Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy and Prosperous Holidays!

Although my home is less than 20 miles from my office, it’s in a very rural area that requires navigating a dirt road around the Navasota River to get to the highway. The landscape is pretty much flat pastureland and oak savanna. About six months ago, in the heat of a brutal Texas summer, I noticed that someone had placed a white cross in the middle of a pasture. The cross was mounted on some concrete blocks and had some wire fencing around it to keep the cows out. It looked pretty temporary; however, it remained there every day as I traveled from my home to the office and back home again. Over time, it got to the point that I stopped noticing. It had become part of my drive-time landscape.

As the days got shorter and the daylight waned earlier and earlier, my commute home began to be in the dark. It was a very dark drive when there was no moon or a cloudy sky. That was how it was last night as I entered the dark Navasota river bottom towards home, leaving the lights of College Station behind. That cross that I had long forgotten about was now bathed in a pale blue spotlight. It looked magnificent, just blackness and that blue cross. My spirits lifted immediately, and I was grateful to the person who had set it up. To me, this image represented something that went beyond religion, good will, and the holidays. It symbolized a future where we will be able to overcome our economic woes, environmental challenges, health care problems, and global conflicts. This is the real spirit of the season - optimism for the future. In an era where we get bombarded with negative news, this time of year allows us to recharge our batteries and to reflect on how great life truly is.

TEEX is a great place to work. Our
mission is to develop workforces, respond to emergencies, and assist in economic viability, and it’s a noble one. We take this charge very seriously, but we also have fun fulfilling it. We are able to see the benefits and the great impact of our efforts at times. This is very reinforcing and makes every day a day to be optimistic. On behalf of TEEX, I wish you all very happy and prosperous holidays!

Gary Sera is director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and invites your comments.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

TEEX Holiday Safety Tips

This is the time of year when we all head off to be with family and friends for the holidays. I know the activities of TEEX’s employees and clients differ greatly over the break. Many will remain here in the Brazos Valley, while others will travel throughout the United States and beyond. Personally, I have a home remodeling project that will occupy much of my time. No matter what we do, returning to TEEX safely in the New Year should be our highest priority. I’m going to take just a few moments to address some holiday safety tips, which are great to keep in mind not only during the holidays but throughout the year.

Whether traveling by car or air, rule number one is to allow extra time for the journey. You should plan to avoid the heaviest travel times if at all possible. If you could be in wintry conditions, carry a road emergency kit including flares, a blanket, a first aid kit, water and snacks. A small shovel is also handy to have, and kitty litter works well under the wheels to increase traction. It’s also good to have health insurance information available if the worst should happen. If you have children under 13, the best place for them is in the back seat of the car. Everyone on board should ride upright, without leaning against the doors or dash. Never allow anyone to ride unrestrained. Defensive driving is the key, and because State Highway 6 truly does run both ways, take your time and stay in your lane.
If traveling by air, children under 40 pounds should be in an FAA-approved child safety seat. All passengers should make sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and you should bring activities to keep everyone occupied during the flight. Further air-travel tips can be found at TSA’s Holiday Travel Website.

Christmas also brings some unique and beautiful safety hazards. These include the Christmas tree, indoor and outdoor lighting and decorations. Don’t place your tree close to heaters or air vents. The vents can dry out the tree and turn it into fuel. Don’t put it up too early or leave it up too late, and make sure you keep the tree stand full of water at all times. You should inspect your holiday lights for frays or bare spots in the insulation, and do not overload electrical outlets. Wires that are warm to the touch are a bad sign. And don’t leave Christmas lights illuminated and unattended.

Decorations must be non-combustible or flame resistant. This is not the 1800’s. Never use lighted candles to decorate a tree, and place all other decorative candles where they won’t be knocked over. If there will be small children in the home, avoid decorations that are sharp, breakable or have removable parts, and avoid decorations that resemble candy or food. Remember to remove wrapping paper, bags, ribbons and bows from the tree and fireplace areas after gifts are opened. These items are a choking hazard for small children and can cause a fire if near an open flame.

Toys should be appropriate for the age of the child, and toys requiring access to an electrical outlet should be avoided for children under age 10. As with the decorations, avoid small toys that could pose a choking hazard, as well as un-inflated or broken balloons, strings and ribbons.

Finally, there is more danger from food than just increasing your waistline. On the buffet line, foods that require refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours, and raw foods MUST be washed and fully cooked. Be sure to keep hot foods and liquids away from the edges of counters and tables where they can be easily knocked over by a child’s curious hands. You should wash your hands frequently, and if cooking, don’t double dip.

