ExxonMobil Corp. on Friday launched a workforce training initiative to enable the Greater Houston area's community colleges to prepare students for high-paying jobs in the re-emerging petrochemical manufacturing industry along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The "Houston + Natural Gas = Jobs" initiative builds on the operator's Lee College, Baytown, TX, ExxonMobil Process Technology Program and is designed to benefit 50,000 students and educators over the next five years.

"The chemical industry supports 73,000 high-paying Texas manufacturing jobs and will add more under announced expansion plans by industry, including ExxonMobil," said ExxonMobil Chemical Co. President Steve Pryor. "Our industry has made Texas the top chemical producing state in the nation, driven in large part by abundant and affordable supplies of natural gas for energy and feedstock. We contribute to a strong economy for Houston and the state."

The latest initiative would target students interested in seeking degrees or certification in instrumentation, electrical, machinist/millwright, welding, pipe fitting and other skills and competencies needed by the chemical industry. ExxonMobil and the colleges are to offer a "fast track" program with classroom instruction, dual-credit courses, internships, certificate programs and two-year degree programs.

ExxonMobil has contributed more than $2.6 million over the past decade to manufacturing workforce training initiatives across the Gulf Coast area, which it said has impacted more than 15,000 students.

The oil major is awaiting construction permits to progress plans for a world-class petrochemical expansion in Baytown (see Daily GPI, March 7). The multi-billion dollar project would include an ethane cracker and premium product facilities at the producer's integrated complex to capitalize on abundant supplies of domestic natural gas.

If developed, the cracker could create about 10,000 construction jobs, and 350 permanent jobs would be added to ExxonMobil's workforce of more than 6,000 in the Baytown area. "The estimated multiplier effect would create another 3,800 jobs in the local community," said ExxonMobil.

"Domestic natural gas will continue to energize Houston and our country for a long time to come. That's why we want to expand our Baytown facility to benefit from America's abundant supplies and become more competitive in global markets. For Houston, that means jobs and economic activity flowing to our city."

State Sen. Rodney Ellis said the proposed petrochemical expansions by ExxonMobil and others would require skilled workers.

"The jobs that will become available in our area over the next decade represent a life-changing opportunity for many in our community," Ellis said. "With the average annual salary in the Texas chemical industry at $86,000, this landmark partnership among our schools, business community and ExxonMobil can help make the dream of economic independence come true for a lot of families."

Greater Houston Partnership CEO Bob Harvey said the announcement was "great news for workers who will be retrained or want to enter the chemical manufacturing industry in the next few years."

The Lee College Center for Workforce and Community Development would implement the program, which is being done in collaboration with Houston Community College, Lone Star College, San Jacinto Junior College, Alvin Community College, Wharton County Junior College, Brazosport College, Galveston College and College of the Mainland in Galveston. Plans call for including high schools as well.

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