BROWNSVILLE, RGV – A fast-growing manufacturing company in Brownsville is winning plaudits for offering internships to students, externships to teachers and giving back to the community.

CK Technologies, a division of Cascade Engineering, produces plastic injection parts for the commercial truck and bus industry. The Brownsville plant on Paredes Line Road has grown from 60 workers in 2011 to 377 today.

“Without question, CK Technologies has set the bar very high when it comes to giving back to the community,” said Mario Lozoya, executive director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation.

“It is really good for us because we need somebody to move that bar up. We really need these best practices to be shared across the whole Rio Grande Valley. We need to ask other industry partners to step up and do as much as CK Technologies.”

Lozoya made his remarks in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian immediately following a ribbon-cutting ceremony at CK Technologies’ Brownsville plant. The ceremony was held to celebrate the company’s eight years in the Valley and for joining the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce. The emcee was Maribel Madrigal Baca, branch manager for Select Staff in Brownsville and chairwoman-elect of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

Brownsville ISD’s viewpoint

Leaders at various educational institutions lined up to sing CK Technologies’ praises.

Juan Chavez, administrator for career and technical education at Brownsville ISD, spoke about a partnership BISD and CK Technologies has formed through the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) program.

Juan Chavez

BISD was among 12 school districts to be awarded the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools – Success Grant. Utilizing partnerships with higher education institutions and local employers, the P-TECH programs offer classes which allow students to obtain a high school diploma, an associate’s degree, and work experience that provide students greater opportunities and priority when entering the workforce following completion of the program.

The P-TECH – Success Grant is being implemented at BISD’s Hanna Early College High School.

“We are very fortunate to have such an extraordinary company, CK Technologies, collaborate with our school district and support our goals in the area of advanced manufacturing,” Chavez said.

Chavez pointed out that on April 2 Brownsville ISD’s board of trustees approved a memorandum of understanding between CK Technologies and Brownsville ISD to work together in order to fulfill the requirements of the P-TECH program. The MOU will be in place for the next four years. 

Chavez said that through this collaboration, CK Technologies will provide work-based learning experiences for BISD students at each grade level, including facility visits, guest speakers, presentations, career information, job shadowing, possible internships, teacher externships, and apprenticeships. 

“They will also allow us to assign employees to promote college and career awareness.  They will also mentor students and allow students to interview for any jobs they qualify for that are available on completion of the P-TECH program,” Chavez said.

“I am truly excited to be working closely with an industry leader in the area of advanced manufacturing like CK Technologies. This is simply the beginning of things to come and I am thankful for the support.”

Chavez singled out some of the leadership at CK Technologies.

“Christina Keller, thank you for your willingness to collaborate with the school district by opening the doors of your company and thank you for sharing our vision of connecting our students to college and careers,” he said.

“Griselda Muñoz, what can I say, thank you for always being readily available to participate in our advisory committee meetings, for your interest in and commitment to our CTE programs, and to the success of the Brownsville ISD students, for embracing the future externship program, in allowing one of our CTE teachers to become an extern at CK Technologies.”

Christina Keller is president & CEO of CK Technologies. Griselda Muñoz is the manager of the company’s Human Resources division in Brownsville.

Texas Southmost College’s viewpoint

Joanna L. Kile, vice president of instruction at Texas Southmost College, also spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Texas Southmost College is honored to be here and we are very proud to be an educational partner with CK Technologies,” Kile said.

“Texas Southmost College is an engine of economic development and for workforce development for the whole Rio Grande Valley. The partnership we have with CK Technologies and with the Texas Workforce Commission and with so many other economic development engines is invaluable, not only to the businesses here but also to our students and our community and our industry partners.”

Kile noted that TSC and CK Technologies were awarded a Texas Workforce Commission Skills Development Fund grant to educate new employees and also to up-skill incumbent workers. 

“This resulted in a successful completion of more than 2,300 training hours in this company. And this is only one example of the way CK Technologies is committed to the continued education of their workforce and that is so important in our community,” Kile said.

“So I want to thank CK Technologies for being a longstanding partner of Texas Southmost College and your commitment to the communities we all serve.”

UT-Rio Grande Valley’s viewpoint

Ala R. Qabbaj, dean of engineering at UT-Rio Grande Valley, also spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“The success of CK Technologies is success for all of us. They are providing opportunities for the communities, more jobs, more economic development, and more opportunities for our students,” Qabbaj said, pointing out that Guillermo, a UTRGV student, was interning at CK.