These are just a few tips for a safe holiday season. Be safe, have fun, and we’ll see you in 2010.
Charley Todd is the associate agency director for the Texas Engineering Extension Service.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Rural Jump Start Technical Assistance Program

I hope that many of you read our TEEXblog of October 8, 2009, called “Jump Start Jacksboro,” where I wrote about Jacksboro’s success in spurring economic development. Today, I’m excited to announce that TEEX's Technology and Economic Development Division has a matching technical assistance grant program that will allow rural communities to take advantage of the Rural Jump Start program and pay only 50 percent of the cost.

Over the last three years,
TEEX and the Rural Jump Start Program have provided technical assistance and economic development training to more than 300 communities, economic developers and local leaders throughout Texas. We’ve now developed the Rural Jump Start Technical Assistance Program, based on our experiences and feedback from economic development partners across the state, focusing on technical assistance for rural communities during 2010.

There are several benefits to the participating communities:

• The economic development course is delivered in local community.
• The community leaders are more informed of economic development practices and terms.
• The community members are engaged in creating wealth and jobs.
• A Strategic Plan is developed and ready to implement.
• The community is featured in an article in ED-Central, the monthly e-newsletter and library of economic development best practices distributed throughout Texas, the U.S. and internationally.
• The community members meet and network with state agency officials who can financially support their initiatives.
• The program helps position the community as a leader in economic development.
Rural Jump Start was developed for economic development directors, elected officials and community leaders. The program provides leaders with the opportunity to learn techniques and gain tools for building their economic base, while networking with colleagues and state agency officials to identify opportunities for collaboration and cooperation.

Let me tell you about the program, which features three phases led by
TEEX economic development professionals:
  • Phase I :: Economic Development for Local Leaders Training

    This on-site course will prepare your community leaders and advocates to formulate an economic development plan and make informed decisions about your community’s future. Developed on the Basic Economic Development Course (BEDC), it includes an overview of economic development, how to develop a community profile and an economic development plan, as well as how to fund economic development projects.
  • Phase II :: Community Economic Development Strategic Planning

    TEEX experts develop a community assessment. Then they facilitate strategic planning workshops with local leaders, stakeholders and economic developers to assess and discuss your community’s future. Workshop discussions focus on identifying the community’s assets and challenges, establishing a community vision, identifying and prioritizing projects and outlining required tasks. TEEX documents the discussions and develops a strategic plan for your community.
  • Phase III :: Economic Development Plan Promotion
    TEEX economic development specialists coach your team on how to promote the community’s economic development plan, from developing a powerful presentation to connecting you with potential sources of funding. TEEX serves as your advocate and arranges meetings for you with agencies that fund the types of rural economic development projects identified in your economic development strategic plan.
This is happening very fast, so if your community is interested in participating you need to observe this timeline:
  • December 14, 2009 Program Teleconference*

  • January 25, 2010 Application Deadline

  • February 8, 2010 Community Selection Notification
  • February 8, 2010 Rural Jump Start Program Schedule Announced

  • February 22, 2010 Rural Jump Start Statewide Program Kick-Off

    *TEEX will host a teleconference on December 14, 2009 to review the program and application process and to answer questions. Participation in the teleconference is strongly encouraged.
Earlier, I mentioned we have a grant to cover 50 percent of the cost of the program. Because TEEX has limited funds available for the program, we are requesting applications from qualified rural communities interested in participating in a Rural Jump Start program.

In 2010, the program will be limited to five rural communities. The cost of the Rural Jump Start Program is $50,000. TEEX will contribute one-half of the total project cost for each of the five participating communities. The local community will provide the remaining half of the cost ($25,000).

Time is of the essence, as the program teleconference is this Monday, Dec. 14 at 9:00am CST.

Detailed information on the program as well as program eligibility and selection criteria is in the December 2009
Economic Development Resource Library Newsletter, or you may contact us at 979-458-6710.

While you are there, check out all of the information in the The Economic Development Resource Library (EDRL), which was established to provide under served communities with practical resources to inspire economic growth and prosperity.

This is a great opportunity to start an economic development initiative in your community.

Joan Quintana is the economic development and market intelligence program director for TEEX's Technology and Economic Development Division (TED). She welcomes your comments.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks for the Stress and Pressure

In 2005, I was 28 years old and living at a volunteer fire station in Black Butte Ranch, Oregon. In return for living at the station, the department was paying for my Fire Structural Science and Paramedic education at a nearby Oregon community college. I’d always wanted to be a firefighter/paramedic. Already an EMT-B, I had finished my Fire Science and Paramedic prerequisites my first year and was looking forward to my second year of training.

