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Abbott: Texas shouldn't emulate ‘no longer relevant’ companies like Kodak

Texas is an economic powerhouse, but needs to be proactive in developing its workforce in order to avoid the fate of once-great companies like Kodak, Woolworth and Sears, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday.

Those companies were at the top of their industries 20 years ago, he said; now they’re “no longer relevant.” They were felled because they didn’t respond quickly enough to changes in technology and customer preferences.

As a state, Texas needs to prepare for similar changes, Abbott said. It can do so by establishing itself as a worldwide research leader, growing the number of students who earn postsecondary degrees and fostering collaboration between the private sector and schools, he said.

“Texans have always been hardworking, driven, innovative and fiercely ambitious to achieve things tomorrow that don’t even exist today,” he said at the Texas Education and Workforce Summit on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. “So our goal in this room, our task, is to ensure that the next generation builds on that legacy and perpetuates the Texas brand of exceptionalism.”

The conference was convened in part to unveil the findings of a review he commissioned by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Education Agency and Texas Workforce Commission. Those agencies distributed a draft of their report at the conference, and Abbott endorsed their recommendations.

Ideas in the report included pursuing research dominance in areas such as genomics, vaccine production, energy, artificial intelligence and “big data.” It said the state should expand opportunities for students in high school to earn college credit. And it called for better career counseling for students from middle school to college.

The group had been asked to suggest ways to make higher education more affordable. But the draft report didn’t address issues like tuition or state funding. Instead, the task force focused on ideas that would help students earn their degrees faster and in fields that produced good jobs.

Some of those ideas have already been announced. Abbott enthusiastically endorsed the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s goal to grow the share of young people who have a postsecondary degree to 60 percent by 2035. And he expressed excitement for the idea of Texas Industry Innovative Academies, which would be schools that partner with local employers and colleges to provide internship and dual-credit opportunities for high school students.

“The report is a veritable architectural rendering of a powerful future for the state of Texas,” he said.

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