives and warehouse supervisors. Upon completion of training, Alvarez said, the workers will receive an average wage of $12.73.

Julian Alvarez
Julian Alvarez

“The partnership between South Texas College, Lineage Logistics and Wonderful Citrus Packing on this Skills Development Fund grant will benefit both the local community and its workforce,” Alvarez said. “Our labor force is among the most talented and skilled in the world and we continue to seek and implement strategies to improve the skills of Texas workers.”

Alvarez is a former president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the Valley’s regional chamber of commerce. Alex Meade, executive director of Mission Economic Development Corporation, said that while he would see a lot of Alvarez when he was at RGVP, he is more pleased to see him now because when he does, he is usually bringing a TWC check. “Now that he comes with money, we want to see him more often,” Meade joked. Meade echoed the comments of Dr. Reed, and Carlos Margo, associate dean of industry training and economic development at STC, that the Valley is securing the skills development funding thanks to strong local partnerships.

Margo was emcee for the event. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Margo said STC has received about 20 grants from TWC over the years.

“This is just the latest grant South Texas College has received from the Texas Workforce Commission. This grant is specifically to train individuals who are in the manufacturing and manufacturing-related industry. These are for two produce-related companies that have received thousands of hours of training at no cost to them as employers. That is the commitment of the state. The grant comes through South Texas College. We develop the training programs and deliver the programs,” Margo said.

Margo said Skills Development Fund grants are a win-win.

“Everybody wins. The community wins because we have additional trained employees that can now earn increased wages. The company wins because it has increased its efficiencies and productivity. That does a lot for the community. And STC wins because it can build capacity with these funds for the purchase of new equipment, developing new curriculum, and new customized programs.”

Margo stressed that STC was able to secure the grant due to the partnerships it has forged. “STC cannot do this alone. We have partnered with other community colleges, such as TSTC in Harlingen and Laredo Community College. We have partnered with economic development corporations, and our industry partners. Industry partners are key. Without them we would not be here.”

In his remarks at the event, Margo gave a shout out to some of those in the audience, including Letty Flores, representing Governor Abbott’s Office, Mike Willis, representing South Texas Manufacturers Association. He also praised the work of EDC chiefs such as Patridge and Meade.

Representatives from Wonderful Citrus, which was formerly known as Paramount Citrus, and Lineage Logistics spoke at the event. David Davila, regional human resources business partner for Lineage, praised his company’s logistics human resources manager, Terry Vega, for forging close ties with STC.

In his remarks, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling joked that his two favorite entities are STC and the state agency that gives a check to STC. He also thanked Alvarez for not forgetting the Valley once he moved to Austin. Like Dr. Reed, Darling said Alvarez was a “great advocate” for the Valley in Austin.

Darling also pointed out how technology can disrupt a community. He said he grew up in Rochester, New York, and worked on the loading dock for a carbon paper manufacturer. He said he remembered telling his boss how the company was jeopardized by the advent of the Xerox machine. Xerox was also based in Rochester. Darling said he remembers the days when Kodak had 60,000 workers in Rochester. He said that when he went back there three years ago, he learned that, due to technology, the company now employs only 4,000 workers. He praised MEDC and STC for focusing on advanced manufacturing, something he witnessed on a recent trip to Japan.

In a news release, TWC pointed out that the Skills Development Fund grant program is celebrating 20 years of success as the state’s premier training program in 2015-16. “The fund was initiated by the Legislature in September of 1995 and first began awarding contracts in 1996. During that time the Skills Development Fund grants have created or upgraded more than 329,333 jobs throughout Texas. The grants have assisted 4,141 employers with their customized training needs. The Legislature allocated $48.5 million to the Skills Development Fund for the 2016-17 biennium,” the news release stated.

Editor’s Note: Videojournalist Apolonio Sandoval contributed to this story from McAllen and provided the photos used in the slideshow.