While the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas fared better than much of the country during the Great Recession, it was not immune to the downturn. Across the four-county region, the construction, manufacturing, transportation, and farming industries were hardest hit, adding tens of thousands of workers to the unemployment line. These job losses exacerbated the region’s existing challenges regarding educational attainment, literacy, and skills gaps which were first identified by TIP Strategies in a 2005 regional industry cluster analysis and verified in 2008 via a “business intelligence survey” administered by TIP.
Regional leaders engaged TIP Strategies to build on the firm’s prior work under a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission. In addition to conducting a regional economic and demographic assessment, TIP surveyed employers (to identify human resource challenges and validate their skills needs) and analyzed regional training offerings (to gauge their alignment with key industries and employers). The analysis pointed to areas where the supply of training appeared to outweigh available openings (such as entry-level medical positions) and, conversely, where offerings appeared to be insufficient to meet demand (such as nursing and public safety workers). Based on the analysis, TIP created an interactive scoring matrix for use by Workforce Solutions staff in prioritizing occupations for training. Despite significant changes in the national and regional picture, most sectors identified in the original industry cluster analysis remained appropriate for the region. Additional recommendations included areas where regional cooperation would benefit the growth of target sectors through the creation of a regional strategy to address literacy issues and skills gaps along the Texas-Mexico border, strengthening entrepreneurship in the region, and working with local colleges to change perceptions about vocational-technical training.