W.O. Lawton Business Leadership Award

Recognizing Excellence in our Industry

A primary role of Workforce Development Boards is to build relationships between businesses and public partners such as economic development organizations, education providers, and community and faith-based organizations. This is only possible, however, when a business steps up and makes a commitment to be a full partner in the Board’s endeavors. NAWB has established the W.O. Lawton Business Leadership Award to annually honor a business or business organization that made the commitment of time, money, and leadership to make their community’s workforce and economy more vibrant. This year, two nominations stood out, one for a large, international corporation, and the other for a small precision machine shop, each impressive in for what it did with the resources available.

W. O. Lawton Business Leadership Award Winner – Small Company

Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance
Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas

Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance
Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas

Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance recognizes the importance of connecting business, education, and workforce. In 2016, Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance was recognized as the Small Business of the Year by the Abilene Chamber of Commerce and was one of three finalists for Texas Small Business of the Year. Led by Mr. Samuel Garcia, an experienced business leader, dedicated workforce board member, and community volunteer, the workforce board implemented two key workforce initiatives that positively impacted the entire 19-county region through creation of new worker training program and career pathway events that connected students with local businesses.


Training programs designed for small businesses to train current workers were nonexistent in 2002 when Samuel Garcia, local owner/agent of Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance, a newly appointed member to the local workforce board, posed the idea of creating a grant fund to train new or current workers. As a business with less than five employees, Mr. Garcia knew that small businesses often lack the time, expertise, or finances to adequately train new employees or upskill current workers. Through hours of meetings with a small group of representatives from business, economic development, organized labor, education, elected officials, community-based organizations and the Small Business Development Center, Mr. Garcia led the creation and launch of the Workforce Investment Fund in 2003 with an investment of $50,000 from the workforce board. Through a short, on-line application, employers could apply for up to $50,000 with a 25 percent cash match.

Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance has a passion for organizations and programs that help children. The business supports child care centers, Little League, and Communities in Schools, and for 15 years has been the lead organizer of the college and career readiness workshop hosted by the Hispanic Leadership Council.

Hearing persistent frustrations expressed by fellow employers at workforce board and chamber of commerce meetings about the lack of knowledgeable and prepared local high school graduates and knowing the data as a school board member about dropout rates, Mr. Garcia knew he had to bring business, education, and workforce together to brainstorm strategies. As a result of several meetings in fall 2006, Mr. Garcia persuaded the workforce board and local school district to pilot a career pathways initiative in spring 2007 that would bring local employers to high school campuses to promote awareness of local career opportunities. Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance actively recruited other employers and also participated in all of the inaugural events. During the pilot phase, four local high schools held events that connected a total of 800 students and 40 employers on local campuses. Employers discovered that students (and teachers) lacked awareness of local career opportunities, but were excited and engaged in learning.


During the seven-year period that the Workforce Investment Fund was operational, a total of 2,008 current workers were trained and 968 new jobs created with 39 different businesses in nilne counties. All jobs paid at or above the average weekly wage for that same occupation. When the Fund was suspended due to legislative changes, the board’s investment of $1.3 million had leveraged $3.2 million in cash match from employers with an estimated economic impact of approximately $50 million dollars.

What started as a pilot project in 2007 to introduce students and teachers to career opportunities with local employers became the launch for the board’s career pathways initiative. The career pathways initiative created career guides that map pathways from high school courses to post-secondary training and careers. Over 2,000 students in grades 3-8 have been encouraged to consider STEM careers through the TAME Trailblazer, an interactive science museum on wheels that primarily visits rural schools. Ten years later, the 2017 regional World of Work Youth Expo brought together over 2,700 students from 51 schools, representing 17 counties with 88 exhibitors.

The commitment, encouragement, and collaborative spirit exhibited by Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance exemplifies business leadership.