Unfortunately, my school then suspended the Paramedic Program because of administrative changes. One term off became two and was quickly becoming three. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere.

One of the firefighter/paramedics at the Black Butte Ranch station was a native Texan and an Aggie. He suggested that I look into the 10-week, fast-track EMT-Paramedic course offered by TEEX. I needed to move forward quickly, so I researched costs and discovered that TEEX not only offered the least expensive program available (even considering the move to Texas for the duration of the course), but would also put my career goals back on track.

When he first told me about the program, I remember thinking, "There's absolutely no way I'm moving to Texas." For an Oregonian, let me just say that Texas was different and took some adjustment. First, Oregon doesn’t have the humidity, heat, lightning storms or flash floods that Texas does. Also, many of the instructors, to my Yankee ears, had an accent that took some getting used to. Plus, everyone says “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” all the time. I quickly found out that if I didn’t incorporate those phrases into my everyday vocabulary, it would possibly come across as rude or disrespectful. And the last thing I wanted to do was inadvertently insult someone.

Going into the program, I knew was it was going to be tough, but I didn't realize just how tough it would be. However, there was always great support staff there to help me through it. They were always willing to spend extra time outside of class to answer any of my questions or to address my concerns.

During the hospital internship part of the program, I was able to go online and schedule my hours and pick from the hospital departments available for work. This flexibility in scheduling was a huge factor in allowing me to specifically tailor my internship. I chose ESD-1 in Houston, hoping to gain a lot of experience through a broad range of calls. After comparing stories with other paramedics later back home in Oregon, I think I had more than a wild internship!

Recently, I was comparing notes with a friend who attended the TEEX course after I did. He’d picked my brain before he went, and I’d told him that TEEX had an extremely demanding curriculum. But I’d also told him that it was possible to make it through as long as you were willing and had the self-discipline to study every day. After he completed the course, he agreed with me that it was difficult, but worth all of the hard work.

By using the TEEX 10-week fast-track Paramedic course, I was riding as a paramedic 10 months earlier than if I would have graduated from my original Oregon program on time. Now, I’m working as a paramedic for a strong Oregon ambulance company with 55 years of service and commitment.

I have given TEEX’s information to many EMT-B students here in Oregon who are looking for a way to get a head start on their careers. Hopefully, many more Oregonians will eventually be spending the time and effort to travel to Texas and go through your program.

TEEX, thanks for all the good stress and pressure you put me through to accomplish my goals.

Andy Brookman is a paramedic for an ambulance service in Washington County, Oregon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

China On the Move

A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time in Beijing and Tianjin, China. We visited the country to sign an agreement with Tianjin University that would kick off a project to establish a fire school at the university. A delegation from Tianjin visited TEEX last year to look at our capabilities to serve the petrochemical industry in emergency response. As you may have heard, China has an emerging strength in petrochemical capacity centered in Tianjin, and the university is looking to provide a similar level of emergency services training to their industry.

It was my first time to visit this country, and I didn’t know quite what to expect. I was wowed by the Olympics on TV like everyone else. But it was no different than being wowed by the new Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium, because we only needed to travel a few miles to see the other side of the story.

This is a very vibrant country with lots of activity and energy. This is a country on the move with a genuine purpose, and they have the resources to fulfill that purpose. There is an air of optimism and hope. Sure, there is a fair amount of air pollution due to their automobiles and industrial expansion, which reminded me of growing up in Los Angeles. Personal space is at a premium, similar to downtown New York.

If you are like me, you have always wondered about the human rights issues. But I saw nothing to lead me to believe people were unfairly constrained in their daily lives. People traveled around the cities freely, and I was always greeted with friendly curiosity.

All in all, I have nothing negative to say about this country, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity for us Americans. The challenge is that this economic force is competing against us. It is very apparent that their government is pulling out all the stops to become the biggest exporter of goods in the world. For those of us that have a strong distaste for any government intervention in the market, be aware that the global playing field for our companies is tilted against us. We cannot regulate our small businesses without helping them acquire new markets

China is a great opportunity for United States businesses. The Chinese marketplace is huge, but I doubt that it will open up for small businesses by itself. We as a country need to look at our policies for increasing our success in exporting, with a focus on helping the little guy to compete more effectively.

Gary Sera is director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and invites your comments.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wide Area Search

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a Wide Area Search class, offered by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). It was packed with information and exercises and I was thoroughly impressed with every aspect of the course. I learned an incredible amount of information and left with an increased level of confidence in my abilities, in an urban environment and beyond.
When I first heard of the Wide Area Search class, I thought that the "wide area" was more a matter of mixed geography (urban, rural and wilderness). While these different environments are considered, the "wide area" is more in terms of skill sets. And the purpose of the Wide Area Search course is to fill the skills gap between wilderness and urban SAR, so as to have a more affective team (management and searchers) following a large-scale event that could have you dealing with an urban environment that may as well be wilderness, because of the level of destruction.

