By Lisa Morton
CCAISD Superintendent Ken Baugh traveled to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) last Friday for a special live stream event with the White House. A proposal from the West Texas Aerospace Center, UTEP’s recently formed coalition, was one of the 21 winners of the 529 competing in the $1 billion dollar “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” and was awarded $40 million dollars.
The competition, administered by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), provides each award winner funding to rebuild regional economies, promote inclusive and equitable recovery. The funding will also create thousands of good-paying jobs in industries of the future such as clean energy, next-generation manufacturing, and biotechnology.
CCAISD, Culberson County and the Town of Van Horn, joined others in the region reaching from El Paso to Alpine, to form the coalition at the urging of Rio Grande Council of Governments (RGCOG) Executive Director, Annette Gutierrez. “The COG is beyond excited to be a coalition member of this unbelievable consortium. Although $40 million is a lot of money, it is well below the ask from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The projects related to the rural areas will not receive direct funding from the Build Back Better Challenge program. However, UTEP is committed to the relationship it has started with Culberson County and Sul Ross University. The intent is to identify alternative funding sources to implement the projects that were identified in the Phase II application. The momentum that has started with this initiative is too significant for UTEP to walk away from. With the RGCOG working as a coalition member, our relationship will be key to getting the resources to Culberson County. Several funding sources have already been identified and we will start working quickly with Culberson County-Allamoore ISD to secure those funds”. No one can deny that having Blue Origin in our backyard was helpful to the competition. Many employees working at Blue Origin are graduates from UTEP and are from El Paso, Van Horn, and the surrounding area”, she added.
Susie Byrd, Director of Economic Development and Workforce Excellence Aerospace Center at UTEP provided the following to the Advocate. “We asked for funding for 4 component projects. The two that got funding were the Advanced Manufacturing District located in El Paso and the Aerospace and Defense Innovation Network for Manufacturers which will serve all manufacturers in the 6 counties of West Texas. Two projects didn’t get funded, the Aerospace Technology District in the Fabens, Tornillo and Horizon City area, and the Aerospace and Defense Technologies and Manufacturing Training Centers (ADTech). With funding for ADTech, we would locate training centers in Van Horn, Alpine, El Paso and a mobile site for the more remote area. There is a huge demand for technicians at Blue Origin that we want to help fill by training residents in West Texas, especially in the rural areas. All of the partners in Culberson, Brewster Jeff Davis and Presidio counties have been highly motivated to make this happen and have pledged significant resources and support to make this happen. We won’t be able to start as large as we wanted, but we can build the program off of existing funding sources to include Workforce Solutions Borderplex and public education funds for CCTE and Adult Education and work with our partners to seek additional funds. Based on our partners’ motivation and commitment, I have no doubt that we will be able to pull together the resources to make this happen. In Van Horn, I want to especially thank Ken Baugh, Judge Urias and (former) Mayor Brewster whose passion for their community translated into immediate support for this project”.