McAllen renews STC’s job training grant for 22nd year

College and local officials, including McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and South Texas College President Shirley Reed, celebrate the school's $259,440 job-training grant on Thursday in McAllen. (STC photo)

McALLEN — Growing from 40 to 160 employees in six years took a lot of resources for the manufacturer Grand Rapids Foam Technology, mainly training to help move workers up to higher-skilled positions and hiring those to replace them, said plant manager Dan Robinson.

For companies like Grand Rapids settling in the Rio Grande Valley, in this case from Michigan, a big selling point was the availability of said worker training opportunities. And for the 22nd year, the McAllen Development Corporation awarded a grant to South Texas College aimed at providing job training to companies settled or seeking to settle in the city.

“The Rio Grande Valley has been really good to us,” Robinson said. “We have to develop manufacturing down here and enable it to grow. The partnership with STC really, really helps us do that in a very economical way. I put about 80 people through it last year in different training programs, and I’ve actually used a lot of the grant.”

The grant of $259,440 is expected to cover training expenses for anywhere between 800 to 1,000 employees, said Carlos Margo, STC associate dean of the office of training and economic development, as well as STC’s expenses to bring in those training opportunities.

“It’s still a competitive grant application that we have to submit with the city, but we do receive the grant funding year after year,” Margo said. “That speaks volumes of the city’s commitment to support workforce training and to support the college.”

Since 2007 the city made the decision to focus these funds to manufacturing-related investments such as workforce training, with hopes to recruit and maintaining manufacturing in the city.

Under the grant, manufacturing companies established within the city limits can apply for free or reduced-cost trainings in their area of need. These companies need to be identified as companies looking to expand their operations

“It’s not a random free-for-all,” Margo explained. “It’s more about who needs it, and what are their needs going to result in. What is the training going to result in, a wage increase, perhaps additional jobs, retention?”

Some of the most popular requests are the basic leadership, team building and customer service.

But needs have evolved to include trainings like industrial maintenance, which includes electromechanical skills to maintain highly automated machinery; lean sigma, which helps a company work more efficiently and reduce waste, defects and down time; industry 4.0, which is the connectivity of all web-based aspects of production systems.

Margo said, but the college works constantly to stay ahead of the latest technology and machinery used so that they can provide the latest skills to employers. And about 10 to 15 percent of the grant goes toward updating systems at the college, getting new certifications and curriculum.

The return on investment is expected to be three to five times the amount of the grant, he said, due to increases in wages, new positions and productivity.

Keith Patridge, president and CEO of the McAllen EDC, said the ability to find a trained and skilled workforce is the most important factor attracting companies to the city and the region. Some of the certifications that the college has gained have opened the door to conversations with companies.

“It is absolutely the most important thing,” Patridge said. “We were just in Atlanta, Georgia, the day before yesterday talking to another company. The number one issue: workforce … the ability to train in skills that the company needed.”

The partnership between the city and the college as well as the grant support is seen as something that needs to be ongoing in order to continue offering these opportunities to both the companies and ultimately the workers in the region who benefit from skill training.

“All of this is about partnerships and it all hinges upon creating job opportunities, careers for the residents of McAllen and the Valley,” he said. “I hope it continues forever because it is critical and the payback on it is huge.”

This story has been updated to reflect that the McAllen Development Corporation awarded the job training grant to South Texas College.