To give you a better idea of where the folks were coming from when developing the course, the whole Wide Area Search concept was in reaction to lessons learned after Katrina.

However, to paraphrase one of the instructors (there were three who tag-teamed throughout each day of the three-day course), the information offered up was not meant to be applied in specific circumstances, but rather as "tools" at your disposal for any relevant search situation. The main focus was towards large-scale events, but many of the things discussed could just as easily be applied to a missing person situation.

The class spanned three eight-hour days and was challenging and well thought out. It was created by the instructors themselves, who are all veteran SAR personnel, with years of experience behind them. They conducted the class better than any I've ever attended, in this field or any other. These particular TEEX instructors have been involved in many SAR efforts over the years, from Katrina and Ike, to the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery, to smaller scale urban and wilderness searches - you name it.
While the class had it's fair share of lectures (though, far from boring), it was also full of table-top exercises, as well as on-your-feet exercises that progressively built upon what we'd learned. We assumed many different roles from exercise to exercise, acting as both search managers and "boots-on-the-ground" searchers throughout the three days.

Wide Area Search provides a lot of valuable information for any and all SAR personnel when dealing with a wide-spread disaster situation, and provides knowledge and techniques that transcend any single search and rescue environment or scenario. Considering the many different forms that a large-scale disaster can take (tornado, earthquake, hurricane, terrorist attack, etc.), this is information that everyone in search and rescue should have.

Honestly, if this is representative of other courses offered by TEEX, I highly recommend taking any of them that become available to you. I'd even encourage you to get with the higher-ups in your own organizations to look into hosting courses from TEEX, just to assure that more of them become available to the greater SAR community.

Bobby Hinson is a member of a local CERT group in Georgia and is always striving to become more deeply involved in SAR. This post was originally published on his own blog at http://zombieresponder.blogspot.com/.
For further information about TEEX's US&R Search Program, send the inquiries to Jim Yeager, Jim.Yeager@teexmail.tamu.edu at 888-999-9775 or 979-458-0857 or visit http://www.teex.org/usar/search.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Come

Over the past 20-plus years I have had the good fortune of being involved with TEEX in many different capacities–everything from student worker to staff member, from customer to now Advisory Council member. I was on the TEEX team that delivered one of the first international classes when we taught Rescue in South America. I was lucky enough to be involved in delivering the first TEEX class aboard the USS Lexington. And I’ve seen the Texas Fire Training School grow from being “that place outside town with all of the smoke” to becoming the largest emergency response training center in the world. Needless to say, I have seen the agency grow and develop in ways that no one ever could have anticipated.In late 2007, I was approached to participate in the TEEX Advisory Council (TAC) being formed by TEEX’s Director, Gary Sera. The list of council members was quite impressive, including city and state officials, university faculty, a hospital administrator, a former U.S. Attorney, and many other important folks from industry and the public sector. I was proud to participate, even though I couldn’t imagine what I could bring to such a group.

Within just a month or two of joining TAC, I was approached by a colleague and invited to participate on a curriculum advisory committee for a graduate safety degree program being offered through the Health Science Center’s School of Rural Public Health. Again, this was a tremendous opportunity to network with an amazing group of students, faculty and peers.

Over the following months, I was really impressed to learn more of what both TEEX and the Health Science Center had to offer–particularly as it related to health, safety and emergency response. In fact, as I looked around and began accounting for the other entities within the A&M System involved in safety like the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, the Texas Transportation Institute, and Texas AgriLife Research and Extension, it became clear to me that no other institution in the world has the resources that the Texas A&M University System has in this area. Unfortunately, it also became apparent that as great as each group was in their own area of influence, nowhere were they being “collectively marketed.” No mechanism was in place to collaborate and leverage the overall strength of these individual assets.
We kicked ideas around in both the TAC and the curriculum committee. With support from Gary Sera and a driving effort on the part of Jenny Ligon, TEEX’s Manager of External Relations, it didn’t take long before the potential was exposed. After a few initial meetings to clear political hurdles, representatives from each of the agencies, schools, and departments gathered to discuss the formation of a collaborative vehicle to serve as a portal for both internal and external access to the endless list of safety resources. Ideas poured out on how each could work together in conducting research, educating young minds and training the workforce of tomorrow. Excitement grew and thoughts matured.
In January 2010, less than one year from the initial brainstorming meeting, a proposal will go before the Board of Regents to formally approve the Safety Collaborative within The Texas A&M University System. It is not clear just how big this idea might be, but the opportunity is too great to pass up. Just like the guy in the movie who cut down his corn field to make a baseball diamond, if we remain committed to developing this safety collaborative, great things will happen. Who knows, we might even win a national championship in baseball or football along the way. I know, completely unrelated, but as long as we’re dreaming…

