(Note: The following is John Jackson’s comments regarding the Aransas County Workforce Development Center, made during the ceremony announcing the establishment of the Center.)

This is a special day for Aransas County and all of its citizens. It’s hard to believe, but the seeds were sown for this about 18 months ago. But, the actual vision and catalyst for it began even before that. The EDC was formed in January 2020, and shortly thereafter community leaders were invited to a series of small “think-tank” type meetings that were hosted and facilitated by faculty at Texas A&M Corpus Christi and its Coastal Bend Innovation Center. They had partnered with IC2 from UT Austin and provided these meetings in the aftermath and recovery from Hurricane Harvey. Although this idea was not actually born in those sessions, the seeds for a special relationship with Texas A&M Corpus Christi had begun.

And so, because of that relationship with them during the onset of the Pandemic, we learned about EDA grant funds, which were to be made available to assist communities during the pandemic. In early conversations during the Pandemic with Russell Franques, Dr. Kent Byus, and Dr. Jim Lee at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, we were encouraged that we could very well be a good prospect for some of the EDA grant funds being offered. And, since we had just gone through Harvey as well, we believed we had an even better chance of competing for funding.

The EDC had already started to focus on goals like workforce training and job development as core initiatives of our long term strategic plan. So the opportunity for funding to achieve this goal was introduced to the EDC Executive Committee by Kim Foutz of the Long Term Recovery Team for the County. Shortly thereafter, the grant opportunity was also presented to the Local Government Corporation, and that board commissioned the EDC to study and assess the goal of creating a workforce development center here in Aransas County. And to accomplish that, the EDC then decided to appoint an Exploratory Committee to carry this out, and I was asked to chair that committee in May of last year. I accepted that role on the condition that I could “hand-pick” the members of the committee. But, the committee had very little time to accomplish this task since the application to the EDA needed to be submitted just a couple months later in August. We had to conduct considerable due diligence to cover all aspects of developing a Center like this. Things like location, cost, programming, logistics, operations, and much more, along with a convincing rationale so that we could compete for the limited funding being made available by EDA.

Our original EDC Executive Director, Neill Amsler, and I made two quick trips in May to similar training facilities in the valley in Weslaco and McAllen. During that time I began the process of recruiting the committee members. Every person in the group played a valuable role to move the process forward.

Initially, the committee gave serious consideration to building our facility on “non-aviation related” acreage at the Aransas County Airport. After we learned that it would likely take 18-24 months to go through the FAA approval process, we then decided against going down that path. But coincidentally, at the same time, the County had executed an option contract some months earlier for a potential micro-hospital facility at this location.

The County did indeed later decide in favor of a slightly different type of medical facility, but at a different location. That became a fortuitous opportunity for this project because it then opened up Little Bay Primary for an alternative use. So the EDC stepped in, on behalf of Aransas County, to try to reassess the potential use of this property as a site for our workforce development center.

This dream really started to gel and come together when our committee took the opportunity to tour the West Campus of Del Mar College. We all met there in June of 2020 by invitation of one of our committee members, Lenora Keas, a former Rockport native and Executive Vice President of Del Mar College. And it became apparent to all of us who were on that tour that Del Mar College had the standing, experience, interest, reputation, and educational programs, which “collectively” then became the missing piece for making this Center a reality.

A solid partnership developed as a result of that visit, and within a few weeks Del Mar College executed a letter of intent to Aransas County to become the operator of this facility, while Aransas County would become the applicant for the EDA grant and owner of the facility. During all of this we were in regular communication with the owner and seller of this property, Kacee Jackson from Austin. With the change in plans from using the site as a medical facility, this necessitated an extension of the County’s option contract with Kacee, not only once, but twice, because as I said, it later became apparent there was also a substantial amount of competition for grant funds. And because of that, we were advised by EDA to downsize the scale and scope of our project, which was to originally purchase both buildings. In addition to that, we were then advised we should now plan to provide 20% match funds to improve our chances. So that meant renegotiating the County option contract once again to purchase only this north building on the site. I want to say that even after renegotiating and extending the option twice, Kacee Jackson hung in there with us and was great to work with. Kacee is also an Aransas County taxpayer as a second homeowner. It was always evident in my conversations with him that he too really wanted to see this project happen. At one time he even donated funding to the County to pay for part of the due diligence needed. So Kacee, I want to thank you publicly for your continued willingness to work with us while we were moving through the obstacles and delays we faced when many would probably have walked away.

And then in July after we were advised that we were going to have to come up with 20% match funds, we had a very short time frame to raise those funds, and it seemed an almost impossible task. But in about two weeks in July we raised $428,000 from about 25 match donors at various levels. Another recent important donor who has stepped up to provide the architectural services for the renovation of this building is Philip Ramirez from Ramirez Architects in Corpus Christi. His preliminary renderings are here today for everyone to see. Each one of these donors deserves special recognition because, without their donations, we would likely not have qualified for the grant.

But, in addition to these individuals and businesses, all of our local governments have supported this Center as well and we also received regional industry support. This is one project where it seems this community was totally united behind Aransas County becoming the site for a regional workforce development center. Del Mar College will train and educate students, young and old, to learn and improve their skills and earn industry certifications for “in demand” jobs here and in the Coastal Bend. In addition, our local high school students will be able to earn dual credit from Del Mar College.

An ancillary benefit of this is that it will likely encourage our non college-bound students to remain here and raise families of their own, instead of moving away.

Ladies and gentlemen, this Workforce Development Center is an example of economic development at its best, and I’m glad our EDC was able to be instrumental in making it happen. There are dozens of people who have played important roles and this, as does most worthwhile causes, required a unified team effort from everyone involved to make it a reality.

I know we all look forward with excitement and anticipation to a grand opening of the partnership with Del Mar College in the Aransas County Workforce Development Center next year.

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