PSP partnerships produce big results

Tracee Bentley, president and CEO of the Permian Strategic Partnership, gives an address during a press conference announcing the expansion of the Odessa College Truck Driving Academy, Jan. 18, 2023. (Odessa American File Photo)

MIDLAND Adding Texas Tech University and the University of Texas System to the Permian Strategic Partnership seemed a natural fit for the organization because they have been working close for the past four and a half years on healthcare and education, two of PSP’s pillars.

Tracee Bentley, president and CEO of PSP, said PSP, the Scarborough Foundation, University of Texas and Texas Tech were partners in the regional health care study conducted a couple of years ago. They decided that it was going to take all of them to find the solutions the region needed and deserved.

“So the natural alliances and the natural partnership are already there. When it comes to Texas Tech, they are one of the best in the business when it comes to rural health care and family care. When it comes to University of Texas, they are one of the best when it comes to cancer treatment and also some of that specialty care and given their presence here with UTPB they are also a natural ally. And so when there was interest expressed in them becoming officially members of the PSP, our board determined that made good sense,” Bentley said.

Bentley added that PSP has expanded UTPB’s nursing program.

“We’ve built a licensed professional counselor program, a master’s program, with University of Texas Permian Basin. On the Texas Tech side, of course, we’ve spent a lot of dollars on building … family physician residencies, surgery residencies, physician assistants, and more. On the education side, we’ve worked with University of Texas Permian Basin on increasing the number of STEM teachers in our high schools and some other education related things. … When it comes to healthcare and education, those two university partners have proven to be very, very important,” Bentley said.

In a news release announcing the university memberships, UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken said PSP’s efforts have improved lives and economic outcomes across the Permian Basin and they are proud to be part of supporting that good work.

“With UTPB’s longstanding presence and investment in West Texas, this partnership is a natural fit for the UT System, and we look forward to helping build upon PSP’s record of success,” Milliken said in the release.

Dr. Tedd L. Mitchell, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System, said the Permian Basin is paramount to the continued prosperity of the state and offers “an incredible opportunity to advance education and health care in Texas.”

“The recent growth fostered by local leaders and the PSP has been phenomenal in boosting academic access and infrastructure in the region, specifically at the Midland and Odessa campuses for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. The TTU System is proud to have been a longstanding partner of the Permian Basin for more than 50 years and will continue to support this vital region as a member of the PSP,” Mitchell said in the release.

On Sept. 25, PSP announced the addition of its 25th member, Liberty Energy. Bentley said PSP is very excited to have them on board and noted that she worked with them quite closely in Colorado.

“With their extended presence in the Permian … Liberty said that, we want to be part of that organization as they share our community values,” Bentley said.

She added that she thinks PSP is drawing in more members because of its actions.

“I think other companies are starting after four and a half years … to see what we want to invest in and why and also some progress that we’re making. But I also … think that a big attraction for companies to join PSP is our ability to leverage our dollars with others’ dollars. So today, we’ve spent over $145 million of PSP dollars, but we’ve leveraged that into over $1.1 billion. That leveraging component is … really unique and I think that’s attractive to a lot of companies,” Bentley said.

Some of the issues PSP is trying to address are being faced, to some degree, by all companies in the area and “they seemed very overwhelming,” such as being able to attract and retain the kind of talent needed for their workforces.

“I think the scope of the problem was overwhelming. But now, you’ve got 25 members of PSP saying as individuals, yes, this is probably too big to conquer (alone), but together … we can make transformative moves,” she added.

Bentley said TTU and the UT System are coming in as dues-paying members just like the rest of the companies.

“Before it was very focused on just healthcare, but now they’ll be participating in all of the things that PSP funds,” she added.

PSP also has launched the 2023 Get Out the Vote Campaign. This is in response to declining participation in general elections across the Permian Basin over the past four years, a news release said. The effort seeks to register new voters across the entire region and encourage participation in the upcoming Nov. 7 election. The campaign will target both English and Spanish speakers in counties across West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico.

