MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is recommending UT-Rio Grande Valley and Texas A&M University reach out to maquila companies to help develop programs for electrical engineers that are in great demand in Reynosa.

Darling says American engineers are earning good money in Reynosa, upwards of $60,000 a year. He believes with the growth of maquilas in the city – there are now around 115 plants hiring 121,000 workers – the demand for more engineers is only going to increase.

“I found out that 84 American engineers, mostly trained here, work in Reynosa. They are U.S. citizens that live in our area and work for the maquiladoras. And they make pretty good money,” Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Also – and this is not the typical plant manager from Japan or Korea – there are about 300 citizens in the McAllen area that work in the maquila industry across the river. That is a huge opportunity, especially the field of electrical engineering. So, we are talking about UTRGV and possibly Texas A&M getting into Mexico to ask what sort of programs do you need, just like STC has started to do.”

South Texas College has entered into an agreement with the Instituto Internacional de Estudios Superiores, a private university in Reynosa, to develop customized training programs for maquila companies. The programs will be provided at the IIES Vista Hermosa campus.

Darling said he is excited about the possibilities of Valley colleges training U.S. workers for high-paying jobs in the industrial sector of northern Tamaulipas.

“We train people here, they hop across the bridge and they’ve got a pretty good paying job over there, especially electrical engineering. It is so exciting because they are doing some really neat things over there. When we visited the plants, we saw the technology they use. It is a great opportunity for an engineer to do some really neat things,” Darling said.

Marketing in Mexico

Darling gave his interview following a groundbreaking ceremony for a new retail development in McAllen. Washington Prime Group is expanding its Palms Crossing development with the construction of another 17,000 square feet of shop space.

With the City of McAllen set to implement a $250,000 marketing campaign in Mexico, a reporter asked Darling how his city’s outreach to Mexican shoppers was going. He said it is worth remembering that Mexican visitors are not just shoppers.

“They are friends and relatives, investors, they are part of our community. Regardless of what is happening in Washington, they are still the same people and we appreciate them in different ways. We realize how important they are to us,” Darling said.

“I feel badly for our friends and neighbors and business acquaintances that things have happened the way they have. We will try to get back to as normal a situation as we can, given the environment. We encourage them to come back.”

Darling said the ideal situation would be to return to the old days, when Reynosa residents crossed freely to McAllen and McAllen residents crossed freely into Reynosa.

“We always had an open border on both sides. I spoke to the mayor of Reynosa recently and we agreed, safety is the key issue. We need to work on that. We need to have it like it used to be, open borders for people to come across and do legitimate business and shopping and visit friends and relatives.”

Asked how much of McAllen’s dip in retail trade is down to a weakened Peso and how much is down to negative comments about Mexico by President Trump, Darling said: “We think downtown is more affected by the Peso, because that is local. If you take a look at what we have lost downtown, that is Peso-related. The people that have resentment towards the folks in Washington, that would be our visitors from Monterrey and the Bajío region of Central Mexico.”

CBP Port Director

Darling said he had a good conversation earlier this week with Severiano Solis, the new CBP port director for the Hidalgo, Pharr, and Anzalduas Ports of Entry. He said they met at Anzalduas International Bridge. Solis was previously assistant port director for El Paso. Darling said Solis could introduce some customs procedures he implemented in El Paso that would be good for the three ports he will now supervise in Hidalgo County.

“The new CBP port director said nothing has changed on the border. There have been rumors in Reynosa that Mexican visitors are having their visas looked at more closely. He said nothing has changed. I asked him if he could say that publicly and he said he would look into that. But, I can say that publicly. Nothing has changed. It is the same process that they do. We need to get that message over to Mexico,” Darling said.

Darling reiterated a point he made to the Rio Grande Guardian recently – that pre-inspections of northbound trucks before they reach a port of entry will boost international trade.

“A truck should be the same as a car when it gets to the bridge. It should go straight through. Director Solis talked about what it would take to have that happen. He was positive but there are a lot of obstacles in Washington. He was not against it. Remember, he came from Juarez where they have a different process for pedestrians. We want to initiate that here. We think we have more people come across the bridge here than go through the airports, where they have all the modern amenities. Why would you treat them differently? In Juarez, they have more kiosks and automation,” Darling said.

“As the landlord at the port, if you will, we are going to talk to our board and say, you (CBP) provide the equipment and the technology and we will increase the capacity. We need to take that to the bridge board. If you go out there (the Hidalgo Bridge) in the morning, there is a long, long, line of people that are coming here for legitimate purposes. We ought to accommodate them. We have put drinking fountains in, and shade structures. When we raised the tolls last time, I said, we are going to put half of that into customer satisfaction things. Why would you raise the tolls when you have unsatisfactory facilities? Now it is time for the Feds to make it easier to cross.”

Another improvement, Darling said, would be for more pedestrian crossers of the Hidalgo Bridge to get a fast pass. “We need to advertise that in Mexico. If you are coming across frequently, this is the way to do it.”

Darling ended the interview by stressing the importance of international trade to the Rio Grande Valley economy.

“The Anzalduas International Bridge is very important to me and I want to focus on southbound empties. There is enough business for everybody, for all the bridges. We discussed the Madero project (with CBP’s bridge director Solis). The bridge is important for so many reasons. It is an important source of revenue and more importantly it is a source for commerce and jobs.”