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August 2009

by Editorial Staff

Brief Bytes

Work Stopped, Learning Began

When San Angelo’s Levi Strauss manufacturing plant closed in January 1998, more than 500 jobs went with it, and a cold, empty building remained. But it didn’t stay that way for long.

cosmetology student

Today, it’s home base for the West Texas Training Center (WTTC), offering meeting and classroom facilities for a variety of corporate and educational users. Companies such as Goodyear, Ethicon, Multi-Chem and others have used the facility, and more than 40,000 people have passed through its doors for informational and coursework sessions.

Howard College also uses the facility, offering coursework in business, nursing, surgical and radiological technology, criminal justice and more through an on-site campus. The college’s enrollment rose to more than 2,000 in fall 2008, and more than 700 high school students take classes at Howard’s WTTC campus as well.

vocational nursing student

All this activity has helped to ease the memory of the plant’s closing.

“When the Levi’s plant closed, it was hard on the San Angelo economy,” says Shawn Lewis, director of development services for the city of San Angelo. “But we really feel like WTTC and Howard have filled a gap in job creation. And maybe more importantly, it has let us expand our job training opportunities.”

The WTTC now occupies more than 100,000 square feet of space, allowing educational and work training opportunities to expand as well.

“There’s obviously a lot of technical training there, but with Howard, you also have a wide degree of degree programs, and those offerings continue to expand,” says Lewis.

(Clint Shields)

The Texaplex Flexes Job Muscle

TexAPlex logo

Geography and job growth link the cities of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin into what’s been termed “The Texaplex Triangle.” Home to four out of five Texans, it enjoys one of the nation’s most vibrant regional economies.

These cities comprised the top five in Forbes’ recent list of “Best Big Cities For Jobs,” with the magazine citing healthy energy industries, affordable housing and low taxes. A recent video produced by real estate broker David Winans highlights the Texaplex Triangle’s prowess, and has become a viral hit on YouTube.

The positive jobs news isn’t confined to the Triangle, though. Eight of Forbes’ top 20 cities overall are Texas cities, including Odessa, which ranked as the best small city for jobs in the nation, and the McAllen/Edinburg/Mission area, which topped the list of mid-sized communities.

(David Bloom)

The Green Miles

Dallas area commuters are going green. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) will soon open the first three-mile stretch of its $1.8 billion Green Line project, with another 25 miles slated to be up and running just in time for the December 2010 holiday shopping season.

The Green Line’s first phase, which features four stations, connects Dallas’ downtown and popular destinations such as American Airlines Center with neighborhoods to the city’s Southeast, bringing commuter trains back to areas that were served by four rail lines 50 years ago. By 2013, DART will double the size of its rail network to more than 90 miles. In addition, the Denton County Transit Authority’s new 21-mile A-Train rail system will connect to the Green Line in Carrollton by the end of 2010.

Green Line Logo

The Green Line is the longest light rail project currently being built in North America, and has already created more than 2,000 construction jobs in the Dallas area. Several condominium/apartment projects and other transit-oriented development are springing up along the route.

The Green Line is expected to arrive on time and under budget. DART anticipates that, by taking drivers off the roads and putting them into railcars, 350 fewer tons of pollutant emissions will clog Dallas’ air every year. According to Mark Ball, DART spokesperson, a DART railcar generates the same emissions as an electric golf cart – next to nothing.

(David Bloom)

ACC Adds Degrees to Meet Demand

Austin Community College has added two new associate degrees in the areas of geographic information systems (GIS) and health information technology (HITT) to meet growing industry and market demand.

GIS is a computer-based data collection, input, storage and analysis technology that integrates data from different sources. GIS professionals are trained to interpret and visualize geospatial data to aid in decision-making. Health information technology professionals work to preserve the integrity of the medical record as a legal document, in either paper or electronic form.

“For health information technology, the increasing digitization of records adds another technological level of complexity,” says Mike Midgley, ACC’s vice president of work force education and business development. “The conversion of all medical records to digital is a mandate that’s going to be a requirement of our [federal] stimulus funding.”

ACC already offered a certificate program in HITT, but adding the associate degree adds another year of study to better prepare students for the work force, Midgley says.

“The local industry continued to express an interest in us developing the associate degrees for both health information technology and GIS.” Midgley says. “They felt that was increasingly the level of expertise they needed in their businesses.

“Our ultimate goal for all technical programs is at the end of the associates degree, graduates are able to enter the work force locally in that industry,” he says.

(Karen Hudgins)

Dallas Top Of The Class

Two Dallas schools topped Newsweek’s list of the nation’s best public high schools.

The Dallas Independent School District’s School for the Talented and Gifted made the top of the list, while its School of Science and Engineering ranked second.

The list ranks 13,000 public schools in the U.S. and is based on the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school divided by its number of graduating students.

Newsweek - Best Public High Schools in the Country

“It’s humbling,” says Michael Satarino, principal of the School for the Talented and Gifted. “And very gratifying. People ask me all the time how we do it.

“It’s a simple formula,” he says. “You hire teachers who are passionate about teaching to teach students who are passionate about learning, and who are supported by parents who are passionate about that process being successful. If you have all sides of that triangle being equal, you’re going to have a very good school.”

Two other Texas schools ranked among the top 20 in Newsweek’s list. North Hills Preparatory in Irving ranked ninth and Communications Arts High School in San Antonio ranked 17th.

In 2008, the School for the Talented and Gifted ranked second on the list, while the School of Science and Engineering was fourth nationally. In 2007, they ranked number one and two, respectively.

(Karen Hudgins)

Cleaner, Quieter Buses

Environmental and fiscal benefits dovetailed neatly for Seguin Independent School District when it came to choosing new school buses to expand and modernize its fleet.

Transportation director James Pizana says 21 new propane-powered buses went into service in March, offering cleaner, quieter and cooler transportation for students.

The financial benefits were obvious, says Pizana, pointing to $303,000 in federal and state rebates as well as a 50-cent-per-gallon rebate from the Internal Revenue Service on fuel purchases. With the rebates and an after-rebate fuel cost less than a third of that for diesel, the new buses were a sensible purchase. Even the difference in fuel economy — a propane bus has a range of about 300 miles, while diesel models can go more than 400 miles on a 60-gallon tank — failed to make the diesel a more attractive buy.

Cleaner Air

Pizana heard about benefits of propane-fueled buses at a clean air conference in spring 2008, a few months before Seguin voters approved a bond issue to buy new vehicles for the school district’s fleet.

“The rebates make now a great opportunity for districts to jump on board,” he says. “It is good for the environment, but it is good for the kids, too,” he says, citing the contribution of air pollutants to respiratory problems among children.

The district previously obtained a grant to convert 22 buses to cleaner-burning diesel. But anticipating that cleaner air standards would prompt higher costs for diesel buses and fuel, Pizana recommended the more environmentally friendly propane-powered alternatives, which reduce the volume of nitrous oxide pollutants emitted.

Lower Maintenance Costs

Preventative maintenance costs also are lower for propane vehicles, he says. The first 7,000-mile service required only nine quarts of oil, compared with 28 quarts needed for a diesel bus.

Pizana says Seguin ISD plans to buy five more propane buses this fall and encourages other districts to do likewise. Several nearby school districts already have contacted Pizana for advice as they consider whether to buy diesel or propane-powered buses.

For more information about Seguin ISD’s propane-powered buses, contact James Pizana, director of student transportation, at (830) 372-4420.

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