TEEX Advisory Council member Randy Patton ’90 is the Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response and former Corporate Safety Director for Valero Energy Corporation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Take on the TAC

Established in February 2008, the TEEX Advisory Council (TAC) is a fantastic group of folks who have truly become trusted advisors of the agency. Currently, the TAC consists of 16 members who were selected for the experience and knowledge they each bring from their respective fields in industry and government. These fields range from public health and safety, to energy and transportation, to economic development and technology. These members respect TEEX’s mission, goals and objectives, and they complement the agency’s activities by offering insight and information on the diverse constituencies we jointly serve.

The TAC’s mission is to serve as an advisory body to TEEX regarding strategic direction in meeting the needs of the public and private sectors, and in staying in the forefront of emerging technologies and potential product and service areas. They provide guidance on initiatives, strategies, and business development opportunities for TEEX. TAC members are also crucial in identifying community resources that might assist with a particular project, facilitating the development of strategic partnerships, and advising on legislative issues and dynamics.

A few initiatives that have originated from or benefited from the involvement of TAC members:

  1. Inspiration and advancement of the creation of a Texas A&M University System-wide collaborative focused on all-things safety;

  2. Recommendations and support in pursuing grant opportunities, both state and federal;

  3. Ideas and advice for innovative communication and marketing avenues; and

  4. Numerous leads for business opportunities.
Through only four offsite meetings, about the same number of teleconferences, and sporadic trips to visit the TAC members on their turf, I’ve really enjoyed seeing the bond forming between this diverse, yet enterprising, crew of women and men. Not only have they proven to be tremendous advocates for and counselors to TEEX, but they’ve also forged alliances and partnerships among themselves. The diversity of each of our backgrounds has allowed us to have insightful, and colorful, discussions about business and life. And almost two years later, I can sincerely say that we’ve formed some lifelong friendships within this group.

Our esteemed TEEX Advisory Council Members are:

  • Karen Baird, Trinity Industries

  • Chris Barron, Texas Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association

  • Steve Bass, Grapevine Fire Department

  • Clif Cameron, Deep South Insurance

  • Linda Glessner, University of Texas
  • Steve Griffith, City of Sugar Land
  • Dan Holt, Blinn College

  • Tom Jackson, College Station Medical Center

  • David Lakey, Texas Department of Health Services

  • Steve McCraw, Texas Department of Public Safety

  • Elena Messina, National Institute of Standards & Technology

  • Robin Passmore, BP (Retired)

  • Randy Patton, Valero Energy Corporation

  • Jose Quintana, AdventGX Corporation

  • John Ratcliffe, Ashcroft Law Firm

  • J.D. Salinas, Hidalgo County Judge

  • Ed Serna, Texas Department of Transportation

  • Mike Thompson, BP America
What’s next for the TAC, you ask? We’re planning an offsite meeting in Ingleside for February 2010, which will include tours of Naval Station Ingleside and a Valero refinery. We’ll have much to discuss regarding TEEX’s interim legislative strategy, as well as the agency strategy, and some other initiatives that are currently in the works.

Jenny Ligon is the Manager of External Relations for the Texas Engineering Extension Service.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Duck and cover! That is what we practiced in grade school in Los Angeles in case of a nuclear attack. I remember it well. When the bomb hit, we were to get under our desks, cover our heads and wait for…what we were waiting for? Fortunately, it never happened, but many fellow 'boomers' and I grew up in that kind of environment.

A short while after that, we had nuclear power plants popping up like mushrooms. There was one about 50 miles from where I grew up. From our perspective, there was no good reason for this. It seemed like we were just messing with nature. If nuclear power was safe, why were we putting a gigantic concrete dome around it? Then, two events occurred almost simultaneously–the movie, “The China Syndrome,” and the close call at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility. The outcry was immediate: forget about it, nuclear power is power from the devil. Shut them all down. And most of the nuclear power plants in the United States were shut down.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I am still a strong advocate of nuclear power as a major source of energy in the United States even after all of this. Unfortunately, the fear of nuclear power lingers. This is hard to overcome, and the only solution is education and awareness. These fears come from three concerns: safety, nuclear waste and concern about nuclear weapons.

