Dale Fowler: Want to attract business? Educate the workforce

Jan. 25, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 24, 2011 at 7:25 p.m.

What makes a company come to Victoria? That's what people always ask.

Well, when you are talking about manufacturers or companies who provide primary jobs, there are many factors.

One factor that is always part of the mix is workforce.

A community with an educated and trained workforce and/or the ability to provide employee training, has a distinct advantage in the great competitive game of economic development.

Unfortunately, the trend in the United States and Texas is moving the wrong direction. The most educated generation in our history, the Baby Boomers, are retiring from the workforce. The up-and-coming generations are showing a declining trend in education attainment levels.

To add insult to injury is the fact that, increasingly, our knowledge-based economy requires more highly educated or skilled workers. If we in the United States and Texas don't supply this workforce, someone else will.

The good news for our region from a workforce perspective is that Victoria school district is making great strides in improving student scores.

We also have Victoria College and the University of Houston-Victoria for the post-secondary training and education.

Just this week Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, was in town to award a Skills Development Fund grant to Berry Plastics and Victoria College to help pay for advanced training for Berry employees.

Victoria College has a great track record of achieving these grants to help train the local workforce, almost $6 million since 2006. I believe the college is so successful with these grant awards because it has a proven track record of successfully partnering with local industry to provide training that will improve the bottom line of the respective companies.

The state wants to be part of our success stories.

UHV offers our regional workforce the opportunity to achieve advanced degrees, which will help us stay competitive with other communities. However, we need more.

Now that UHV is a four-year institution I am hopeful that it will continue to be successful at bringing more students from outside the region and increase our overall labor pool of educated workers. The more the university grows in student population, the more likely they will be able to add a greater variety of degree programs that will in turn offer more opportunities for local students.

These areas of our community - secondary and post-secondary education, must continue to move forward and at an even faster pace for Victoria to keep up with the fierce completion for new jobs, especially those in advanced manufacturing and associated support industry.

While visiting with Pauken, he said, "We can't have a strong economy without a strong manufacturing base."

I believe this community has what we need to meet the challenge, and Caterpillar is a good example of a world class manufacture who agrees, evidenced with its decision to locate a new hydraulic excavator plant in Victoria.

Momentum is an important element in any positive growth strategy. If we, as a community and as a state, want to maintain the economic momentum that is taking place, we cannot afford to allow our workforce to follow existing trends. We must figure out how to put more young people through the system as efficiently as we can - or we all lose.

As the legislature makes tough decisions on where to cut to balance our state's budget, let's hope they can do so without adversely affecting our ability to educate and train the very resource that can move our economy in a positive direction - young Texans.

D. Dale Fowler is president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp.



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