HOUSTON, Texas – Harlingen Economic Development Executive Director Raudel Garza says that thanks to companies like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, Cameron County “stands poised” to build an aerospace cluster and with it high-paying jobs and new investment.

For this reason, Garza said, Harlingen Aerotropolis is exhibiting at the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition, which takes place at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Raudel Garza, executive director of Harlingen EDC.
Raudel Garza, executive director of Harlingen EDC.

Harlingen Aerotropolis is one of the few Rio Grande Valley entities to participate at the conference.

According to the organizers, SpaceCom is “engineered to fuel business innovation across the aerospace, medical, energy, transportation, maritime, communications and advanced manufacturing industries.”

Organizers said SpaceCom “distinctly unites public and private stakeholders involved in domestic and international space commerce with a new group of global business executives looking for competitive advantage through the application of space technology to their industries.”

HEDC’s Garza spoke to the Rio Grande Guardian about Harlingen Aerotropolis and why it is exhibiting at SpaceCom.

Garza first answered the question, what is Harlingen Aerotropolis?

“The Harlingen Aerotropolis is the vision that the Valley International Airport’s board of directors has for an approximately 480-acre tract of land on the east side of the airport. The VIA Board hopes to see this area become a central focal point for the region for business. The Aerotropolis represents a hope that the land around the airport be home to numerous corporate headquarters, to aerospace companies, to logistics and aeronautical companies, and to much more.”

Garza pointed out that the Aerotropolis land is fully-entitled, or “shovel-ready” as many like to call it.

“It was designated as a certified quality site by McCallum Sweeney this year through a program with AEP, and is one of only a handful in the nation with that designation. The land lies along FM 509, a state highway running south to the Los Indios Free Trade Bridge. This road was recently designated as part of an overweight corridor in Harlingen from the industrial areas such as the Port of Harlingen, the Harlingen Industrial Park and the Harlingen Aerotropolis through to the international bridge. It also connects those areas to the Port of Brownsville,” Garza said.

The City of Harlingen is a co-owner of the Los Indios Free Trade Bridge, along with the City of San Benito and Cameron County.

Asked why Harlingen Aerotropolis chose to exhibit at Space com 2015, Garza said: “Harlingen EDC has been targeting aerospace firms for many years. We have ramped up our efforts in this particular industry because of our partnership with the Harlingen Aerotropolis and because of our efforts to help United Launch Alliance grow here, and also because of our commitment to help Brownsville and Cameron County land SpaceX. Cameron County stands poised to build that aerospace cluster necessary to bring jobs and new investment into the area.”

Asked what Harlingen EDC hopes to get out of SpaceCom, Garza said: “We hope to raise the awareness of our region, the airport, and the amenities at the airport for those companies seeking a place with easy access to markets, a young trainable workforce, a pro-business environment, and a great quality of place along with affordability. It takes time and repetition to get noticed, so we are certainly on our way to doing that by attending these types of events.”

Asked how things are going in HEDC’s efforts to secure manufacturing projects next to VIA, Garza said: “We have had an excellent response since our announcement that the Aerotropolis had received ‘Certified Site’ designation in the ‘Large Park’ category from McCallum Sweeney, a world-wide leader in business and economic development consulting services. We are currently in discussions with several aerospace and aviation companies taking a hard look at the Aerotropolis. Some of these companies have a large employee base, while others are smaller startups.”

Staff members from HEDC have attended other space industry conferences and expositions over the past year, Garza reported.

“HEDC and VIA attended the Space Symposium in Denver in April and the Aerospace Summit in Queretaro, Mexico in September. We’ve had a presence at other trade shows including Pack Expo, Fab Tech, GATS, and several visits with various site selectors representing the aerospace industry,” he said.

Garza added: “Reaching out to companies and getting noticed are difficult on the global stage, but when you have the types of amenities that Harlingen and this region have, we have a good foundation for presenting a solid business case to companies in the aerospace industry. We will be at Booth 632 at SpaceCom. If anyone is in the neighborhood, please stop by.”

Editor’s Note:  Col. Rick Searfoss, astronaut and space shuttle commander will address Spacecom attendees. The author of LIFTOFF: An Astronaut Commander’s Countdown for Purpose-Powered Leadership, Searfoss is pictured in the main image accompanying this story.