AUSTIN - What Texas can do to stay strong in a faltering world economy is something top state officials are more than pondering these days.
Gov. Rick Perry on Dec. 17 met with trade association and labor union leaders to get input on how the economic downturn is affecting industries and workers in Texas.
On Dec. 18, Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick jointly announced a deal that will move one of Caterpillar Inc.'s assembly, test and paint facilities to Texas, creating more than 1,400 jobs.
The state agreed to peel off $10 million from its $350 million Texas Enterprise Fund to aid Caterpillar in moving the facility to Seguin.
Texas was in competition with South Carolina and Mexico for the facility, Perry said.
A Fortune 500 company, Caterpillar manufactures construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and medium and high speed diesel engines.
The company already has plants in Amarillo, Channelview, Coppell, Dallas, DeSoto, El Paso, Fort Worth, Garland, Houston, Laredo, Mabank, McAllen, McKinney, Midland, Sherman, Waco and Waskom.
Study addresses worker shortage
Meanwhile, on Dec. 17, Comptroller Susan Combs said there is a widening gap between the demand for skilled workers in Texas and the state's ability to supply them.
"Texas' secondary and postsecondary education system is not meeting the demands of the current workplace," Combs said. "Employers tell us that good paying jobs are going unfilled because they cannot find qualified workers. And we're hearing from students about the value to them of programs at community and technical colleges. For Texas to remain an economic powerhouse, our education system needs added focus on career and technical training to fill available jobs."
Combs has issued a new report, Texas Works, a look at the changing Texas job market and the growing shortage of workers with the technical skills required for many of the fastest growing jobs.
The report recommends establishing a fund to help with startup costs for new technical training programs and eliminating obstacles that discourage students from pursuing "CTE" or career-technical education.
Texas community and technical colleges offer training facilities and employment opportunities after just one or two years, Combs said. But state funding of community and technical colleges has declined, not keeping pace with inflation and hampering schools' ability to train the next generation of Texas workers, she added.
CTE courses can be expensive for a college, often requiring state-of-the-art technology and equipment, but the state does not provide funding for startup costs.
Combs' report recommends:
• The creation of a $25 million Jobs and Education for Texas fund to provide support for postsecondary CTE courses, including startup funding for new programs.
• Linking any incentive funding to measurable results to ensure the state receives a positive return on its investments.
Leal now heads Texas Rangers
Antonio "Tony" Leal, 44, has been named chief of the Texas Department of Public Safety's Texas Ranger Division, making him the first Hispanic to lead the elite crime-fighting force.
Leal, a 24-year veteran of DPS also is the youngest person ever named chief of the Texas Ranger Division. He was born in Sugar Land and raised in the Fort Bend County area.
His appointment to Ranger chief took effect Dec. 10.
Race for U.S. Senate seat widens
More Texans have entered the race to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison as a U.S. senator.
Bill White, a Democrat and the mayor of Houston, and Texas Railroad Commission Chair Michael Williams, a Republican, have joined former state comptroller John Sharp, a Democrat, in declaring candidacy.
Hutchison, a Republican, has said she won't seek another term in the office she has held since 1993. She has filed papers and transferred campaign funds to consider and perhaps run for governor in 2010.
If Hutchison resigns her Senate seat to run for governor, standing Gov. Perry will appoint someone to serve out the remainder of her term.