Thank you, Sergio. Good afternoon. Is it afternoon yet? Yes it is. So, good afternoon. I have prepared a 30-minute presentation. I hope you guys are ready. I did not. That would be crazy. But, I am thankful to be before this particular group. It is a really important group for the community. We have a variety of stakeholders in the city. No city is successful on its own and the development community in particular is one that really helps drive the bottom line and success of communities – to the point that we can provide better services and an enhanced quality of life and things of the like.
I will have a quick slide that will come up briefly, on some data, to give you some sense of the type of dynamic environment that we are experiencing in Brownsville. We don’t want to make it anecdotal. We want to share with you some of the things that are really going on, on the ground today as we speak.
But, also, Sergio mentioned that we have had several wins that seem to get announced on a weekly basis. And, just for the record, I know that the Rio Grande Guardian might be recording this, but we don’t make any apologies for that.
The wins that you guys have heard about and you are seeing happening in Brownsville are the deliberate result of hard work, planning, discipline, and no success, regardless of whatever industry you are in, and that includes cities, is by accident. And that starts with the tone that our mayor and our commission set. And I see some partners in our community here – the Port of Brownsville and others, BCIC. It is a team effort. There are a variety of things that are coming together, the stars are aligning, so to speak. There are certainly some macro-level factors that are helping our sales tax, ie., federal stimulus, and the same thing happens with the whole state. I think the whole state, I saw this morning, is experiencing double digit sales tax growth. So, that is not unique to Brownsville. But my intent is to highlight what is unique to Brownsville. And when you go to these other development events that the Rio Grande Valley Partnership is putting together, there are some things that you don’t hear when you go to other communities. It is regional. It is not about us versus them but what is our value proposition? And what is that competitive advantage that we are looking to carve out? What is our niche?
So, the word NewSpace does not come up a lot when you go into these development summits in other cities because that is a niche that we are carving out. And certainly SpaceX is here and that is the obvious thing. But, beyond that, what is there, behind the vision, that we have cast to really exploit that opportunity that we have in our backyard?
Innovation. You don’t hear the boldness that our mayor communicates, and others, about our commitment to innovation. And, to that end, I will share, versus giving you my own words, something that was in the podcast from the Guardian that I listened to again. But Dwight Thanos Smith, who was here a couple of weeks ago, from Paragon, said it himself. And when you look at Paragon and where they are in their stage of development, they are not by any means already on the ground humming with manufacturing activity. They will be. But what you heard are the words of a visionary, the words of an entrepreneur, the words of an individual who is at the proof of concept stage, at that nascent stage, that has unique needs and looks for things that are beyond the traditional economic development factors that perhaps you are looking for, I.e., infrastructure, political stability, workforce, all that good stuff. We know that. You know that. You may know Brownsville better than we do. You probably have been studying Brownsville for a while. Maybe you have not invested for one reason or another. So, you are not going to hear new things, perhaps, even when you see the tour this afternoon.
But, here is what he said. He said, when you look at the people of Brownsville, you feel the sense of opportunity to build together. So here is somebody who is saying, I am willing to pick Brownsville from 53 cities in Texas, which is the best state for business, according to a variety of standards, for many years running. But, I am choosing Brownsville, and he is saying, because of the vision of the leadership. And he names some of those individuals: our mayor, Helen, etc. So, he is saying, I will go from crawl, walk, run, at the city of Brownsville. He has made that decision.
Some of you guys are in the walk stage already, in terms of your own businesses. Some of you guys may be running. How can we plug and play with you to help you be successful at the city of Brownsville? Wherever you are in the development of your company and your business? He spoke to a vision. He said, you feel it, there is no metric to quantify feel. Unless you want to survey me on how do I feel on a scale of one to ten. Well, I feel great. That is a ten. He spoke to vision. And there is power in that. And I will tell you that as part of the welcoming, I would be remiss (not) to tell you that he saw a city with a vision. He saw a city putting together the pieces to execute that vision. He saw a city looking for partners in company, business partners, to help unlock and fulfill that vision for the community.