“There are two reasons I am excited about CK Technologies. No. 1, because there are some companies that are here solely for the business. This company has the passion, they care and they engage. No. 2, because they have women in leadership. Their CEO is a woman. I want more women in engineering. Only five percent of CEO’s are women. I can tell our female students, you not only can be engineers, you can be a CEO like Christina. You (Christina) are providing an inspiration for them.”

Qabbaj was referring to Christina Keller, president of CK Technologies.

Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation’s viewpoint

In his remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, GBIC’s Lozoya spoke about the high-tech nature of CK Technologies plant.

“To see the high tech automation here, to me, is the sound of change, the sound of the future, the sound of technology,” Lozoya said.

“If you were not aware, CK Technologies, here in the last few months, created an opportunity for UTRGV students to come and intern here in this facility. There are internship opportunities on the floor and in the office. And teachers (can come and learn here). Our schools need to understand what the needs of industry are today so they can better prepare our students for what I call the workforce of tomorrow.”

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Lozoya said:

“Everybody said the same thing here today, basically praising CK Technologies for the great work they are doing. Not only are they helping themselves grow, they are helping the community grow. They are completely integrated and that is what we need.”

Lozoya noted that GBIC recently won a statewide award for its ‘We Grow Our Own’ campaign. 

“They (CK Technologies) are helping us grow our own through opening up opportunities for teacher externships, student internships, both in the office and on the shop floor, they are going to be P-TECH partners with BISD, so they are all-in when it comes to us growing our own.”

CK Technologies’ viewpoint

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Keller, CK Technologies’ president, said her company strives to have a positive impact on society, the environment and to be financially successful. 

“The idea is that we can invest in our communities and our communities can invest back in us. It does not matter who started it (the company’s culture of giving back) but it matters that we are collectively moving the organization forward,” Keller said.

Keller thanked the various educational establishments in Brownsville that her company has partnered with. She also thanked GBIC.

“I want to thank them and the focus that they have, almost selflessly, on how best to promote this region. We share that. How can we make this region grow up to be the best region in the whole nation?”

Keller pointed out that CK Technologies is a registered B corporation, which means it is a benefits corporation. 

“We write into our bylaws that we are for the benefit of all stakeholders, not just our shareholders. We are a women-owned business and we are passionately committed to the triple bottom line. So, it is part of our DNA but we also want to be excellent at what we do, so we want to be leaders in Industry 4.0 and bring manufacturing to this next level. So, we need a lot of technical talent, technical skills sets.”

Asked why CK Technologies chose Brownsville, Keller said: 

“We were looking at the region because our customers went down to Mexico. We looked at both sides of the border. For us, safety was a critically important thing and so the safety of our employees was something we took into consideration. Also electricity, we need reliability, we have heavy equipment that a takes a lot of electricity. Electricity is less expensive and more reliable here.”

In her remarks from the podium, Keller had noted how students polled by Gallup ranked manufacturing seventh out of seven when thinking of a good career move.

She later told the Rio Grande Guardian: “Fifty two percent of students say they have zero interest in manufacturing. Whether that comes from the students or from their parents, thinking that it is a dead-end career that you do not want to go into, we are addressing the stigma of manufacturing. The interesting part is that when they actually get engaged, when they see the 3D printing, they see the robotics, the automation, all the exciting things that are going on in manufacturing, their interest spikes. Manufacturing goes up to third out of seven.”

Keller said: “A lot of people want to go and work at Google until they realize all they are doing is selling ad words. We have an opportunity to actually make products that people use everyday. And we use a lot of interesting processes to get those products there.”

Asked why economic development should focus on attracting manufacturing companies, Keller said that for every dollar spent on manufacturing, $1.89 goes into the local economy, and that for every 100 jobs in manufacturing, another 250 jobs are added in other sectors. 

“Manufacturing is a bedrock of our nation but it has this stigma. The great thing about manufacturing is that it stays where it is planted. It is very expensive to move presses. Some of these presses here cost upwards of $2.5 million. So, we are committed to this region. We are staying. A local shop or restaurant might come in and go out the next day. We are creating jobs and opportunities. We are recognizing some of our employees that have been here over eight years. We want to continue to employ them for the next 20-plus.”

Keller added: We are pleased to become a member of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce. I would like to thank the area for everything that they are doing to support our continued growth. We want to be a partner and we want to give opportunities to the employees and to the greater community. We are doubling our charitable contributions for the next year to reinvest and help the Rio Grande Valley become a premier location, nationwide.”