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Group lands $454K grant to help boost area economy

Money will be used to find ways for counties that supply workforce at Red River to work together by Junius Stone | June 26, 2016 at 4:00 a.m. | Updated June 26, 2016 at 4:28 a.m.

Workforce Solutions Northeast Texas has received a $454,772 Defense Industry Adjustment Grant to study ways to develop the economy in the 12-county area from which Red River Army Depot pulls its employees.

"We will need input from employers and stakeholders from employers and stakeholders of the region," said Randy Reed, Executive Director of Workforce Solutions, whose organization will administer this grant.

One of key efforts of this study is to figure out the best way to get these economic areas to work together, whether through close coordination of the economic interest entities that already exist, or through the creation of another entity which acts to coordinate the activities of outfits like TexAmericas Center, the chambers of commerce, industries, schools and universities and so on.

"One of the reasons it might be a good idea to create this coordinating entity is that local organizations have concentrated on their own areas of interest," said Scott Norton, executive director and CEO of TexAmericas Center. "We want to see if existing entities can extend their view outside their own 'silos,' if we can work together better and how we can accomplish this."

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Defense, will go toward studying McCurtain County, Okla.; Sevier, Howard, Hempstead, Little River, Miller and Lafayette counties in Arkansas; and Bowie, Cass, Morriss, Titus and Red River counties in Texas. The counties are listed as the area of impact for the 2013 Red River workforce adjustment.

"We all need to work together," Norton said.

Building trust, both among these entities and with the public, Norton said is key.

"It is all about skin in the game," he said. "It is about public communications, applying available resources and growing the region at large."

The study will examine the idea of creating a representative body to develop the region economically, Reed said.

"One plus about the idea of creating singular representative entity is making it easier to represent the area to outside interests," Reed said. "The study will allow us to examine this in depth, to see if this is the way we should go."

Another item considered will be what industries are the best to recruit.

"We come with a ready set of capacities," Norton said. "We can develop more, but the quickest way to get this going is to accurately assess what we already have and what we are ready to take on with the minimum amount of training and building."

The grant would build the knowledge and awareness of this regional capability among its various entities. From the study would come the knowledge of what industries can set up shop and become operational the soonest. 

For future development, much firmer knowledge would be gained on what must be developed to expand the region's appeal.

"We would also gain a greater awareness of our work force," Reed said. "We would have a much better idea of what they can do now, what we would like to develop and how our local institutions can be coordinated to train our work force and make them ready for the next step."

Officials also look to the study for information on how to recruit those industries.

"In addition, we will have a much better awareness on how to get the word out outside our area to industry looking for a place to operate. We will know how to get this knowledge to them," he said. "But again, this requires coordinating our local economic entities. We will only be successful if everyone is on board with this and helps in developing these strategies."

Eric Hoyles, TexAmericas executive vice president/chief economic development officer, emphasized the need of private-sector experts and consultants to make this happen.

"We need the specialized knowledge of experts in our economic area," he said. "For this project, we need to talk to those who can advise on infrastructure, skill sets and training, cost structures and so forth."

"One end result we want is to build a master database about the region's economic assets," Hoyles said. "Not only will this lay all the pertinent information on assets at the fingertips of all those in our area to research what they need, but that is how economic entities decide where they want to operate next. This is how they find out about us. 

"This is how the word gets out, searching for this information on the internet and it being easily available. If we don't have this asset, they will pass us by."

Bart Spivey, Workforce Solutions business development and community relations manager, emphasized the workers of the area.

"We have to retain our talented labor," he said. "IT, aerospace, aviation-those are some of the industries of the future. We need to hold onto our workers who have those skills. We also need to partner with our local educational institutions, all the way back to high school, on how to develop these skill bases. We need to work with our communities to help make this happen."

The deadline for the use of this grant is June 30, 2017.

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