“We are excited to see how Odessans respond to the bond initiative, particularly the Career Technical Education Center, as our region desperately needs more access to high-quality career technical education,” Bentley said. “Should voters pass that, the Permian Strategic Partnership is prepared to make a meaningful investment in that center as well, so we’ll be watching that closely.”

In 2024, she said, the area will see more significant investments in education and health care, but also in workforce.

“We truly … have a child care crisis in the Permian Basin, and we are missing out on a huge portion of a talented workforce simply because we do not have enough childcare in our region. Not only are we missing out on workforce opportunities, we’re really missing out on the opportunity to get our young ones and our future generation ready for for kindergarten, so that by the time they get to third grade, they are reading at grade level; math does make sense to them. It’s really twofold for us. We are working feverishly to find solutions to our childcare crisis and I am hoping in 2024 we’ll be able to fund some of those solutions,” Bentley said.

She added that there are long waiting lists and people will pay whatever they must to get a spot.

“And those are the people that can afford it. The vast majority of our community can’t afford to pay whatever’s necessary to get their child in a spot. There are income constraints, so we want to make sure that whatever childcare solutions we decide to pursue are for the entire community, not just for a select few,” Bentley said.

She said there are various solutions being considered, such as childcare subsidies for parents.

“I also really liked the model that Midland College has that we invested in where you’ve got the pre K teaching labs, so it really accomplishes two things. It provides high-quality childcare seats, but also you’ve got teachers learning on the job how to become daycare and pre-K certified teachers. That really solves two issues. We are looking at (whether) … this model is expandable, and if it is and we think it might be, where would be the ideal places across the region to expand that model, which could be awesome,” Bentley said.

She added that the areas most in need of more childcare are Odessa, Midland and Carlsbad, N.M.

“That’s not to say others aren’t because I know they are. But those particular three seem to really be in crisis mode,” Bentley said.

Road projects

Bentley said PSP is waiting for the two allocations that they’ve gotten over the last couple of years to get contracts and start going. Many area projects already started, particularly on I-20.

“We are constantly getting more projects ready in the queue to take to TxDOT and New Mexico DOT … We’re thrilled with the projects that we’ve been able to get funded over the past four and a half years to date,” she said.

Road safety also is a priority because this region has some of the most dangerous roads in Texas, New Mexico and arguably the country, Bentley said.

“That’s for numerous reasons. The investments in improving and upgrading will certainly help, but it’s also to do with how quickly can our volunteer first responders … respond to an accident; how quickly can we get a person who’s in need of trauma care off the site and to the appropriate level of trauma care to be serviced; all those sorts of things. And then do we have connectivity in order to call … a helicopter. … The answer to that is in some case, no, we don’t. Unfortunately, we’ve seen several folks not make it through what would otherwise be a survivable accident, simply because there was not connectivity in that particular area and help couldn’t be reached in time,” Bentley said.

“We want to make sure that in the future that’s not an issue anymore,” she added.

PSP is working with the Texas Department of Public Safety, local first responders and Texas Tech to figure out how to better equip ambulances and have connectivity so first responders know what they’re walking into and can make decisions before they get on scene.

“I think we’ve got a lot of opportunities in road safety and emergency management to come,” Bentley said.

Behavioral health hospital

The fundraising gap for the estimated $225 million behavioral health hospital is closing and the project is on schedule, Bentley said.

“We should be on schedule to break ground next year, which is very exciting. Now what we need to be focused on are qualified professionals to work at our behavioral health center, which is why you saw us expand UTPB’s licensed professional counselor program. We’ve got to do more of that. We’ve got to work on getting our young potential healthcare professionals excited about the work that’s going to be done there and in the pipeline training right now, so that by the time it’s ready to open we’ve got some of our very own, who grew up right here in the Permian, who are getting the training, or maybe close to ending the training, that they need to be able to staff that behavioral health center,” Bentley said.

“We know that we have much better luck growing our own professionals than we often do recruiting. It’s not always the case, but sometimes,” she added.