So, that is what you get when you come to the city of Brownsville. A hyper-focused governing body, administration, locked and loaded, ready to execute each and every single day. That is the value proposition. NewSpace is a component, it is part and parcel to that. Industrial is part and parcel to that. Entrepreneurship is part and parcel to that. But the bigger picture is this community has a vision and I see my company thriving as part of that community. So, that is the big picture.
Secondarily, if you can please go to the next slide, I want to just give you a bit of what is actually happening. A lot of this we can’t directly say is a product of that vision. You will hear about Space Ventures. They are a product of that vision. This is just to give you a sense of what is happening in Brownsville, currently. Our growth rate in sales taxes is pretty tremendous. It is double digit. It is almost 50 percent. That is unheard of. We cannot take all the credit. A lot of that is federal stimulus. Things like that. But, nonetheless, we take credit for it. Because it is a good thing. We are actually wrapping up our fiscal year 2021 budget with over a 5 million dollar surplus. That is a good thing. Not many cities can say that coming out of the pandemic. We are not quite at a quarter billion but we are pretty healthy and we have been approaching that 150-175 million average growth in new growth in valuation. A lot of what we are seeing now is also a peak in residential construction. We are going to actually have more homes built in Brownsville this year than McAllen or Harlingen combined. This year. For fiscal year 2021. (Applause). And that is not a shot at anybody. That is about Brownsville. That comment is about Brownsville.
And also broadband. We are, as part of the future, if we are going to be the first gig city in South Texas, if we are going to be a NewSpace community that needs the 21st Century technology, we cannot do it without broadband and the pandemic made it very vivid, that you need to have broadband to compete. And our companies will need broadband to compete and to be successful. So, $19.5 million has been approved as part of the American Rescue Plan funding, as of this Tuesday, our commission voted to fund the middle mile fiber broadband network for Brownsville. And the planning for this began pre-pandemic and we are very well situated to execute on the construction. In fact, our request for qualifications and proposals was released June 20th. So, this money came in just in time for us to choose our vendor and start to go in to construction later this year.
On top of that there are some things that you can’t see. We are continuing to invest in our planning department. That is our wealth-building arm as a city. We understand that at its core, so we are continuing to build on our codes, making it easy from a regulatory standpoint. We finalized a new unified development code in 18 months. That is record time. EDCs take 24 to 36 months. Well, we were working during the pandemic. We were working virtually but it got done.
And, we are also going digital. We are investing nearly $1.3 million to get our digital permitting system up and running. Hopefully that will be ready later this year if not early next year. So, you cannot see that here but it is on the way. (Applause).
So, in closing, I am really thrilled to be here. It is always an honor to represent the city. I want to just credit all the team behind the scenes. Our communications department. You will hear from Helen, Connie, all those individuals behind the scenes making it happen. I want to just make sure that you all understand that we are firmly aware of who it is that is delivering the results. And that is what you are going to get when you interface with Brownsville. You are going to get that business friendly environment. People who get it and people who get it done.
So, I am glad there is sun today. Hopefully that sun will last for the rest of your day and throughout the tour and I look forward to connecting with you throughout the rest of the day. Thank you.
Editor’s Note: The above remarks were made by Brownsville City Manager Noel Bernal (pictured above) during a luncheon hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. The luncheon, plus a tour of Brownsville, was part of an event called BTX Developers. It attracted real estate developers and investors. There were two bus tours, cone covering downtown, including the eBridge Center, and one covering the industrial parks and the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport.
Editor’s Note: The “BCIC” Bernal referenced in his remarks is the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation.
Editor’s Note: The above commentary is the second in a five-part series on the BTX Developers event. Click here for Part One, featuring the comments of Constanza Miner, retail and development manger for the City of Brownsville. Part Three will be posted in our next edition.
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