to a higher-skill, higher-wage box that will help us compete in the global economy,” said Jackie Mitchell Edwards, the group’s new chief operating officer.
The blueprint, now a list of six goals and objectives, was started after a Paris-based organization’s report, released this month, urged colleges, universities and businesses on both sides of the border to take a collaborative approach to raising this region’s educational levels and upgrading the “current low-skilled economy.”
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development was invited by the Paso del Norte Group to do one of its regional reviews of how higher-education institutions can help upgrade a region’s economy. Its review found notable programs at universities on both sides of the border, but found that most of those are done at local levels and not at a regional level.
The report said poverty, violence in Juárez and health and environmental problems jeopardize the long-term competitiveness of the region. However, health and environmental problems can be used as springboards to develop companies and jobs aimed at solving those problems, it said.
Drug-related violence in Juárez and the U.S. government’s focus on border security “undermine the impetus to build a cohesive binational region,” the report said. It gave no hints on how to deal with that problem.
Edwards, Susan Melendez, cochairwoman of the Paso del Norte Group, and others in the El Paso area said the violence makes binational development more difficult but not impossible.
“We have to think more as a region now than probably at any time in our history,” Melendez said. The region now has more educational resources and other tools to build the regional economy than ever, she said.
Woody Hunt, chairman and CEO of Hunt Cos., and co-chairman of the Paso del Norte Group’s education committee, said, “We need the region to be competitive. The world really competes by region, not by state or country.”
Hunt said the message he got from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report and other studies is this region needs to “create an entrepreneurial environment to create the jobs to retain a highly skilled work force” and raise income levels.
For years, emphasis was put on improving education levels in El Paso, but college graduates are leaving because they do not find jobs here, Hunt said.
Jaana Puukka, leader of OECD’s review of higher education in regional and city development, said the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence had done a good job of increasing education levels of the Hispanic population, but “joint, sustained efforts are now needed to improve employment and new business formation in the region.”
The University of Texas at El Paso, for example, has been recognized for its success in training Hispanic engineers, but 75 percent of the UTEP engineering graduates leave the region because the economy is not producing jobs for them, she said.
Trying to find ways to stop the brain drain will be the role of the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness, which will be created at UTEP with $5 million pledged to the university this month by the Hunt Family Foundation, of which Hunt is chairman.
The OECD is doing research worldwide to show that higher education has to play a leadership role in economic development, but businesses and government also must be partners, Hunt said.
Edwards said the OECD report points out that collaboration among the 11 institutions of higher education in this region, along with business and other organizations,”ought to be able to work toward a consensus of how we change our region. “We’re focusing on how we connect the abstract education point of view with the actual jobs and industries,” she said.
Garrey Carruthers, dean of the New Mexico State University College of Business in Las Cruces, said the OECD report shows an “excellent inventory of higher education resources that could be brought to bear” in improving this region’s economy.
“In the past, universities sign these feel-good documents (of cooperation), that we’re going to be brothers and sisters, and not much happens. I’m hopeful this (OECD report) helps universities to work more together.”
UTEP President Diana Natalicio said that her school has ongoing collaborations with schools in Juárez, but that the violence is preventing UTEP students and teachers from crossing the border to work on projects. More than 1,900 murders have occurred in Juárez this year, an average of more than eight a day.
Mario Blanco, director of Centro de Entrenamiento en Alta Tecnología, a high-tech training center in Juárez, said schools can use the Internet and other creative methods of communication to circumvent problems caused by the violence so they can work together. This area needs a “regional mission so we can work together. Right now, we’re somewhat disconnected,” Blanco said.
Manpower Inc., an international staffing agency, is doing a survey for the Paso del Norte Group to project what work force skills will be needed in this region in the future. The OECD report said universities in the Paso del Norte region need to do more to foster new enterprises.
“The universities have a tendency to measure success in innovation by the amount of (public) investment made, not the amount of commercial return generated or jobs created,” the report said.
Natalicio said universities around the country measure success by the amount of research dollars they receive. But, she said, UTEP, like many other universities, is increasing activity in trying to commercialize research.
Problems for area
Some problems identified in this region by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s
review of higher education’s role in economic development:
- The Paso del Norte Region has characteristics of “old industrial regions,” which are less innovative.
- Inadequate educational levels of the region’s population limit the ability to develop and attract high-value jobs.
- The current rate of business formation is modest, and area universities are not prominent in fostering new enterprises.
- No mechanism for pooling knowledge and expertise of all higher education institutions to deliver support to industry.
- Gaps in lifelong learning, entrepreneurship education, and support for small and medium-size businesses
at regional universities and colleges