BROWNSVILLE, Texas – There is a positive buzz about Brownsville right now, says a local leader in industrial park development.

Rene Xavier Gonzalez is new business development and marketing director for Matamoros-based SIDEE Construction. He spoke at a major conference hosted by the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation (GBIC).

“I am glad everybody seems to be mentioning the momentum that seems to be happening here in this region, in Brownsville. There is absolutely something happening here,” Gonzalez said.

“Even though I am a lifelong Brownsville native (and therefore biased), the planets do seem to be aligning. I cannot tell you how interesting that is for me to be at an event like this where everybody seems to be talking about the same thing. We can’t really articulate it but there is definitely something going on.”

Asked about Gonzalez’s comments after the conference had ended, GBIC’s executive director, Helen Ramirez, said she had to agree.

“Can you feel it? I can feel it. I feel it every day,” Ramirez said. 

The conference GBIC hosted was called SelectUSA – The Future of Aerospace, Defense, and Energy in Brownsville. It was held at the Brownsville Events Center.

SelectUSA is a program run by the U.S. Department of Commerce that seeks to attract foreign direct investment to the United States. Every June, SelectUSA hosts a major summit near Washington, D.C. In addition, it has regional spinoff events. 

Brownsville was the only city in Texas to be selected for a spinoff event. GBIC had to select two industries to focus on and it chose aerospace and energy.

Ramiro Aleman, director of business recruitment, retention and expansion at CBIC, served as emcee for the conference. In the run up to the event, Aleman said more than 45 foreign companies and investors signed up for the event. However, at the start of the conference, he explained that some attendees were unable to attend due to visa issues. 

Later, Aleman said he would be connecting with those companies and investors that could not make it to Brownsville. One of these, he said, was from Spain. He said he would do this at the main SelectUSA summit in Washington, D.C.

Aleman said he was pleased that visitors from South America, Mexico, Canada, Austin and Florida were in attendance at the Brownsville event. 

Among the speakers were Trey Mendez, the mayor of Brownsville, Francisco Partida, special projects manager at Brownsville-South Padre International Airport, and Arturo Gomez, deputy port director for the Port of Brownsville.

A local industry panel featured Dr. Natalie Rens, CEO and founder of Astreia, Mark Hodgson, president and CEO of StealCoast, and Brant Arseneau, founder and partner of 9.8 Capital. Arseneau and GBIC teased a new aerospace education scholarship 9.8 Capital will be announcing soon. 

“We planned to do the scholarship program before we came to Brownsville. I told my team, they said, don’t we have enough to do without adding a scholarship program. I said, this is the least we could do,” Arseneau said. 

“I mentioned it to the mayor and Helen and she said, let’s do it here. So, we are pleased to team up with the university and do our first scholarship effort in Brownsville.”

The “Helen” Arseneau referenced was Helen Ramirez, executive director of GBIC. 

“What I like about 9.8 Capital is they are thinking, I have a new emerging MBA program, how do I get to that space MBA program?” Ramirez told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service. “Well, why not start at UTRGV? We can start with a certificate program and then go on to an MBA but let’s start sowing the seed for that emerging MBA. Let us start and foster that program here in Brownsville.”

Another panel discussion focused on international trade. It featured customs broker Frank Parker, of Parker Logistics, Jaime Diez, an immigration attorney, and SIDEE’s Gonzalez.

Another panel discussion was titled Why SpaceX Chose Brownsville, South Texas. This featured Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño taking questions from GBIC’s Ramirez.

Interviewed afterwards by the Guardian, Treviño said he was encouraged by a recent ruling about SpaceX by the Federal Aviation Authority. The FAA said SpaceX will be required to take more than 75 actions to mitigate environmental impacts before the company can receive a launch license for its rocket launching site at Boca Chica. SpaceX will also need a license from the FAA to conduct further Starship flight tests and begin operational launches from its private facility.

“It was like, phew, a big relief on everybody’s part to say, okay, we’ve got this now, let’s move forward,” Treviño said of the FAA ruling.

“There are still those 75 quote, unquote, conditions but I don’t think there is anything in there that SpaceX was not expecting or isn’t prepared to deal with. So, as we get prepared for that first launch, whether it is in a month or whatever time needed for them (SpaceX) to do to be prepared, I think the excitement is just going to continue to build and build and build.”

Treviño said SpaceX will be “great,” not just for Brownsville and Cameron County but also for the entire Rio Grande Valley. “I think if we all keep moving in a positive form or fashion and we support SpaceX, and they support us, this will continue to be a win-win.”

Treviño added that it is not just SpaceX that Brownsville has going for it.

“The growth of the port, all of this is inter-related. Hopefully the LNGs, we get those moving in the next couple of months and their investment, I think it is exciting. We are living in some exciting times here in Brownsville, Cameron County and the Valley.”

GBIC’s Ramirez also spoke about the FAA ruling on SpaceX in an interview with the Guardian after the conference had ended.

“The fact that the announcement SpaceX has made on the environmental assessment and the finding of no significant impact is a good thing for the future of our economy and I am excited about it. Our kids and the multi-generational workforce that we have are building the starship,” Ramirez said.

“The fact that StealCoast and other companies are here is also very important for our economy. It speaks to the multigenerational talent and workforce that we have and the jobs that are being created and the future that we have ahead of us.”

Matt Z. Ruszczak, vice president for economic development for COSTEP, asked a number of questions at the Brownsville summit. Interviewed afterwards by the Guardian, Ruszczak said: “I think today was incredibly exciting. I have had the privilege of working in economic development in this region for a quite a while and I have been one of the champions of foreign direct investment opportunities for our region for several years now as well. And I am really, really excited that our communities like Brownsville are following through on that opportunity and really making it happen.”

Ruszczak was one of the participants that boarded a bus to visit the industrial assets Brownsville has to offer.

“That we have a SelectUSA spinoff event here in our region, specifically Brownsville, and the fact that it is the only one in the state of Texas is a testament to the opportunity that not only Brownsville offers, and, in particular, Brownsville offers to the aerospace industry here in the area, but what the region offers overall to companies all around the world,” Ruszczak said.

“I am incredibly grateful for the hard work that the folks here at GBIC have put in to this, the leadership in Brownsville, as well as all the regional players who have been on this journey for several years now. And now we are starting to see the fruits of this labor.”

GBIC’s Ramirez had a similar view to Ruszczak on how the SelectUSA Spinoff went. 

“I really felt we all took away something new. I learned something new. Featuring the collaboration that we have in the cross-border economy with Matamoros, with Brownsville, was important,” Ramirez said.

“We also had a Cameron County perspective with Judge Treviño. We heard from Mayor Mendez, we had companies that have relocated here from Austin and Canada. We had Astreia and 9.8 Capital. This event has demonstrated that the economy in Brownsville is strong, that we are all working together.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the second in a series of features focusing on the recent Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation/SelectUSA conference. Click here to read Part One. Part Three will be published in our next edition. 

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