Today's modern nuclear power plants are very safe. We have learned from our previous mistakes and have much better technology. However, we’ve done a very poor job of alleviating the fears of our citizens. What about all that nuclear waste? Arguably, radioactive waste is no more or no less dangerous than the waste from other means of producing energy, such as fossil fuels. In fact, radioactive waste will eventually become harmless while the waste produced from the burning of coal is dangerous forever. Finally, with respect to nuclear weapons, most of the developed world has embraced nuclear technology to generate electricity. So the nuclear technology is out there already that would enable the weapons to be produced if they have the right components. The United States turning to nuclear power plants will not further any nuclear weapons agenda for any country. Plus, the way I see it, any reduction in the dependency of oil in the Middle East is bound to keep tensions down and ensure global stability.

What about the benefits? Simple. Nuclear power is very clean and very cheap. You can build it where it is needed. You can create a well-trained workforce (not Homer Simpson) with careers that pay well. TEEX is currently working with Texas A&M's Nuclear Power Institute to create the workforce development programs that will serve the nuclear industry. Nuclear power is not perfect and has its associated risks. But when you weigh it against other energy sources, it fares very well.
Gary Sera is director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and former chairman of the Executive Council of the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jump Start Jacksboro!

Several months ago, I participated in a conference call with a handful of community leaders from a small Texas town called Jacksboro. During the call, the president of the Economic Development Board and his colleagues asked a lot of great questions. How can they help their community diversify its economic base? What’s the best way to approach redevelopment of their downtown? Can they take advantage of their local state park? As a 4B community, what rules do they need to be familiar with?

Jacksboro’s Economic Development Board had already demonstrated significant economic development savvy, especially when you consider the town has a population of about 4,700 people, and roughly 1,000 of those souls actually live in the prison that employs 200 or so of Jacksboro’s citizens. This is a small town. They told me they were new to economic development and needed help to get up to speed and then to get serious about moving their town forward.

I love working with rural communities. The people are genuine, passionate and straightforward. They expect a good value, and if you say you’re going to do something, you’d better be prepared to do it. They are my kind of people. But economic development is a long-term game, wherever you play it. In rural places, it is likely to take even longer– to engage key players and develop your overall strategy, dig into necessary sub-plans, identify funding, grow entrepreneurs and, eventually, start to see the physical signs of progress. I’d say the folks in Jacksboro were working on economic development for a good 10-15 years before they ever established their board, and well before that, they were thinking like economic developers. They just weren’t calling it that.

Jacksboro was building up their public works infrastructure. When a big business came to call but walked away at the first sight of aging schools, Jacksboro set out to build all new Jacksboro schools. Their Twin Lakes and ballpark are beautiful and overflowing with families enjoying the cool breeze and tree-covered rolling hillsides. Lost Creek Reservoir State Trailway is a 10-mile hike, bike and equestrian trail that goes from Fort Richardson State Park all the way to Twin Lakes and is peppered with interpretive displays that shed light on the rich history of this town that is just over an hour outside of Dallas/Fort Worth.

Jacksboro’s been busy laying the groundwork for economic development. They just wanted to be better informed about the strategies, resources and opportunities available to them as a rural Texas town seeking to better itself. After some brainstorming, we decided that rather than limiting ourselves to our typical TEEX Community Economic Development Strategy process, we’d also develop a training course. We’d been thinking about creating a course entitled Economic Development for Local Leaders, and Jacksboro agreed to be our guinea pig. We also decided that we needed to help Jacksboro tell their story to the people in Austin who might be able to help Jacksboro execute their newly minted plan. So, we committed to introduce them to our friends at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism, Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Historical Commission, their local workforce board, and others.

The inaugural delivery of the Economic Development for Local Leaders course in Jacksboro was well-received. The members of the Economic Development Board participated in all the modules and came away with lots of ideas. It was great that Lynda Pack, their new (and first-ever) Economic Development Director, was able to join us for the course. And the following day, some 25 citizens came together for a vision and strategy session. What a day! You’ll never learn as much about the spirit of a place as you will when you get people together to share their dreams and talk about the home they love. You uncover secrets that I like to call points of pride – it’s these unique qualities and assets that make the locals stand a little taller. In Jacksboro, one example is Kathy Warnell’s gourmet catering. She catered our meals for both the training and the planning workshop. There was a beautiful display of fresh foods prepared with incredible attention to detail, which we consumed with absolutely no regard for gluttony…we just couldn’t help ourselves. Another point of pride is the town’s incredible generosity. They get behind a cause with their personal pocketbooks. Plus, their work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit is vibrant. All of these and many other assets were uncovered that day and will serve the community well as it moves forward.

