Aransas County Navigation District (ACND) commissioners, at their special meeting Friday, July 10, unanimously approved giving a letter of support for a grant application through the Economic Development Administration (EDA) by Aransas County and the Aransas County Partnership Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for a TEAM Workforce Development and Entrepreneur Center.

After a presentation given by John Jackson, ACND Chairman Malcolm Dieckow said, “We appreciate the EDC, LGC and Aransas County supporting our marina project (for which the ACND is seeking its own EDA grant). I’m glad we (all) recognized the importance of vocational education.”

(Editor’s note: Aransas County commissioners also addressed this EDA grant. Action taken by the county at its regular meeting Monday, July 13 is outlined in a separate story below.)

Jackson, who is past chairman of the EDC and current chair of the exploratory committee to study and research all the information and data needed to apply for an EDA grant, which falls under the CARES Act, said, “At this point we are not sure who else is going to be a co-applicant with Aransas County. But we do have a commitment from Del Mar College that they will be the operator of our proposed TEAM Workforce Development Center and as such, they may be a co-applicant, or perhaps the EDC, or perhaps both,” said Jackson.

The purpose of the TEAM Center it to provide multi-faceted career training and diversify the economy to facilitate recovery.

The proposed facility involves renovation of two existing buildings. Purchase and renovation costs are estimated at $4.5 million. Educational programming and space planning has been developed to meet short- and long-term needs.

A variety of training programs will be available. Programs will change over time based upon industry need and community priorities. Initial programs include but are not limited to: industrial technology, merchant marine, geospatial technology (drones), health science and allied health, and public safety. Classes will be offered as continuing education, dual credit (for ACISD students), certifications, and college credit. Apprenticeships and internships will also be available.

The facility would be owned by Aransas County. Del Mar College would be responsible for operations and operational expenses for programs and courses. Training costs are paid for by tuition and fees and industry/business scholarships. This proposal essentially represents an extension and expansion of the relationship already established between ACISD and Del Mar College. The facility will be located in the Del Mar College service area but is not in the Del Mar tax district (and cannot be without petition and election by Aransas County residents).

The need for a workforce development center and economic diversification was first identified in the community-wide, adopted Economic Development Action Plan as well as the Long-Term Recovery Plan. Subsequent to these initiatives, the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center, College of Business at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and IC2 of the University of Texas at Austin conducted a series of community meetings, focus groups, and interviews as part of their “Communities as a Start-Up” initiative. The outcome of this initiative was a recommendation to develop a workforce development and entrepreneurship center with a “TEAM” concept (technology, entrepreneurship, arts, and maker space).

This grant application is due before July 30, 2020. The application will be entered into the prior to then to make sure there are no technical difficulties. The application will be considered in August by the EDA funding committee. The projected timeline for the project will be 18-24 months to opening (award, environmental, purchase, renovation, move-in etc.).

Due to the community being struck hard twice (Hurricane Harvey and COVID), there are no available cash sources for matching funds.

“We will be requesting 100% funding assistance with the possibility of some in-kind contributions of training and educational equipment and furniture coming from Del Mar,” said Jackson.

Matching funds are typically required for EDA projects, generally 20-50%. However, this EDA program will allow for up to 100% funding if need is demonstrated since it is authorized under a special appropriation to address the impacts of COVID-19. It is unlikely 100% funding assistance will be available in the future, therefore timing of this application is critical.

“As all of you know, we are just a short drive from $50 billion worth of (recent) new investment centered around the fourth largest port in the US,” said Jackson. “This is making those areas south of us the Industrial Center of South Texas.

“Data we have obtained clearly shows the economic growth and jobs that the families in Aransas County are missing out on.

“I have a support letter here that we received yesterday from Gulf Coast Growth Venture (GCGV) - the Exxon Mobil project. The average salary for GCGV is $90,000 with more than 600 full time jobs, and that is just one of several other major industrial complexes in the Corpus Christi and San Patricio County area.

“The secondary industrial companies are even more investments that we expect to come. GCGV is only $9 billion of the total $50 billion, and we believe Rockport-Fulton is where many people will choose to live.

“Del Mar College provides the program that prepares students for those higher paying jobs and works directly with those companies.”

He then noted employee earnings in Aransas County lags significantly behind Texas in all categories, and of Aransas County residents over the age of 25, 17% have less than a high school education, and 46% of the county population has a high school or lower education, which also lags behind the state and the nation.

“This shows the need for added workforce training and education in the county … and that’s where Del Mar’s programs fill that gap,” said Jackson.

“Our Workforce Development Center will focus on the economic growth that is taking place in the region and we want to assist in providing higher paying jobs and a more skilled workforce for Aransas County. That will allow for families to have a better standard of living and for the young people to come here and to stay here, all of which also support our tax base as well.”

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