MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says he has had talks with the incoming governor of Tamaulipas about landing an auto plant or some other big maquila operation in or around Reynosa.

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Darling said it is a great advantage that Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca was born in McAllen and went to high school in the city.

“It is certainly great to have a governor who went to high school in McAllen. Here is someone who really understands both sides of the river,” Darling said.

Cabeza de Vaca takes office on October 1. During the campaign trail he talked with the business community in Matamoros about landing an auto plant in Tamaulipas. He said he was of the opinion that the current administration did not do enough to court KIA Motors when it was looking at opening an auto plant in Mexico. Offered great tax breaks by the state of Nuevo León, KIA Motors decided to open a $2.5 billion plant in Pesquería, just outside Monterrey. “There is always Hyundai,” Cabeza de Vaca said.

In recent weeks, Salvador Rojos, a state representative from Nuevo Laredo, has said a big German auto maker, possibly Audi, Volkswagen or Porsche, is looking at building a $7 billion plant in Tampico, Tamaulipas.

Mayor Darling said the City of McAllen stands ready to assist Cabeza de Vaca because the McAllen area would benefit tremendously if an auto plant is built in or near Reynosa.

“One of the things we are always concerned about is transportation issues and what is happening with maquiladora issues in Mexico – the state of Tamaulipas getting together with the city of Reynosa and expanding the maquiladora industry down there,” Darling said.

“Hopefully, like that car plant in Monterrey. If not a car plant… we would always want a car plant… especially as some of the parts manufacturers would be on both sides of the river. We think we are making some progress from that standpoint. We are working with the new Governor. There would be spinoff things happening in McAllen.”

Darling said that in his discussions with Cabeza de Vaca, the incoming governor asked what his top priority would be. “We said safety. Safety is going to help a lot of other things. We think a lot of natural things there are being blocked due to the safety issue. He said he would address it. Being a former mayor of Reynosa and senator, he certainly knows about it.”

Darling pointed out that he has worked with the state of Tamaulipas before to land major projects. “I have done a bi-national presentation with them in Korea, with the state of Tamaulipas and the city of Reynosa. I think we are going to be going to Japan and Indonesia, hopefully with some people from that area.”

Asked if one of his top priorities is to help secure a major maquila project in Reynosa, Darling said: “Absolutely. Hopefully, working with McAllen Economic Development Corporation we can make it happen. We think we have got the workforce in Tamaulipas. We are working on some of the transportation issues along the border. Everybody has challenges along the border, because of all the growth.”

Darling said one thing that could disrupt economic development opportunities along the border is any change to the North American Free Trade Agreement, otherwise known as NAFTA. However, he said he does not see that happening, whoever the next president of the United States is.

“I guess we have to wait and see what happens with NAFTA, depending on the election. You hear a lot of political talk but I don’t think anyone would do away with NAFTA. Even Trump is softening his position. He said he would negotiate. I think Secretary Clinton would be the same. I understand she has voters in Michigan she has to think about. But, they were losing jobs in those areas long before NAFTA.”

Asked for a wrap-up comment, Darling said: “Hopefully, after October, things will start to happen. It is difficult for the incoming Governor to do anything until he takes office. I know MEDC and ourselves have had talks with him (Cabeza de Vaca). It is a great opportunity.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and incoming Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca flanked by Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas and Hidalgo Mayor Martin Cepeda. They held a news conference at Anzalduas International Bridge in June, soon after Cabeza de Vaca’s election victory.