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BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The Rio Grande Valley is beginning the process to bid for a Toyota-Mazda automotive assembly plant after the two companies announced an allegiance to open a plant in the United States, a local official said.

In early August, Toyota and Mazda announced a partnership to build a $1.6 billion automotive assembly plant in the U.S by 2020. The plant would focus on electric vehicle technologies, but the automakers have not decided which city to establish the new plant.

At a manufacturing summit hosted by U.S. Representative Filemon Vela at the UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville on Friday, Gilberto Salinas, executive director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, said although the Valley’s bid would be a long shot, beginning the process for a future auto assembly plant would help with exposure and preparation for other major automakers.

Previously, Salinas played a key role with the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation in landing the SpaceX project.

“We’ve gone through the drill in the past about two years ago with one particular project, Brownsville, and we learned from that,” Salinas said. “So for this one, we don’t fit the description. The requirements are, as such where not even the Valley would be able, the Valley might be able to get its foot in the door, but they’re looking at bigger areas, bigger metros. But it’s always good to get in there and try to learn from it and the other automakers get to see who’s buying for this. So, this is a five to ten-year process before we could actually be in contention, but it’s gotta start somewhere.”

Salinas said if the Valley is committed to bringing a major automotive plant, they must engage in the process and learn how they can make it easier for automakers to invest in the region.

He added the Valley doesn’t have a supply chain in the automotive industry, or a network in which companies supply and distribute product to customers, so the region would need to work on that.

“Not necessarily big enough, but we don’t have the supply chain in the area that fits it to the tea,” Salinas said. “We would have to come up with a plan, and that’s where myself and Keith up in McAllen have to get together and say, okay if our goal is to get an auto assembly plant for the Rio Grande Valley, wherever it may be, what do we need to start doing today? And if we, us two, at the table then everyone else will follow. That may be happening sooner than we think.”

The “Keith” Salinas was referring to is Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

Salinas said this bid would be a great opportunity for the Valley to possibly develop other investments from automakers and other companies in different industries.

“We could potentially have a plan in place that would keep us in a competitive position for another plant,” Salinas said. “You have to understand that these are two major automotive manufactures merging… you don’t see that. So, we could be in a position where we get a pre-assembly plant or an automotive assembly plant from some of the other, the big three, another foreign automaker or it could be a caterpillar plant or it could be a John Deere plant. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the automotive sector.”

The executive director said the Valley needs to appeal to automakers by promoting the region as a whole, which includes Mexico, and making sure economic development organizations have the real estate available for those companies.

“We as a region from Brownville, Matamoros to McAllen, Reynosa, we have to have an inventory of everything that we have here and how it’s all interconnected, and be able to put that on the table, one, for an auto plant,” Salinas said. “Number two is real estate. To be in the game you need at least a thousand acres, free and clear of environmentals and paid for and owned by an economic development organization to be in the game. Just to get into the shopping ball. And the other is human capital. If you have the people, what plan do you have in place to start hiring people immediately that would the skills set that we need. And that other one is the inter agency collaboration and the regionalism.”

Salinas said the Valley would be ideal for automakers because of the locations of other major auto assembly plants in the country, but regional leaders need to decide what the best location would be to begin the process.

“You have to understand that, this region is right in the middle of the three major automotive corridors, and you have the traditional Midwest corridor, which is easy to get to from here, two days driving distance. Then you have the Southeast, which is an emerging corridor and they’re building like crazy over there. And then you have your emerging corridor in Southern Mexico, all the way from Monterrey to San Luis Potosi to Queretaro and Puebla area. And we’re right in the middle of those three, so we need to be able to build, create our own synergy and go after that project that can pull from all those three.

“That’s from that stand point we’re looking at it and look, Texas only has two automotive assembly plants, it’s Arlington, Dallas area, that’s GM [General Motors] and then Toyota in San Antonio. So that would put us just straight down the line in the middle of that corridor, but that work has to start somewhere and we all have to basically agree to whatever location it is and what resources do we have and take it from there.”

Delivering an automotive assembly plant would be a major win for the Valley, something they always hope for in economic development.

“Look, for us in economic development, that’s like a Super Bowl win,” Salinas said. “You know, getting more than a Super Bowl win, that’s like a lifetime achievement award almost getting an auto assembly plant in your community or in your region.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Gilberto Salinas, executive director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, at an advanced manufacturing summit hosted by Congressman Filemon Vela at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville.

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