Jacksboro’s local leaders now have a deeper understanding of the elements of a sound economic development program. We’ve finalized and celebrated the adoption of the first Jacksboro economic development strategy. Their presentation is coming together, and we’ll all be meeting in Austin later this month to tell their story and seek support for specific projects. Jacksboro Economic Development is up and running. And that’s going to be great for Jacksboro. I’m honored to have worked with them to create their plan. Even more, I’m grateful that they’ve helped TEEX to create a new suite of tools called Rural Jump Start that will enable other rural communities to “jump start” their economies with their own plan, built on unique assets and personal dreams, and the will and resources to execute it.

Joan Quintana is the economic development and market intelligence program director for TEEX's Technology and Economic Development Division (TED). She welcomes your comments.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Director's Take: How many Webmasters can there be in this world?

Over the past 20 years, manufacturing has gotten a bad rap in the United States, and Information Technology (IT) is to blame. It’s not that I have an issue with IT. It has improved efficiency, enhanced our quality of life, and provided access to information. But we have slowly but surely lost much of our ability to produce manufactured products by encouraging our kids to enhance their education primarily through the development of IT skills. The fact is that the value added to the economy from the production and sale of a ‘widget’ is much greater than any service sector or IT-related product.

What happens when you go into a market and purchase an electronic product, an appliance, or anything durable? As soon as you buy it, our IT system immediately triggers a ‘make order’ to the manufacturer to replenish this stock. If the manufacturer is in the United States, that’s great. If the manufacturer is in the town where the product was purchased, that’s even better, because this causes the supply chain to jump into action. But what if the manufacturer is located overseas? What is the local benefit? Well, you have the jobs in the retail store, most of which are at or near minimum wage. And, you have the sales tax that is generated for the local government. That is why most communities love retail development. They get lots and lots of sales tax revenue. Usually, this tax revenue is used to enhance the community environment or recruit more retail. This is beneficial, but pales when compared to what the benefits would be if that widget was made in that community.

Okay, so what about the perception that manufacturing is a dirty, stinky, polluting environment with low wages and a sweat shop atmosphere? This is incorrect. Most manufacturing sites are very clean and non-polluting. Smokestacks are rare. Wages for manufacturing workers are significantly higher than the service sector, including retail. What’s more, service-sector jobs are not always less stressful or in an appreciably better setting than manufacturing jobs. I once toured a call center and was taken back by the low wages, turnover, and pressure of these jobs.

Not everyone can become an engineer or a computer scientist. How many ‘webmasters’ can there be in this world? Our ability to ‘make something’ that you can touch and feel is diminishing. It is rare to find a teenager or young adult who knows how to use tools or to calibrate machinery. The fact is this is where the jobs will be in the near future. The need for technician-level training is going to become critical very soon. These are jobs that will pay high wages. I recently heard that the Nuclear Industry is paying very large bonuses for nuclear technicians to relocate and work in their facilities. As we transition into alternative energies, it will be the hands-on technician who will be keeping the grid operating.

I also hear all the time that we can’t compete with oversees manufacturing shops when it comes to the cost of production. This is not true. A recent study conducted by the Supply Chain Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M concluded that it was less expensive to manufacture a ‘widget’ in McAllen, Texas, than it was in Reynosa, Mexico. This is because of all the ‘hidden costs,’ such as oversight, currency risk, and shipping. I will bet that this research would come to the same conclusion if we included China, Japan, and Korea in this study. This is very good news for the state of Texas, as we have a wealth of young, motivated labor candidates who only need training and education to become the best workforce in the world.

So, when thinking about your career or your child’s career, keep in mind that not everyone can get a college degree, and that there are, and will be, high-paying jobs for that young person who is inclined to be ‘hands-on’ and loves to tinker.

Gary Sera is director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and former chairman of the Executive Council of the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stay Informed

This is the final weekend of National Preparedness Month and we hope everyone has learned at least one thing that will help them in an emergency. So far, we've discussed the importance of Getting a Kit and Making a Plan. Our final suggestion is to Be Informed.
Different emergencies require different responses. For example, a fire calls for building evacuation, while a tornado may call for people to remain in the structure for shelter. Understanding potential emergencies, and the appropriate response, is critical. Are you ready? Take this short quiz to determine your Readiness Quotient.
Our friends at Ready.gov have prepared an extensive, but not all-inclusive, list of potential disasters, as well as actions you can take to stay safe. A list of most-likely disasters may include:
Blackouts Chemical Threat
Extreme HeatFires
Influenza PandemicLandslide and Debris Flow (Mudslide)
Nuclear Threat Radiation Threat
Wildfires Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

Additionally, most areas or communities have established emergency plans. Do you know your community's emergency action plan? 

