BROWNSVILLE — Efforts to attract advanced manufacturing companies to the Rio Grande Valley, along with the high-paying jobs they generate, have long run up against the lack of an adequately trained workforce.
A major initiative to solve that problem was announced Thursday at the Port of Brownsville during an event that attracted state, county and municipal elected officials as well as leaders from the Brownsville Navigation District, the port and higher education, namely the Texas A&M University System. That initiative, the RGV Advanced Manufacturing/Training Innovation Now (TRAIN) program, aims to train 10,000 young men and women to fill advanced manufacturing positions at the port and elsewhere around Brownsville and the Valley over the next two years, with an eye toward becoming a multi-year program.
It’s the brainchild of Mike Hernandez III, a Brownsville native, Texas A&M graduate and member of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. The university system and two of its state engineering agencies, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), will run the program with help from other educational partners including Texas State Technical College. Training toward certification will be provided offered in English and Spanish online and in person.
Taking his turn at the podium for the announcement, Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said Cameron County has no shortage of the 18-to-21 year olds advanced-manufacturing companies seek, though they need to be trained before those businesses will come here.
“We are going to make that happen in Brownsville and it is going to be a magnet, I promise you, to get industries from all over the country and all over Texas to come here,” he said. “We’ll come back in two years and we’ll go to the Legislature and say, ‘Look what happened,’ and hopefully be able to continue for several years. But we’re going to make 10,000 young men and women very qualified for really very good jobs in the Brownsville area and it is going to be absolutely fantastic.”
Sharp praised Hernandez for coming up with the idea and carrying it forward, and thanked port and local political leaders for working together to make the program a reality. Hernandez thanked everyone he’s worked with over the last few years to get to the point of getting the program funded by the Legislature.
“That’s kind of where the rubber meets the road, is when we can get the funding,” he said. “Advanced manufacturing is kind of the gift that keeps on giving. Once we get started the jobs just keep going, and … when you have manufacturing going, it brings ancillary businesses. It just creates economic development.”
Hernandez credited State Rep. Eddie Lucio III “for seeing that and understanding that vision and helping me from the start, from zero, to make this thing happen,” and Lucio’s father, State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, for working tirelessly to secure the $10 million in funding for the program. Hernandez predicted TRAIN will fill the workforce gap and “usher in a new generation of manufacturing capability in the Rio Grande Valley.”
BND board Vice Chairman Ralph Cowen noted that the port had recently acquired the former Mr. G’s fireworks store near the port on S.H. 48 and that Texas A&M was refurbishing it for use as a training center, though Hernandez said the 5,000-square-foot building is “just the beginning” and that a much larger facility would eventually be needed.
Rob Gorham, TEES executive director of manufacturing initiatives, who is spearheading the program’s implementation, said a timeline is being developed on which parts of TRAIN will roll out and when.
“Things have already started, and then there will be other elements of the program that will come along as we go forward in the coming months,” he said. “There are a lot of things to bring together here but the beauty of it is, that by bringing together all of the different institutions and the programming that they can bring to bear and actually go for a grander solution, you bring them all together and there’s a lot of acceleration that can happen.”
Gorham also stressed that the first two years is “just the start.”
“Two years is the beginning to get our initial foundation built up, but the program itself and the vision itself is much more beyond the two years. … There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense now,” he said. “There are a lot of really good things happening in the Valley now.”
Eduardo Campirano, port director and CEO, said TRAIN will be good for the port — especially if it’s extended in two years — and that the two key words to describe it are “funded and free.”
“Other service providers will provide training but it’s not free,” he said.