The Chamber of Commerce’s annual Inside BCS all-day event Wednesday gave community members and local business leaders a chance to learn more about K-12 education, higher education, local and county government, economic development, health care, communication and criminal justice in the area.
What makes the event different from others, Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Glen Brewer said, is how many topics are discussed in one day — even if they are condensed presentations.
“You can go all year long, you’re not going to get this line up of speakers anywhere at any time. … It’s just like a little taste of all these different areas,” he said.
Originally, the event was created to introduce new residents to the area, but now it has become an annual update for anyone interested.
A keyword used many times in the discussions was “the triangle.” Multiple speakers noted how important it is that the Brazos Valley is located in the middle of the area created by Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.
Brazos County Precinct 1 Commissioner Steve Aldrich said during his presentation that 87% of the population in Texas lives either on the I-35 corridor or east of the interstate, and of that 87%, 65% live in “the triangle” created by I-10, I-45 and I-35.
“We’re right in the middle of that, so we have all the growth characteristics of everything on the triangle,” he said.
Brazos Valley Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Matt Prochaska noted during the economic development discussion that a Belgium company called the triangle “magic.”
“What’s happening is we’re showing up on the radar for a lot of folks that we haven’t been before that are developers and investment folks and whatnot,” Prochaska said, noting 435,000 live within a 60-mile radius of Bryan-College Station.
With a $22.6 billion gross market value in 2017 — and the 2018 numbers still to come — and a historic low
unemployment rate of 2.8%, he said, the area is being included in benchmarks with Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio like never before, attracting national and international attention.
Spencer Clements, principal of the Atlas Lake Walk area, told the attendees that business follows talent, and called Texas A&M “a factory of talent.” Many of the companies that are in the Brazos Valley have chosen to move into the area, whether they explored the area from Houston or California.
“The big idea is we can compete against the big boys, and we can win — not every time, but we can win,” he said.
During the economic development discussion, Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Dan Rudge gave an update on transportation projects and proposals — future plans and those in development — to help with traffic in both Bryan and College Station and along Texas 6.
“We’re doing everything that we can to try to improve transportation on our most important routes, while embracing safety,” he said.
Another topic discussed in multiple presentations was education and how local K-12 schools and institutions of higher education are preparing students whether they want to pursue a college degree or enter the workforce.
Christie Whitbeck, superintendent of the Bryan school district, and Clark Ealy, superintendent of the College Station school district, fielded the question noting the career and technical education offerings available to students.
“Our philosophy is a child has to be able to find their niche, and it’s our job to provide them with those pathways,” Whitbeck said. “We teach 93 career and technology courses in Bryan ISD ... so a kid could get into an intro and find something that interest them.”
More than 30 of those pathways can lead to a certification students can take into the workforce, while others lead to a degree plan.
In addition, during her presentation, Whitbeck showcased the new Bryan ISD CTE Complex that will offer courses in automotive technology, construction technology, industrial engineering and robotics and welding technology for juniors and seniors in Bryan, Snook and Caldwell school districts when it opens in August.
College Station does not have a CTE center, Ealy said, but the College Station school district has a similar focus on CTE courses and is looking to potentially partner with Bryan in the future to give College Station students the option to enroll at the new facility.
Though 89% of College Station high school graduates go on to a two-year or four-year institution, Ealy said, “What we strive to do is make sure that when the kids walk the stage at graduation at Reed Arena, we want them to have everything they need to be able to go right into college or right into the workforce. And for many of our kids, it’s both. They may start out at a two-year school or a four-year school, but they’re working their way through school, so they need to have these types of skills.”
Matt Rush, head of Allen Academy, said as a college preparatory private school, there is an expectation for students to go on to pursue a four-year degree, and all graduates do. He knows, though, that is not the case for all high school graduates.
“Philosophically as just an educator, to me, I think we have to be OK as a nation with kids not going to college, because college isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be for everyone. In my opinion, every kid should have access to higher education if that’s something they want to pursue,” he said.