The Coastal Bend of Texas is a unique corner of the Lone Star State -- a 13,900-square-mile crescent that encompasses 13 counties near and bordering the Gulf of Mexico. The heart of the region is Corpus Christi, a city of 350,000 that is among the busiest ports in the country. A center of petrochemical manufacturing, it exports more crude oil than anywhere in the nation and is expected to draw an estimated $10 billion in investment over the next 10 years.
But several of the counties in this expansive region are a world away from the vitality and prosperity of its largest city. Remote, isolated and separated from their own small cities by mesquite scrubland and sprawling cattle ranches, these are places where educational attainment is low, good jobs are few and poverty is high.
The inland counties of Jim Wells, Brooks and Duval are the focus of efforts by Upskill Coastal Bend, a partnership of non-profits, educational institutions, businesses and others who are working to boost education and training for the residents of these counties so they can meet the demand for skilled workers not just in Corpus Christi but with employers they hope to attract closer to home.
“These counties are furthest away geographically from the population center, and you have to believe that geography is impacting access,” says Jeffrey West, executive director of Education to Employment Partners (E2E), which is the backbone organization and fiscal agent for Upskill Coastal Bend. “Major universities, community colleges – they are all very far away from these areas.”
Upskill Coastal Bend, which takes in a total of 11 counties, is focused on the six rural counties that are farthest from the population centers. As a partner in CivicLab’s Building Rural Community Systems initiative, they are first zeroing in on the three counties with the greatest need to build systems that provide for better educational attainment and workforce development.
Poverty in this region is acute. In Brooks County, the median household income is $18,622, and 40 percent live below the poverty line; in Duval County, it is 22,416 for a household. In both counties, 40 percent live below the poverty line. Jim Wells County fares better with a median household income of $28,843, but 24 percent of its residents still live below the poverty line. (By comparison, the median household income for Texas overall is $60,826.)
Educational attainment, accordingly, is markedly low. In Duval County, just 15 percent of residents hold a degree or credential beyond high school, and in Brooks County and Wells County, just 16 percent do. Those figures stand in sharp contrast to attainment levels for Texas overall, where 34.9 percent of residents have a postsecondary credential.