BROWNSVILLE, RGV – A member of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation has clear ideas on how the city’s economic development strategy can be improved.
Brownsville City Commissioner at Large César De León is vice chair of GBIC. Last week, GBIC said it would no longer be requiring the services of Brownsville Economic Development Corporation.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, De León said it was time for a change in the way Brownsville lures companies to the city.
“A couple of months ago we started a process of revamping economic development at the City of Brownsville. GBIC will now be handing most of the economic development and we are focusing on creating an environment for businesses to come to Brownsville,” De León said.
“In the past, cities would try to lure businesses by throwing money at them. It became a race to the bottom. Every time we give taxpayer’s monies to companies that is less money for streets, less money for security.”
Henceforth, De León said, the focus will be on creating the “right environment for companies that want to relocate to Brownsville.” He said this includes taking a new look at economic development and workforce strategy. “We want to create economic clusters and develop our industrial park,” De León said.
MOU with UTRGV
De León said GBIC has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UT-Rio Grande Valley to focus on workforce development. “We have two studies going with UTRGV,” he said. “One is on how our economic development should be structured, looking at the best practices throughout the United States and Europe. With the other study, we will start to create a new long-term strategy for the City of Brownsville.”
De León said that at one point over the past year Brownsville City Commission deemed it necessary to have three members on the GBIC board. “We had to do some major revamping. A lot of times when it comes to economic development strategy, a lot of business people from our community do not really want to get involved with politics. So, we felt this was something the Commission had to do, we had to come in and revamp and clean up our economic development.”
De León said that in his opinion, Brownsville has fallen behind when it comes to working with potential investors.
“We are about 30 or 40 years behind the rest of the country. We are a hidden gem. We have a port, we have a border, we have a university, we have a community college, and 20 minutes from us we have another community college. Right now, with all these companies coming in to Brownsville, including Sata, including SpaceX, we have to be ready for the 21st Century. This move will lead Brownsville into the next century.”
Focusing on Maquildoras
Asked if Brownsville’s economic development efforts need to focus more on building alliances in Mexico, De León answered affirmatively.
“When you look at economic development along the U.S.-Mexico border, you always have to talk in terms of regions. When you talk about Brownsville, we must have a population of about a quarter of a million people. Matamoros has another 800,000. So really, we have 1.2 million people. There is a great advantage in being next to Mexico. We can create advanced manufacturing hubs, where we could do some components in the U.S. and some components in Mexico.”
De León said Brownsville can also take advantage of the maquiladora industry in Matamoros.
“The maquiladora industry in Matamoros has approximately 125 maquilas, give or take. If you talk about 125 CEOS, most are U.S. citizens that are working in Matamoros but their families live in Brownsville, their homes are brought in Brownsville, their kids go to school in Brownsville and they shop in Brownsville. If they are making at least $100,000, that is about $12.5 million in economic impact that they are bringing to Brownsville. There is a lot of side stuff that comes to Brownsville because of the maquiladora industry. We have warehouses, we have supply chains, we have them living here. So really, when we focus on Matamoros, we have to realize Brownsville does really better. If Brownsville does well, Matamoros does better. We have to work as a team.”
Open Dialogue with Matamoros
De León predicted Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez and Matamoros Jesús de la Garza Díaz del Guante will be working much more closely in the future.
“We are going to have a dinner with the two consuls (the consul to Brownsville and the consul to Matamoros). We are going to have a dinner with the two mayors. We are trying to create a system where there will be open dialogue every single week on how we can work together, not just on security but also on economic development. If you have economic development, security is less critical because most of the issues on the other side are socio-economic issues. If we can help create welfare on both sides, we should do better as a community,” De León said.
Asked if the Sata Group will be pleased by the changes taking place in Brownsville’s approach to economic development, De León answered affirmatively.
“They see we are working on creating an environment where they can actually grow as a company, especially here in the United States. One of the concerns they’ve had is that we have actually failed as a community to offer workforce development. So, one of the main components for GBIC these past couple of months has been workforce development. We have signed an MOU with UTRGV, we gave half a million dollars to UTRGV which will count for vouchers for Sata to utilize, so Sata will come in and their workers will be trained by the School of Engineering. They will tailor their programs of workforce development to Sata. So, we are not giving money to companies directly, we are actually creating the environment for them to succeed.”
Asked if GBIC will do a national search for a new executive director, De León said: “At some point I think we will do a national search for somebody who does economic development. I think our interim director, Gilberto (Salinas) has done a wonderful job. We just want to see what is out there, see the different possibilities. I know we are now heading in the direction of clusters and advanced manufacturing. So, we really want to start looking at different options.”
Asked how GBIC will fit in with the Bi-National Economic Development Zone project being championed by Congressman Filemon Vela, Ambiotec Group’s Carlos Marin, and UTRGV’s dean of business and entrepreneurship. Mark Kroll, De León said: “That is one of the many different roles GBIC will have. One is our international component with advanced manufacturing. We also have the downtown development. We also have our quality of life.”
Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation
Going forward, Brownsville will have two economic development teams, De León said, GBIC and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. GBIC will focus on Type A development, which is industrial, and BCIC will specialize in Type B development, which are things like parks, museums, sports facilities, and affordable housing.
De León said he would like to see GBIC and CBIC housed under the same roof.
“Literally, we are now going to be moving BCIC and GBIC to this great old historic building in Brownsville called the Young House. It is everyone’s home in Brownsville. It is your house. We want to have both economic development arms housed together. The reason being that when you look at companies such as Google, Facebook, that are totally innovating, they are working as a team, they are bouncing ideas off each other. They are creating an environment of innovation. That is really what we want. We need to start thinking outside of the box. We have been stuck in our old ways. If the old way works, why are we where we are at? We are looking at best practices around the United States. I want them working together and they will be working under one roof.”
De León also spoke about developing a “one-stop shop” for businesses looking to relocate or grow in Brownsville.
“We have been working on this the past couple of months. We want to have a liaison between our economic development arm and the City. We want it where a company can come in and in one morning get all their permits they need to actually start operating. We want to make it easier. We are open for business. Brownsville is open for business.”
De León concluded the interview by stressing again that GBIC would be doing things differently.
“We want to create an environment which is conducive for business. I think before it was more of, throw money at a company for every job they create. Now, we are going to focus our attention on creating the environment for companies wanting to relocate. When you look at a city like Austin, people are not moving to Austin because Austin gives them money. The cost of labor is way more expensive. They are moving because there is an environment that is conducive. You had Dell and Texas Instruments that started working on this 20 years ago and now you have a tech hub. It takes a community to really develop an economy. That is why we are going to focus on creating this environment and not so much on just giving companies handouts,” De León said.
“A lot of companies, they do not need us to give them money for every job they create. They need to have a pool of talented people they can hire. They need to have the ability to go to the city and get a permit from one day to the next. They need to be able to call on these resources that the community should be providing them. We create the market as the community. We should be passing ordinances and creating this environment where people want to come and do business in Brownsville. There is a lot in store. I want to let everybody know, Brownsville is open for business and Brownsville wants to hear from all of you. Brownsville wants you to come open businesses here and Brownsville wants you to be successful.”