Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 5, 2002
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
512-463-0127

OP ED: Sen. Lucio comments on Border economic development and re-training of displaced workers

As we try to hold our heads above water during this economic downturn, certain state agencies can be commended for their arduous efforts toward developing the economy along the Texas Border.

Although higher unemployment than elsewhere in the state persists in the Rio Grande Valley and throughout the Border, the efforts of local economic development specialists and the professionals at the state's lead economic development agency continue to help lower this rate.

In the past five years, leads provided by Texas Economic Development (TxED) to Rio Grande Valley counties resulted in 26 new businesses locating in Valley communities. These new companies invested $350 million and created more than 9,700 jobs. The businesses also represented a variety of enterprises, ranging from automotive manufacturers and plastics fabricators to electronics companies and telecommunications companies

Since the inception of NAFTA in 1994, the region has experienced unprecedented growth and opportunity. Businesses from around the country, and around the world, have relocated to South Texas because of the desirable business climate. The lack of a personal income tax, exemptions for taxes on pollution control devices and its proximity to Mexico are just a few of the reasons South Texas is such a great place to do business.

Forbes Magazine recently named Brownsville and McAllen to its list of top 10 cities to conduct business with in the country. A May 14, 2002, Brownsville Herald editorial states that economic leaders should "dissect the study, find out what they are doing right and wrong and then pounce on the attention while it's fresh."

I join with the Herald in this assessment, but not just for Brownsville. Every South Texas city should evaluate what it is doing right and wrong, and then determine methods to increase successful approaches and efforts, while finding ways to minimize those that are not effective. I also encourage city officials and the public to let their legislators know how government can assist them.

The Rio Grande Valley has seen its share of economic setbacks recently. A grand total of 3,601 jobs have been lost from business closures between 1999 and 2001 in Hidalgo, Cameron and El Paso counties. We must be even more persistent in our efforts to attract new businesses and jobs to our communities and to train a workforce, of whom 20 percent have less than a high school diploma. We must also more aggressively address the re-employment of displaced and unemployed workers.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), in conjunction with the Workforce Development Boards of the Border region, has assisted hundreds of garment workers by providing "Rapid Response" services to assist them during transition and re-entering the labor market. Rapid Response services include resume writing assistance, stress management workshops and crisis counseling. Clients also can attend financial and debt management workshops and job search workshops, receive skills assessment and get help with job placement.

Workers who need training may receive occupational skills training, on-the-job training skills, adult education and literacy activities by the local board's Workforce Investment Act Dislocated Worker Program. Even supportive services, such as child care and transportation, are offered.

Some of the challenges to retraining dislocated workers and providing a pool of skilled employees to expand economic development include limited basic skills and the inability to speak English among this potential workforce. More than 38 percent of job applicants lack the necessary reading and math skills to perform the higher-wage jobs they seek. This figure becomes more ominous when one considers that at least 60 percent of all new jobs are requiring one to two years of post secondary (technical) education.

To help displaced and all other workers, the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition is requesting from the upcoming 78th Texas Legislature $134 million for Workforce Adult Education programs and $40 million to fund Regional Research and Curriculum Development Institutes for distressed counties. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will work with my colleagues to help fund some of these and other appropriations requests for workforce development.

Some of our displaced workers from the garment and light manufacturing industries may qualify for transitional assistance under the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and NAFTA-Transitional Adjustment Assistance (NAFTA-TAA) programs. They would receive income support, training, job search allowances and relocation services. The federal government must approve these requests since our workforce and economic development is intertwined with NAFTA, which impacts and benefits not just the Border, but the entire country.

As a state and as communities, we must continue striving to improve our workforce through innovations in education and training, while developing our economy by attracting new businesses and expanding current businesses. I commit to taking the lead in making South Texas the leader in hiring and attracting new businesses that pay stronger wages.

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