BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation has won a statewide award for its new education and workforce pipeline initiative.

The “2019 Workforce Excellence Award” will be presented to GBIC leaders by the Texas Economic Development Council at TEDC’s mid-year conference in Rockwall, Texas, on June 13.

Carlton Schwab

“Our TEDC’s Workforce Excellence Award is one of the ways in which our organization honors the outstanding work done by our communities and regions, their leaders, and their economic development professionals in the area of workforce development,” said Carlton Schwab, President/CEO of TEDC.

Schwab said the Workforce Excellence Award program recognizes exceptional contributions by a Texas community or region that has implemented successful workforce initiatives. 

He said the TEDC’s Workforce Development Committee committee reviewed applications from eleven communities and organizations. Nominees were then judged on five criteria: innovativeness, transferability, community commitment and leverage, measured objectives, and secondary benefits.

The full list of 2019 Workforce Excellence Award recipients are:

Population (Les than 15,000): Workforce Solutions Rockdale Office

Population (40,001 to 100,000): Temple Economic Development Corporation

Population (100,001 to 250,000): Greater Brownsville Incentive Corporation

Population (250,001 and Above): Economic Alliance Houston Port Region

Regional Category: Workforce Solutions South Plains

TEDC was organized in 1961 and provides information, education and legislative services to its members to foster the expansion of existing businesses, the location of new firms and the development of strategies that promote a positive business climate in Texas. With over 850 members, the TEDC is now the largest state economic development association in the nation.

The GBIC program receiving the statewide accolade is titled “We Grow Our Own.” It was first unveiled to the public at the Brownsville Event Center on Feb. 22 of this year. Among the VIPs present for the unveiling of the initiative were Julian Alvarez, a commissioner with the Texas Workforce Commission, and Pat Hobbs, executive director of Workforce Solutions Cameron. School students, families, and community groups also participated.

“Our ‘We Grow Our Own’ initiative is essentially an education and workforce development strategy where we invite the entire community to share their concerns and provide input on what they think is going to be necessary in order to build our own talented workforce,” GBIC Executive Director Mario Lozoya, told the Rio Grande Guardian, at the February event.

Mario Lozoya

Lozoya said it is crucial Rio Grande Valley schools provide the technical education for students to help them land the high tech jobs of tomorrow. 

“From an economic development perspective, if we have prospects that come to the region and ask for a particular type of workforce that is high tech in nature and we do not have that workforce we might lose that project to another community that does,” Lozoya said.

“We want to make sure we are prepared – from all sectors of our community – to provide those opportunities to our students, to be prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is the key here. We are creating a process to make that happen here in Brownsville.”

Lozoya said he would like to see GBIC’s “We Grow Our Own” initiative replicated across the Rio Grande Valley.

“I would like to wrap it all up as a process and share it with the rest of the Valley. In my opinion we need to work together as a region to provide a regional opportunity for big companies to come here. So that is what we are doing here today, getting input from all sectors of the community to help us create this strategy, long term for education and workforce development.”

Lozoya acknowledged the GBIC initiative could be unique.

“I am not aware of any other initiative where an economic development office leads a project that offers the entire community an opportunity to provide input for this space. I think that this is a process that can be shared across the region. Not just across the Valley but with our Mexican neighbors. For Brownsville to be thought of as leaders in this space is a big deal for me and it is a big deal for our community.”

Digital Divide

One of the most important aspects of the “We Grow Our Own” initiative is addressing the digital divide. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Brownsville is the least “wired” city in the United States. 

Jordana Barton, a senior advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas-San Antonio Branch, has researched and written about the digital divide in low-income communities. She was slated to attend the launch of the “We Grow Our Own” initiative last February. She could not make it and instead offered remarks via Skype.

Lozoya said addressing the digital divide is a key part of economic development.

“It is not Mario saying it. It is the data saying it and it is being delivered by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas,” Lozoya said.

“If any mom and dad is approving of that then we are in the wrong place. I know in my heart families in this region do not want to be in that condition. They want to be able to have opportunities for their children to be competitive and to get the jobs of tomorrow and in my opinion broadband is an issue.”

Lozoya added: “Again, the point I made earlier, here we are in a venue where we have collected representation from all sectors of the community, even high school students are here, and moms are here and grandmothers are here, and others. We hope to create a process the entire Valley can share.”