VAN HORN – The Culberson County-Allamoore Independent School District in Van Horn will host an Aerospace and Defense Technologies and Manufacturing Training Center in partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
The next-generation regional initiative is designed to address a critical need in aerospace manufacturing employment by training local high school students and upskilling local workers, making them workforce-ready and good job prospects for work locally, regionally, and nationwide.
While there’s a need for degreed engineers and research scientists, the industry also requires a well-trained mechanical and technical staff to make all kinds of parts to send things into space, said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., associate vice president and founding director of the UTEP Aerospace Center. Some of the training can be completed in about eight months.
The education, workforce training, and manufacturing initiative was announced at a meeting on Friday, March 3 in Van Horn. It was attended by representatives of the towns of Van Horn and Valentine, the Van Horn Economic Development Corporation, the Rio Grande Council of Governments, Workforce Solutions Borderplex, the office of US Rep. Tony Gonzales, the Texas Department of Transportation as well as the school district and UTEP.
UTEP has a robust aerospace engineering education and research footprint bolstered in 2022 by a $40 million grant that is funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The quest for funds was a competitive process and UTEP and its city of El Paso partner were one of 21 projects awarded nationwide from more than 500 grant applications.
The rural component in Van Horn – and eventually at Sul Ross State University in Alpine – is the rural outreach portion of the grant’s master workforce, manufacturing, and education plan connecting UTEP research and education sites in and around El Paso with the rural region of Far West Texas. The Van Horn training center would also tie in (be interoperable) with training and research facilities in Fabens and Tornillo.
The UTEP aerospace engineering school has placed thousands of graduates in good-paying jobs throughout the industry in recent years and now looks to do so in Van Horn and the region, Dr. Choudhuri said.
Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Baugh said the district is in the process of applying for a $2 million grant through the congressman’s office to construct a 20,000-square-foot building on campus. Half will be occupied by the district and the other half by UTEP’s training and manufacturing facility. Curriculum is under development by the university.
UTEP is partnering with a school district already on a parallel track with its Van Horn Technology and Early College High School. The ‘school within a school’ offers its students post-secondary certifications and associate degrees in welding technology, STEM (computer science and health), and instrumentation engineering technology.
While the CCAISD side of the proposed facility would be for its students, UTEP’s facility would accept and train local workers, Baugh said.
The proposed new building will house the district’s drone, robotics, and rocketry programs, he said.
The initiative addresses a key concern for Baugh: a workforce pathway out of “generational poverty” for the district’s students and their families.
Something like 50 percent of future employment are jobs that haven’t yet been created, Baugh said, and the initiative will be nimble to pivot to training emerging jobs as the aerospace and defense industries mature.
“How exciting for an aerospace training center to pick Van Horn for one of its locations,” said Krissy Lerdal, the Van Horn Economic Development Coordinator. “Economically it will be beneficial for our community as well as the surrounding area and the opportunities for Van Horn are truly endless. Having a training center with the focus on aerospace, could encourage development and expansion of our industrial park to include supportive industries. This in turn, with the certifications that the center attendees would produce, could increase salaries, entrance levels, and knowledge for new workers. Our families have the ability for multi generations to work, live, and have successful careers all while living in Van Horn, Texas. With more industry comes updated infrastructure, housing, restaurants, workforce and more all because we will be training people to have successful careers in aerospace.”
According to the grant application narrative, “The Aerospace and Defense Technologies and Manufacturing Training Center (ADTech @El Paso @Van Horn @Alpine) will offer short-term, paid, skills-based training for in-demand positions, increasing the earnings of West Texas residents. Based on needs identified by industry stakeholders and partners, the initial deployment will be in the areas of additive manufacturing, (or 3D printing); digital engineering; spacecraft, missile systems, and launch vehicles; unmanned aerial systems, (or drones); and general aerospace manufacturing.”
In a portion of a summary for the grant project, Reclaiming Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing Dominance through Frontier Technologies, “The vast expanse of wide open West Texas offers an opportunity for the growth of commercial space exploration and an opportunity to connect underserved rural residents to high-paying, high-tech jobs that don’t require relocation to big cities. The West Texas Advanced Technology Corridor is an investment in rural communities along the 1-10 corridor in the growth of the region’s space industry from El Paso to Culberson County, Texas.”