At a ceremony today in Baytown, TX, ExxonMobil and representatives from nine Houston-area community colleges awarded students $45,000 in scholarships aimed at developing the skilled workforce needed to keep the Gulf Coast’s chemical industry thriving. That contribution takes our overall support for Gulf Coast job training initiatives in the past half-decade over the $2 million mark.

Milestones like that are what ExxonMobil means when we talk about Growing the Gulf.

The simple fact is the manufacturing renaissance taking place along the Gulf – driven largely by the petrochemical industry leveraging America’s shale energy revolution – will need tens of thousands of highly trained employees over the next several decades to keep momentum.

That’s why ExxonMobil made an initial contribution in 2013 to underwrite a job-training program in the greater Houston area. Concerned about the possibility of a “major workforce shortage,” we launched efforts to develop the workers to staff a rapidly expanding – and, increasingly, highly technical – petrochemical industry.

The result was the Community College Petrochemical Initiative.

In the four years since we unveiled this partnership, ExxonMobil has made a considerable investment – including $200,000 this year – to train skilled workers in welding, pipefitting, supply-chain management, electrical technology, computer maintenance, and many other areas.

In fact, enrollment in petrochemical-related fields at participating institutions is up 61 percent, so we know this program is working.

Its success is no surprise. The average salary for STEM-related skilled jobs in the chemical industry in Texas is about $100,000 per year. The Community College Petrochemical Initiative helps match the demand for high-skilled labor with a local populace that sees the petrochemical industry providing real opportunity.

Key to this is ExxonMobil’s commitment to helping drive the Gulf Coast manufacturing boom. We are planning to invest more than $20 billion over 10 years to build and expand 11 manufacturing facilities along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

For a century, ExxonMobil has been a mainstay of the Gulf Coast economy. These investments show that we will be there for a long time to come.

That’s good news for the whole region. Our expansion means needed tax revenue for local governments.

And it means jobs – high-paying ones and lots of them.

The Gulf Coast has become, as one observer puts it, “America’s new economic powerhouse.” As ExxonMobil is showing, it all starts in the classroom.

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