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Small Town, Big Tech

Samsung Corp. officials presented Taylor ISD leaders with a $1 million check at the groundbreaking for the district’s new Career & Technical Education wing.

On her first day as Taylor ISD superintendent, Jennifer Garcia-Edwardsen celebrated the groundbreaking of the district’s new Career and Technical Education Center by accepting a $1 million check from the Samsung Austin Semiconductor.

For this small district in Taylor, that hefty donation marked another transformational impact of the chipmaker’s decision to build a $17 billion semiconductor manufacturing facility in this Central Texas community, population 16,267. The gift will allow Taylor ISD to purchase the latest technology for their new CTE center, from welding equipment to 3D printers.

Yet even as the district welcomes the donation and embraces the possibilities that come with being home to Samsung’s new mammoth facility, there’s still uncertainty about what the future will bring.

“It’s a big change to the community,” said Garcia-Edwardsen. “The community voice is important, especially since we’re a small town experiencing growth. Our residents feel that. Sometimes there is an uneasiness about it. The key is keeping the community in mind and going slow to go fast.”

Across the Lone Star State, several school district communities are experiencing similar growth, thanks to a wave of businesses relocating or investing in Texas. Figuring out how to navigate all the impacts of such business growth and investment is challenging. For communities trying to keep their small-town charm while also maximizing the potential of these generation-defining opportunities to uplift their economies and residents, the stakes are even higher.

Leading With Transparency

As Taylor ISD has seen over the past few years, striking the right balance takes a lot of work and an ongoing commitment to keeping the needs of students and their families at the forefront of the conversation. For the school board, that has meant prioritizing transparency and open communications from the very first public hearing involving Samsung back in May 2021.

“I wanted to make sure we gave the community the opportunity to visit and talk,” said Marco Ortiz, Taylor ISD school board president. “I didn’t want to cut things off or close the hearing until everybody had a chance to ask their questions. I think the community saw us, the board of trustees, as being transparent.”

It ended up being one of their most attended meetings.

“One community member made a comment, ‘You guys have a bunch of lawyers out here telling us this, this, this, but I want you to come down and just explain in layman’s terms what it is,’” said Ortiz. “Our superintendent was able to relay that message. After that, the comment he made was, ‘I understand it now. Thank you.’”

Preparing for the Future

Since then, the district has kept its focus on graduating future-ready students through engaging and relevant instruction, including STEM programs and maximizing internship opportunities with Samsung. Not surprisingly, that goal aligns with the needs of a huge multinational corporation, which will require a skilled and educated workforce to ensure its success.

“It’s building a future for the town,” said recent graduate Emilio De La Garza about Samsung’s investment in Taylor, which is located about 40 miles northeast of Austin in Williamson County. “It’s bringing people here; and with more people comes more opportunities.”

De La Garza, a 2023 graduate of Taylor’s ISD Legacy Early College High School, is one of the students who have seen Samsung being built from the ground up. Being a part of the first class of Taylor ISD interns at Samsung propelled his interest in engineering, and in the spring of his senior year, he was selected to become a full-time apprentice.

“Most of my decision to go to Samsung was thinking ahead,” said De La Garza. “It’s not a common occurrence to have a job right there, ready for you. It almost felt like fate when they reached out to me.”

Thinking ahead is what drew De La Garza to Legacy Early College High School. Career-focused, he earned both his associate degree from Temple Community College and his high school degree at graduation. He can now focus on obtaining his associate degree in advanced manufacturing design from Austin Community College, the last step before he becomes a full-time Samsung employee.

“From the student perspective, [the internship is] just a really great opportunity,” he said. “You get a peek into what’s going on. If it’s something they like, they can hit the ground running as they enter that field, whether that’s engineering or construction or marketing. It’s a net positive.”

One day during his sophomore year in 2021, his principal, Erika Cantwell, tapped him on the shoulder, asking him to speak at the next town hall meeting about his internship experience.

Representing the Legacy Early College High School student body, he shared why he thought Samsung would be a positive opportunity for Legacy students. He was also able to hear the perspective of local business leaders, as well as city government.

Those sorts of connections between the students of Taylor ISD and Samsung are expected to grow, especially when the district’s new CTE Center opens in 2025. In addition, Samsung Austin Semiconductor’s internship success has set a precedent for this community, and Williamson County is now requiring all new businesses of a certain size to have meaningful internships for local students.

Changes on the Horizon

Meanwhile, a mile and a half from Taylor High School, cranes are in the air, forklifts are moving materials, and Samsung’s new manufacturing facility is taking shape with some 8,000 construction workers hard at work.

In anticipation of the first phase of completion on July 1, Taylor ISD board members and district administrators are busy planning for a future that involves more than four million square feet of new investment into their community. It’s being hailed by both state and federal leaders as a significant milestone in the growing U.S. computer chip industry, which is essential for powering many aspects of modern life, from smart phones to cars to space satellites.

In May, the school board received a new demographics study that will help them plan for more expected growth in Taylor ISD as families move into the area for jobs and opportunities.

Already, Main Street has a little more traffic. Shops and restaurants are popping up, and new neighborhoods are sprouting near Samsung.

“We’re hoping it’s a bit more gradual so we can prepare,” said Ortiz. “There are newer subdivisions, and the city is working with developers. Once those homes fill in, I think we’ll see more growth.”

Once a Duck, Always a Duck

Tim Crow, Taylor ISD’s communications and community liaison, said the prevailing attitude among residents has been one of pride and optimism, even with all the changes. The community also loves its Taylor ISD Ducks.

“Taylor has a really rich heritage,” he said. “Families have been here for generations. One thing I’ve been impressed with is the respect Samsung has for that, and their willingness to learn that community pride as they’ve become a part of our community. They’re showing their support and that they want to be a part of it.”

Nowhere is Taylor ISD’s respect for tradition more evident than at the district’s annual homecoming event, which is always a highlight of the school year. It attracts alumni from all classes to enjoy not only the football game but also breakfast, a parade, and inductions into the Duck Hall of Fame.

“Generations come back,” Crow said. “The oldest person to come back was 100. A lot are in their 90s. It shows that community pride and sense of family.”

For Ortiz, keeping the school district connected to its rich past will be essential as it plans its future. He looks forward to more Taylor ISD graduates being able to stay in their hometown to pursue careers and raise families.

“That’s the way we’re going to hold on to that charm and small-town feel,” he said. “Because the foundation has been built, it’s going to stay.”

Photo: Samsung Corp. officials presented Taylor ISD leaders with a $1 million check at the groundbreaking for the district’s new Career & Technical Education wing.

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Savanna Polasek
Communications Specialist

Savanna Polasek is a communications specialist for TASB.