Talent Fostered by Economic Growth
How Williamson County has shaped workforce development through steadfast investment in economic growth
By Judge Bill Gravell Jr. | County Judge of Williamson County, Texas
Williamson County, Texas, is home to some of America’s fastest-growing towns, and has been steadily establishing its workforce development programs in line with creating economic opportunities. Aligning both has helped the county enhance workforce skills, knowledge and capabilities while adapting to market changes.
Situated north of Austin, the county embraces industries such as cattle raising and farming while attracting global businesses like Samsung, Apple and Dell, which are investing billions to create national headquarters and large-scale manufacturing facilities. This diversity in industries has brought talent with a range of skills and established economic expansion and job creation opportunities for the region.
The story of our county over the past two decades is summed up in a word: growth. In 2000 we had a population of about 250,000. Today, the population has grown to 700,000, and two of our cities – Georgetown and Leander – were recently highlighted as the fastest- and second-fastest growing cities over 50,000 in America, respectively, and Jarrell, was the fastest-growing city in Texas in 2022.
Through a concerted effort, the county has evaluated how to foster economic growth while maintaining the workforce needed in the region. Companies place the greatest emphasis on how attractive the local community is for employees who drive organizational success. Business leaders understand that people want to live and work in an area where they can travel easily between home and work, access quality health care, education and services and enjoy their quality of life. Williamson County possesses all of those positive qualities, and leaders here work hard to preserve those qualities even as we keep pace with rapid growth.
In addition, the county maintains the workforce with the skills required by these industries. That is why our vision for workforce development covers everything – from higher education to vocational training -- aligning the demands of the market with a skilled labor force. For instance, Georgetown is building a new innovation high school that will bring together students and the private sector to give the next generation the skills for great technical jobs.
Leaders in our county frequently discuss workforce development strategies with major Texas universities and colleges. We share a commitment to helping the high-tech industry to access advanced engineering and technical skills.
An example of this is Texas State Technical College’s Workforce Training and Continuing Education Department, which is expanding its offerings for companies in Williamson County. Nine employees from TASUS Texas Corp. and R&D Molders Inc., both plastics fabrication companies in Georgetown, are taking a 12-week maintenance technician course at the Hutto campus.
For the first time, the Workforce Training and Continuing Education department is working with Tesla to conduct a tool-and-die apprenticeship for employees to take classes in Precision Machining Technology and Welding Technology. Students can learn a specialized skill set that is critical for the automotive industry. This allows the region to meet the needs of employers while growing its workforce capabilities.
These programs promote the development of a skilled and diverse workforce, which in turn attracts investments from companies looking for qualified professionals. This leads to the creation and expansion of trades and businesses in the region.
Even as we strive to build opportunities in higher education, we never underestimate the value that tradespeople – from truck drivers, to electricians, to surveyors, to carpenters – play in a strong community. Trade schools are indispensable for giving people access to these career paths. So, we are constantly leaning forward to develop the workforce for all these trades.
The owner of a highly successful plumbing company in Taylor, for example, has created an apprenticeship program to train the next generation of plumbers. It’s a career that pays well and the work is always in demand.
Our approach of combing economic growth and workforce development strengthens our regional economy, making it more resilient to external factors. This resilience creates an environment where we attract new investments and create opportunities for development now and in the future.
Welcoming a global leader
Samsung, one of the world’s top five technology companies, was looking for a place to build its most advanced semiconductor manufacturing plant in the U.S. They asked us to make a pitch about why Williamson County, and specifically the town of Taylor, would make an ideal home for their massive new facility and their $17 billion investment. The competition was fierce: Samsung was already looking at seven other U.S. sites for this project, which would result in thousands of construction jobs and to create thousands of other job opportunities once the plant became operational.
We had to demonstrate we had and could attract the workforce, could construct the infrastructure to accommodate Samsung and its employees, and that Williamson County was the place Samsung needed to be. Our strong focus on aligning workforce development and economic resilience was attractive to Samsung. So was our alignment with training centers and education institutions. We were selected and Samsung and the county began aligning our workforce development visions.
Companies like Samsung and Hanhwa, an automation company, will be placing equipment in Georgetown High School so students can be trained on their technologies. For Samsung, the project is part of a broad workforce development program, which will build a strong talent pipeline for their new and existing facilities in our region. For the county, it is another example of why this is the place to be to develop skills and capabilities while building or expanding your career.
Commitment to Growth
The centerpiece of our commitment to growth was the county’s innovative Road Bond Program, which was launched in 2000. In that year, county voters approved accessing long-term financing by selling bonds to fund major capital improvement projects. Later, in 2006, 2013 and 2019, voters approved subsequent bond packages aimed at improving safety, mobility and community assets. Each road package has been accompanied by Park Bonds, which have secured nearly 5,000 acres of parks and preserves, more than 50 miles of trails and expanded county park facilities.
One of Samsung’s critical requirements involved making comprehensive improvements to road infrastructure surrounding the proposed site. We engaged our facilities crews to start patching potholes to deal with the worst issues and placed road-maintenance vehicles in the area to signal our intent to complete future work. While these efforts were in progress, we began to develop initial designs for highway and road construction and enhancements in the vicinity of the site. The aim was to demonstrate our commitment to expediting road improvements. We assembled leaders from various business partners, utility providers, developers and the U.S. Department of Commerce. We shared our concepts for improvements including County Road 401, County Road 404, and the new Samsung Highway, which drew rousing applause. Having the infrastructure in place to support our growth is critical to provide jobs and develop our workforce now and in the future.
Road to the future
The county is experiencing growth in many areas and fortunately anticipated the impact of this growth decades ago. We knew we needed to provide overall social well-being for the region by fostering a diverse workforce and attracting innovators that create opportunities so people and businesses would come and stay.
It’s truly a privilege to serve as County Judge in Williamson County. It’s been my philosophy from day one – whether it's an economic development initiative or workforce development program – that our office doesn’t say no, but rather we figure out how we can work toward a yes. We will always sit at the table, have a conversation and see how we can collaborate to improve opportunities and quality of life for the people we serve.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judge Bill Gravell Jr. is the County Judge of Williamson County, Texas, and was appointed on March 1, 2013.
County Judge Gravell serves as chief executive officer of the county and is involved in almost all aspects of county government, in accordance with Texas law. His responsibilities include preparing the County budget and presiding over Commissioners Court, a group of elected officials who work with him to shape the County’s future. Judge Gravell is also the administrator over the County Departments and Senior Department Heads that report directly to the Commissioners Court.
He previously served as the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace in Williamson County from January 2015 to December 2018. While Justice of the Peace, Judge Gravell was named "2016 Judge of the Year" by the Texas Justice of the Peace and Constables Association.
Before he became a leader in government, Judge Gravell’s profession focused on ministry. He served 22 years as a Pastor of Sonterra Fellowship in Jarrell. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. A proud Williamson County native, he and his wife Jill have two grown children and five grandchildren and lives in Georgetown, Texas.