A&M nixes training center

In a July 31 letter to Texas Southmost College President Jesus Roberto Rodriguez, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp indicated that TAMUS will not move ahead with plans for a “world-class” workforce training center at the Port of Brownsville in collaboration with Texas State Technical College, due to TSC’s public response to a proposed MOU between TAMUS, TSTC and the port.

On July 24, Rodriguez held a press conference at TSC criticizing the MOU and arguing that the community college “should be the Port of Brownsville’s primary partner for workforce training” based on the community college’s “experience, capacity and local expertise.”

Later that day, the Brownsville Navigation District, which governs the port, tabled an agenda item regarding the MOU, following Rodriguez’s comments to commissioners, the same comments he made at the press conference.

Following the vote to table, Rodriguez said he was happy and looked forward to discussions to find a “win-win situation for all the parties involved.” Sharp’s letter to Rodriguez, however, suggests strongly that TAMUS is pulling out.

“Somewhere, we are going to set up this world-class training center, but I know that is a local decision and we respect the Port’s and your decision, and we will stand aside and go to another location,” he wrote.

Sharp wrote that it would have been impossible to build the training facility without TSTC, which he described as “the best workforce training in Texas … period.”

The workforce center would have trained workers for current and future industrial employers at the port. Sharp said BND commissioners invited TAMUS to pursue the MOU and that the port took the lead in drafting it. He wrote that he was unaware of any issues TSC had with the MOU until it was reported in the media, and that Rodriguez could have aired any concerns when all parties were present during a June meeting at the port.

Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez wrote in an email that he became aware of the proposed MOU toward the end of discussions between the parties and made an effort to facilitate an agreement beneficial to all stakeholders, including TSC and the city. He said the region is dealing with a “very real workforce and skilled labor shortage” that take all area educational institutions to solve.

“No one entity can handle it by themselves,” he wrote. “I believe that the initial decision to exclude TSC from the proposed (MOU) was unfortunate, especially considering that the team in place at TSC is the best workforce team in the area. I stand ready to assist with any proposed workforce solutions going forward, regardless of who the party is. My door is always open and I would welcome a discussion with A&M on future initiatives for our area.”

The original draft copy of the MOU doesn’t mention TSC, though Article 1 of the document states that “nothing in this MOU precludes BND from making the Facility available to users other than (TAMUS) or TSTC, such as public-school districts, community colleges, and workforce development providers in and around Cameron County.”

TSC already has a relationship with TAMUS in the form of the Texas A&M-Chevron Engineering Academy at TSC, one of five in the state.

Sharp wrote that he has “great affinity” for the RGV region, which is why TAMUS chose TSC for one of its coveted engineering academies and McAllen for the recently completed Texas A&M University High Education Center.

“In many ways, the Valley is a huge part of the future of Texas,” he wrote. “We were hoping to be of service there with TSTC to provide an eye-popping workforce training center, but we respect local decisions and wish you All the Best!”

Port Director and CEO Eduardo Campirano had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.

A statement from TSC said the institution values collaboration between the community college and the port, reiterating “our sincere intent to explore collaborative models” with the port, TSTC and TAMUS. The statement noted that TSC had hosted TAMU-Kingsville President Mark Hussey recently to tour the campus and “learn about our talented students and about the programs TSC offers as a comprehensive community college.”

“While it appears that there has been some miscommunication between some parties, TSC stands ready to serve the (port), our industry partners, our local school districts, and our surrounding communities,” read the TSC statement.