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.