How One North Texas Community Is Investing in Its Workforce

Rockwall County, TX
Written by Samita Sarkar

Rockwall County is the smallest Texas county by geographic size, but it’s also one of the most affluent. Its county seat is the City of Rockwall, which is a small but rapidly growing Dallas-area suburb of approximately 45,000 residents.
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“Dallas-Fort Worth in general is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, so a lot of people are drawn to North Texas and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Within that area, we are one of the more attractive communities due to the higher quality of life and the open spaces. At the same time, we have all the same access to the interstate highway system, and therefore Dallas Love Field and Dallas/Fort Worth Airports,” says Matt Wavering, Director of Project Development at the Rockwall Economic Development Corporation (REDC).

With a population of about 7.4 million, the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is the largest metropolitan area in both Texas and the South as a whole. Though a part of the Metroplex, Rockwall County is known for its serene juxtaposition to the bustling downtown core, offering residents more open space, fresh air, and green areas while remaining close to world-class museums, entertainment, and arts. The west end of Rockwall County contains the beautiful, 22,745-acre Lake Ray Hubbard, a reservoir that provides Rockwall, Dallas, Kaufman, and Collin counties with outdoor recreational opportunities. The lake is crossed by several bridges, including Interstate 30.

“A lot of the residents here will tell you that they moved here to get a bit more space, and they feel a sense of relief when they commute across Lake Ray Hubbard at the end of the day. To work in Dallas or Collin County and commute across the bridge provides a sense of separation between where they work and where they live and play,” Wavering says.

The Rockwall workforce is strong in manufacturing, banking, finance, healthcare, and research and development. But at the moment, Wavering notes that many Rockwall residents are commuting to other parts of the Metroplex for work, and even some business owners have offices across the lake rather than in town. With a diverse workforce, access to statewide and international transportation, and a postcard-ready office window view that overlooks Lake Ray Hubbard, there are many reasons for corporate office users to do business in a place like Rockwall County.

“It’s very unique to have a view of downtown Dallas across a lake, in a community with hills and rolling terrain,” Wavering describes.

Rockwall County is also rich in manufacturing. Three prime industries in the county are metal fabrication, plastics and packaging manufacturing, and food processing, but with the development of the “shovel-ready” 400-acre Rockwall Technology Park, there is a lot of room for more facilities to open up, particularly in advanced manufacturing.

The Economic Development Corporation’s current goal is to promote the city to both types of business: corporate office users and manufacturers, for the mutual benefit of business owners and the workforce. Businesses that choose to open up a location in Rockwall can take advantage of the workers who are currently commuting.

“Our job is not only to diversify the tax base and create jobs, but also to serve our community. If the average citizen has to spend 90 minutes in the car just to be able to provide a good life for their family, we want to be able to shorten that to 10 or 15 minutes.” By facilitating partnerships and modes of communication between businesses, schools, and other stakeholders, the REDC encourages workforce development in Rockwall County.

Wavering says that the best way for the REDC to get feedback on its initiatives is to ask the companies directly. “I hold what we call industry roundtables. Quarterly or twice a year, we get together with HR or C-level executives from the local companies and put them in the same room together. Generally, we find they have the same types of challenges with their businesses. As a result, we get direct feedback on the issues they have, and they are also able to talk among themselves. Many times, somebody has come up with some sort of solution that works for their business.”

When the business executives share their ideas, even those in other industries are able to tweak the solutions so they apply to their own company’s challenges. Companies in different industries are able to help each other resolve their workforce challenges.

“At those roundtables, I’ll also bring in guest speakers to discuss issues from the last meeting. We have partnered with Workforce Solutions for North Central Texas to help educate our companies and the leaders about grant opportunities, workforce training opportunities, and opportunities to partner with local community colleges or tech schools to provide training to their companies either at a reduced cost, or simply covered via a state grant,” shares Wavering.

Another way the affluent county is keeping ahead is through investing in its future workforce – the youth. This fall, the Rockwall Independent School District (RISD) will open a brand new College and Career Academy, to be known as the Dr. Gene Burton College & Career Academy. The 150,000 square foot Academy will offer programs ranging from arts to sciences. It has also partnered with Collin College (a local community college that serves most of the Metroplex) and Texas Tech University (a public research university in Lubbock, Texas) to offer college diplomas and four-year degrees to students within the community.

As Alison Belliveau, Executive Director, Career & Technical Education at the RISD (and Principal of the Academy) tells Business in Focus, “The Dr. Gene Burton College & Career Academy puts students’ post-secondary goals/plans at the forefront of their education. Our tagline/motto, ‘Engaging Learners. Growing Leaders’ focuses on hands-on activities/curriculum that directly relates to their field of interest while we grow students into our future workforce.”

When the College & Career Academy was announced last year, the REDC held a roundtable and invited company leaders, RISD members and curriculum developers to open a dialog between the groups and determine what skills local companies were looking for, and how the school could help develop them.

“There are multiple exit points after graduating high school – including university, technical school, community college, military, and workforce – and we plan to prepare students for all of those individual goals. It is imperative that we partner with local business and industry to create real-world experiences for our students,” Belliveau continues.

Another initiative discussed during the roundtables is Manufacturing Day, aimed at promoting the industry to middle and secondary school-aged children who aren’t yet sure about their career path. “This day is meant to promote manufacturing and remove the old stigmas that manufacturing is dirty, dingy, unsafe, and doesn’t pay well. We want to introduce parents and younger kids to the opportunities that manufacturing can afford them. Most of our entry-level manufacturing jobs pay pretty well, with opportunities for several promotions to start your way up the career ladder for somebody right out of high school,” says Wavering.

Special Products & Mfg is one of the Rockwall-based businesses that has participated in Manufacturing Day. The company, which also sponsors the RISD Robotics Club, feels that it is very important to have these students exposed at a young age so they can start to think about their future early on.

“The SPM facility is just awesome,” says Wavering. “It’s a metal fabrication company that utilizes robotics and high-end machinery. Its designers and autoCAD operators are very well educated. From salespeople, engineers, all the way down to entry-level workers who are handling metals, it’s a great company and example of the wide range of jobs we have available in Rockwall. But without touring that facility, you perhaps wouldn’t know that it’s very safe, very clean, and very air conditioned.”

By opening up these advanced manufacturing facilities to the public during Manufacturing Day, students are given a chance to see exactly what gets produced in Rockwall and how they can become a part of it.

As of last year, Rockwall also hosts an annual job fair – another decision made at a roundtable meeting. The unemployment rate is very low in North Texas, so companies requested a fair dedicated to those specifically looking in Rockwall, and the REDC made it happen. In 2017, over 450 job seekers and about a dozen companies across industry showed up to that event.

“It was the first time we had ever done anything like that in Rockwall County, and we were very happy with the results. Companies were immediately begging for us to do it again. The next one will be held this September 14th,” says Wavering.

The REDC has partnered with the Rockwall Area Chamber of Commerce for 2018 and predicts that this time the fair will have triple the number of employers and twice as many job seekers as last year. Representatives from Collin College, Texas Tech University, and the new Dr. Gene Burton College & Career Academy will also be present at the fair. Indeed, it has been a productive and prosperous year for Rockwall County, and this trend is only expected to continue.

If you think that this growing North Texas community may be the right place for your business, you can find out more about the REDC at www.rockwalledc.com.

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