Samuel Garcia State Farm Insurance (4 employees)
Samuel Garcia
401 N. Willis
Abilene, TX 79603
Phone: 325.677.1900
Fax: 325.677.3156

Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas
Mary Ross
Executive Director
500 Chestnut, Suite 1200
Abilene, TX 79602

W. O. Lawton Business Leadership Award Winner – Large Company

Build My Future
Ozark Region Workforce Development Board

Build My Future Collaborative
Ozark Region Workforce Development Board

The Local Laborers Council, the Home Builders Association, the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and various employers make up the Build My Future Consortium, which supports the Ozark Workforce Development Board through financial and in-kind contributions and has resulted in Pre-Apprenticeship Academies that have prepared individuals for jobs in the trades. They also led the establishment of the Build My Future expo which hosted over 1,000 students, 200 business volunteers, area school districts, and universities to highlight good jobs in the Construction trades.


In June 2014 the Ozark Region WDB hosted the first Construction Industry Roundtable. A Collaborative effort between the Chamber and the Workforce Development Board, the Roundtable’s focus was to create a forum for employers to express ideas and share common concerns regarding the local workforce. Among concerns were the aging workforce, lack of a pipeline of workers, training costs, and a lack of interest in the occupations from the emerging workforce.

Through a series of discussions, the Consortium responded with the creation of the Pre-Apprenticeship academy and Build my Future to assist in preparing interested workers in careers in the industry. The first academy yielded a 75 percent placement rate in to registered apprenticeships which paid an average entry level wage of $18. Funded by the Missouri Division of Workforce Development, the apprenticeship academy is now in in its third year.

The Consortium also created Build My Future, a successful career awareness exposition attended by 1,000 students throughout the region. The Home Builders Association, through its knowledge and expertise in the creation of annual home builders’ expositions, assisted the consortium in the design and logistics. Board staff facilitated meetings with education partners and handled outreach and communications, and the employers contributed over $27,000 in cash.

Volunteers representing the Board, the Consortium, and several community partners assisted by providing food and prizes the day of the event. Employer staff provided safety training, food for all of the students, and hand-on exhibits of job tasks, such as brick laying, floor installation, welding simulation, bridge building and carpentry. Students attending represented diversity among males, females, ethnicity, and rural schools. Surveys and testimonials of the students showed increased interest in the trades. The next Build My Future Expo is slated for March 28, 2018.


The Construction Roundtable and Build My Future initiative is a model for other Board areas. Communities in Oklahoma, Texas, New York, Illinois, and others have reached out to the Ozark WDB to implement the model.

Direct impacts of the Roundtable have been the development of a valuable pre-apprenticeship model, enhanced partnerships with the industry and education partners, and the sustainable relationship with our industry partners. The Pre-apprenticeship model addressed a major concern with employers involving the training investment, as they were finding applicants would lose interest and quit shortly after the investment of time and resources by the employer had been made. To date 15 individuals have accepted apprentices in the trades earning entry level wages of $18 per hour.

The Build my Future event also assists by exposing students to potential opportunities in the industry. Among the accomplishments is a sense of trust and credibility among all of the partners. Each entity freely shares their abilities, resources, and expertise to make this a memorable event for the students, but most importantly to further advance the industry and shed light on the meaningful and good paying job opportunities.

These activities have led to other initiatives, including the Good Job Committee consisting of parents and employers that come together to discuss workforce preparedness for their children and provide information regarding access to job center and community resources. The Youth Roundtable brings students and employers together to learn about each other's expectations in the world of work. This model has resulted in the implementation of other industry roundtables in healthcare, IT, and manufacturing. Results of other roundtables include additional funding in the amount of $3.2 million in support of training for high demand occupations in the Ozarks.

Build My Future Collaborative (1000+ employees)
Charlyce Ruth
Executive Director
Home Builder's Association of Greater Springfield
636 West Republic Road, D108
Springfield, MO 65807

Ozark Region Workforce Development Board
Mary Ann Rojas
Executive Director
2900 East Sunshine
Springfield, MO 65804

W. O. Lawton Business Leadership Award Nominees

NAWB wishes to thank all Workforce Development Boards that submitted nominations of their business partners for the W.O. Lawton award. Their efforts, and the efforts of their business partners are applauded. Click here for full nomination descriptions.

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