Thursday, Oct. 7 was another big day in Aransas County in the post-Hurricane Harvey era. Partners in the Aransas County Workforce Development Center (WDC), including Aransas County, The Aransas County Partnership Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Del Mar College (DMC), the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA), U.S. Congressman Michael Cloud, and other government, business and education leaders announced the establishment of the WDC. After a brief ceremony at the grounds of the former Little Bay Primary campus, attendees took preliminary tours of the building that will house workforce training, continuing education, career and technical education and academic courses. Renovation of the building will be completed next year.
“We’re here today to celebrate the EDA grant (that made this possible), and the formation of a first class facility,” said Aransas County Judge (and Emcee) C.H. “Burt” Mills. “The WDC will make Aransas County a lot better … ensuring local businesses have a workforce that is trained locally.”
Congressman Cloud said, “As we recently marked the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, the people of Aransas County have remained tenacious in their efforts to rebuild.
“I’m happy and honored to throw my support behind (this effort). A lot of hard work went into this.”
He noted Aransas County isn’t the only place facing workforce issues.
“It all starts with people having good jobs,” said Cloud. “This (bringing the WDC to Aransas County) was a total community effort.
“I look forward to what’s ahead.”
Jorge D. Ayala, Regional Director of U.S. Dept. of Commerce, EDA, said, “It is very exciting to partner with Aransas County and Del Mar College.”
He recognized the hardships Aransas County residents, businesses, and government entities have faced since Harvey, and then the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “It’s good to be able to figure out ways to bring things back.”
He recognized the local effort to raise the more than $400,000 in matching funds (through private sources) required of the $1.7 million EDA grant.
“Congratulations on this great award,” he said. “It was a group effort, with all the community coming together, in addition to the partners.”
Ayala said once the EDA found out DMC was part of the WDC effort, the decision making was much easier.
“Workforce is so critical,” he said. “Companies can’t grow without a trained workforce.”
He said the WDC will provide much needed high-skills training to Rockport and the surrounding area.
“Aransas County and Del Mar College have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the county owning the facility and land while the College operates the workforce development center once renovations are completed next year. The 16,016-square-foot WDC will include classrooms, labs and additional space, and house high-demand marketable skills training for Aransas County and surrounding communities to build a sustainable workforce based on ‘essential’ jobs imperative to residents’ work skills sustainability, entrepreneurial endeavors and career resilience.
“The partnership strategically focuses on training that targets occupations identified by the Texas Workforce Commission and Workforce Solutions of the Coastal Bend that meet Aransas County’s local and regional needs, including programs within health sciences, construction trades, public safety, technology, professional enrichment, adult education and communications.
“Congratulations. This is an exciting day for Aransas County.”
DMC Executive Vice President and COO Lenora Keas, a Rockport native, introduced the college’s large contingent in attendance for the ceremony.
She noted DMC operates two other WDCs, and added, “We’ll offer here (what is needed to match the needs for the Coastal Bend). Anything a business needs to grow and flourish.
“These programs will offer skills training and education that’s unique to the region, in demand by employers, and focused on today’s economy. And, they’re available to everyone - young adults seeking a career, adults who want to up-skill and re-skill for essential jobs, and those who simply want to re-enter the workforce.
“Aransas County is in our service area and we’re dedicated to serving this area.”
She said DMC has long been an educational and workforce training partner in Aransas and San Patricio counties, offering dual credit programs in Ingleside, Aransas Pass and Rockport-Fulton high schools.
“(We’re ready to) improve, enlarge, and engage,” said Keas.
EDC Past Chairman John Jackson then took the time to tell the story about how the WDC became reality (see separate story).
Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Diane Probst said, “This is an exciting day for all, but especially for business. Before the hurricane, in planning sessions year after year, we heard about the need for a better trained workforce. We would study it, and implement what we could in terms of better programming. We did the best that we could.
“After Harvey, thanks to another EDA grant, our community joined together in facilitated planning sessions to determine our short and long term focus areas. The sessions were very emotional and heart wrenching. We had to sort through our future and rebuild.”
She noted Texas A&M University’s Dr. Kent Byus and Coastal Bend Innovation Center’s Russell Franques reached out to help Aransas County sort through recovery.
“The ball started rolling due to one phone call by these gentlemen,” said Probst. “Gentlemen, we thank you for pushing us.”
She thanked the partners and community for making the WDC more than just a dream, and encouraged everyone to work together to ensure its success.
Aransas County Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Joshua Garcia said, “The WDC will provide more opportunities for our students to learn valuable trade skills.
“Today is a culminating event where dreams turn to reality.
“This WFC will expand our students’ choices.
“We believe in building futures.”
Turner Ramirez Architects designed the WDC project renovation. Aransas County officials anticipate the bidding process to occur in January, with renovations beginning early next year.
The $2,138,731 purchase and renovation of the facility includes funding from the EDA grant, along with local private fundraising by Aransas County business leaders.