MCALLEN, RGV – And the next governor of Tamaulipas is likely to be… someone born in South Texas.

So says Mike Myers, a board member of INDEX Reynosa, the trade association for maquilas in Reynosa.

Mike Myers
Mike Myers

At a McAllen Economic Development Corporation meeting, Myers said the two leading candidates in this year’s gubernatorial elections were both born in the Rio Grande Valley. He said Baltazar Manuel Hinojosa Ochoa, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) candidate, was born in Brownsville and is now based in Matamoros. The Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate, Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, was born in McAllen and is now based in Reynosa, Myers said.

“It is a crazy thing but the next governor of the state of Tamaulipas was born in the state of Texas,” Myers told the MEDC board. “The PRI guy is from Matamoros and was born in Brownsville and the PAN guy is from Reynosa and was born in McAllen. Both are dual citizens.”

Myers said INDEX Reynosa leaders have met with both Cabeza de Vaca and Hinojosa. He said having a governor from the border will be great for South Texas.

“The good news is they should both be aware of the border region. That is fortunate. It is a bit like the Texas governor being from McAllen. It is not going to be a Victoria guy or an Altamira guy. The next governor will be from our area, so things should be improving our way,” Myers said.

Robert Lozano, MEDC board chair, said this was good to know. “As you have heard Keith often say, we are two countries but one community. The better we can communicate that, both to the north of us and the south, the better off we will be.”

Keith Patridge is president of the MEDC.

Interviewed after the meeting, Myers said: “We are going to have a governor from the border, which is very good news. Obviously, as U.S. citizens, we cannot take sides, Mexico is very strict about having no interference. But, whoever wins, we will have someone that understands the border region well.”

Maquila industry boom

In his report to the MEDC board, Myers also gave an update on how the maquila industry is doing in Reynosa. Over 100,000 workers are currently employed by maquilas in the city. Myers said the current economic climate reminds him of 2005, when workers were in great demand.

“For the last four or five months we have seen increased growth for our maquilas. So, we are having to get on our game to hire folks. Putting signs out, bringing them in, is just not doing it any more. Now, we are having to advertise for folks, pay bonuses, put ads in newspapers. We are back to 2005 when we hit a ceiling (for hiring additional workers),” Myers said.

Myers said that this coming week the national INDEX association will be having its monthly meeting with the federal government in Nuevo Laredo. “We are trying to get back the incentives we used to have from the federal government. We had them back when we had a surplus. We lost the incentives when the government did its financial reforms. We are talking to federal government to get incentives back.”

Myers said an incentives program is needed because workers in the maquila factories are vital. “We are talking about our life blood, the operators that build our cell phones, our TVs. We probably need to give them a little bit more money, to reduce the turnover that costs us so much money. Welcome to our world. It is better than not knowing what to do with our workers (when there is a downturn).”

Myers said the national INDEX association, as well as the Reynosa association, will also be asking the federal government for help in increasing manpower at the Anzalduas International Bridge. He said all the infrastructure is now in place to take southbound empty trucks. However, he said, there is not enough customs staff. “We have got to get freight moving at Anzalduas. We need it manned and operated to help give us a competitive edge against the rest of the world.”

In other maquila news, Ralph Garcia, who manages business recruitment and retention in Reynosa for MEDC, said an Italian manufacturer in the health arena, Haemotronic, is opening a maquila in Reynosa. He said Haemotronic will be based in the Reynosa Industrial Park, taking up between 80,000 and 100,000 square feet of space and hiring 500-plus employees over a five-year period. “We are excited to have them come to our area,” Garcia said.

(Editor’s Note: To read about Haemotronic’s arrival in Reynosa in Spanish, click here.)

Patridge, MEDC’s president, said there have now been two bits of good news for the South Texas-Tamaulipas border region coming out of Italy. He noted that Brownsville Economic Development Corporation has landed an Italian manufacturing firm (SATA Group) that will likely hire 300-plus workers.

In his report to the MEDC board, Patridge said business in the McAllen metro area is beginning to pick up.

“It has got to the point where we are beginning to run out of buildings, literally. In the Foreign Trade Zone, we had to turn away a couple of companies for potential leases because we are 100 percent full. The large spaces are all gone,” Patridge said. “During the last quarter we absorbed 700,000 square feet in metro area.”

Workforce Training Forum

Patridge also reported that Andres Alcantar, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, had asked MEDC to host a workforce training and education forum. Patridge said the event will be held at South Texas College’s technology campus in McAllen on May 25. He said all three Texas Workforce Commission leaders will be in attendance, along with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Texas Higher Education Commissioner Ray Paredes.

Carlos Margo
Carlos Margo

“We have been asked to invite 80 to 100 businesses and educators to attend to discuss workforce training needs and education programs that provide training for our workforce. We have about 85 participants confirmed. This is being held at the request of the governor. The governor is holding a series of these forums across the state,” Patridge said.

Carlos Margo, STC’s associate dean for industry training and economic development, said he hopes the businesses that Patridge has invited will speak out in favor of a change in how skills development funds can be used.

“We understand this forum has been designed to hear what the local needs are when it comes to workforce training. Well, we have very unique workforce needs,” Margo told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Our unique needs have to do with language acquisition training. The skills development grants cap workforce literacy training at about 10 percent of the overall amount. The state prefers colleges to focus on technical skills training. That is fine across the state as a whole but the border area, we have needs that are different to Austin, Dallas, Houston, etc.”

Asked to elaborate, Margo said: “Because of our proximity to Mexico, a lot of our individuals in the workforce have English as a second language. It is not that they do not have the competency or skills in manufacturing, or industry, they just lack the communication skills in order to properly communicate or work effectively and efficiently on the job. That is where we could do with a lot more help. It is a unique need of the border region and I do not think the state is being as responsive as it could be.”

Margo reported that the latest skills development fund grant for STC is approximately $400,000. “The State of Texas allocates about $45 million every biennium to community colleges for customized training. STC has received about 20 to 25 of these grants over the last ten or 15 years. The grants are a very important source of revenue for us as we build a better trained workforce.”

Editor’s Note: The split-screen image accompanying this story shows Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, the Partido Acción Nacional candidate for governor of Tamaulipas and Baltazar Manuel Hinojosa Ochoa, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional candidate for governor of Tamaulipas.