We'll be sharing the message of National Preparedness Month at this weekend's football game between Texas A&M University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Watch for preparedness messages throughout Kyle Field, including during radio broadcasts, stadium and scoreboard announcements, and inside the printed game-day program.
Just before kick-off, representatives of the emergency responders and emergency managers who keep Bryan-College Station, Brazos County and Texas A&M safe during disasters will be recognized on the field.
Also, watch for TEEX Director Gary Sera's blog next week on manufacturing and information technology. In the meantime, we'll see you at the game!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Make a Plan for You and Your Family

On July 30, residents of Aggieland experienced the creeping realization that a serious situation was developing just northwest of Bryan, which would, within hours, cause the evacuation of everyone north of University Drive in College Station. That day, citizens received a taste of the confusion that sometimes results when unpredicted disaster strikes.
If the evacuation had occurred on Sep. 30, with public and private schools, as well as Blinn College and Texas A&M in session, the confusion would have been vastly compounded.

In our second blog about National Preparedness Month, we'll help you make a plan, so no matter where you are when disaster strikes, you'll know what to do and where to go.

For the second step of Prepare, Plan and Stay Informed,
www.Ready.gov has several great suggestions, as well as some tools to help you with family disaster planning.

PhoneBe sure to include an out-of-town contact on your contact list, as sometimes long-distance service is available when local service isn't.

Not only does everyone in your family need to know contact numbers, they also need the ability to make the call. In addition to cell phones, give each family member a pre-paid phone card with contact numbers written on it in permanent ink. This is a great way of ensuring they can communicate in an emergency.

SMS and tweetsSometimes, you can communicate through SMS (Short Message Service) Text when voice calls won't go through. Practice that capability with your family, if its available.
Emergency Alert Systems

Finally, family members should subscribe to any emergency alert system available. Texas A&M uses a Code Maroon system which uses SMS to notify students, faculty and staff of emergencies effecting the flagship campus. Twitter also has become an alert system of late, with the ability to transmit alerts to mobile devices from Code Maroon, as well as the Bryan Fire Department and other government organizations.

In addition, here are two emergency planning tools for every family.

Family Emergency Plan page on Ready.gov will walk you through the process of consolidating the information you'll need in case of an emergency. This tool takes a bit of time, but the resulting plan is comprehensive. Do you know the address of your child’s school? Where will your family meet if your neighborhood has been evacuated?

And, the
Share Emergency Information page on Ready.gov helps you create e-mail text containing basic emergency information that you can share with others.

Later this week, we'll discuss in detail how to stay informed when disaster strikes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

National Preparedness Month

Hurricane Ike - September 2008 National Weather Service Photo

Along with all the other seasonal activities, September is National Preparedness Month. Unfortunately, we’ve gained quite a bit of recent experience dealing with disasters and their consequences for life and property.

While disaster can strike any month of the year, the memory of Hurricane Ike, which struck the Gulf Coast one year ago this month, reminds us this is a perfect time to get prepared. Preparedness is the key to providing safety, security and confidence for you and your family during difficult times.

The Texas Engineering Extension Service has helped people around the world prepare for disaster for decades, and, throughout September, we are focusing on how we can personally prepare for the unexpected.

A visit to
Ready.gov details three important steps we can take to be prepared, so we’re going to tackle one step per week during September.

1 - Get a Basic Emergency Supply Kit

The first items in the kit support basics for human survival: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth. Then, we add further supplies for communication and comfort.

Purchasing the supplies for a basic kit costs about $130, and we have examples of Ready.gov’s emergency supply kit at the Henry D. Smith Operations Complex, the Emergency Operations Training Center, Riverside Building #7900 and the John B. Connally Building. Go by and check them out.
Use common sense. Canned goods require a can opener and most electronics require batteries. Cars and generators don’t run well without fuel. Assess each item to make sure you have both an adequate supply, and the ancillary tools necessary to make the items functional.

Think. It’s important that everyone THINK about what’s essential for them, and incorporate those items into their emergency kit.

Ask yourself questions. Are there any items not listed in the Ready.gov kit that you feel are important? Where is the best place to store the emergency kit? We welcome your comments and suggestions!

Win a Basic Emergency Supply Kit - Four lucky employees will get to take a Basic Emergency Supply Kit home at the end of the month. To register, carefully read the e-mail you should’ve already received from Laura Shehan, or complete AWR-160, Terrorism Awareness for Emergency Responders, which found on TEEX.org.

Next Thursday, we’ll visit about the importance of making a plan, so that you and your family can find each other when the unexpected strikes.