BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation has told Brownsville Economic Development Corporation it will no longer receive funding from the City of Brownsville.
BEDC’s three-year service agreement with GBIC, worth $1.6 million a year, ends on September 30. Brownsville City Commissioners Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa, chair of GBIC, wrote to BEDC last week and said the contract would not be renewed.
“We appreciate your service but we have decided to go in a different direction for the future,” Tetreau-Kalifa’s wrote. The letter was sent to BEDC Board Chair Steve Muschenheim.
Jose Herrera, interim president of BEDC, says the group may soldier on and is looking at expanding its service area beyond Brownsville.
“Just because we do not have the funding from GBIC, that does not mean we are not going to continue. We are in the process of setting up a budget and a new mission for our area and then we will keep on going,” Herrera told the Rio Grande Guardian on Friday.
BEDC has won praise in recent years for landing SpaceX and the Sata Group, an Italian manufacturing firm. However, relations between GBIC and BEDC have deteriorated over the past 12 months. Last October, Gilberto Salinas, then the vice president of BEDC, took over as interim executive director of GBIC. In April, Jason Hilts, long time president of BEDC, left abruptly. In May, the remaining BEDC staff were told it might be a good idea to look for another job.
In her letter to Muschenheim, Tetreau-Kalifa requests that the BEDC president coordinate with Salinas “to start the process of recovering all files pertinent to past and current projects and leads, office equipment and furniture purchased with GBIC funds.”
Tetreau-Kalifa asks that “a detailed finance report” of BEDC’s up to date revenue and expenditures, along with the amount of all unexpended funds be submitted to GBIC. Tetreau-Kalifa also wants the audit process for the current fiscal year to commence. “Once audit report is finalized, a copy of report and the unexpected funds must be returned to GBIC,” Tetreau-Kalifa’s letter states.
In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Herrera explained how BEDC could continue operatons without GBIC’s help.
However, he acknowledged that the $1.6 million BEDC received from GBIC is “quite a chunk.”
Herrera said not all of this year’s allocation has been spent and whatever is left will be returned. “We still have a contract up until the end of September. After that we will close all the books and whatever money is left over we will return to the GBIC.”
Herrera said BEDC has its own separate budget, thanks to a membership fund. “At the beginning, that is what it will use to continue. Hopefully it will be a membership-run organization. After I get done with the budget, we will go back to our members and say, this is what we will need to operate. We are not sure how much that will be. Hopefully they will step up to the plate. We think they will.”
Herrera said the BEDC board will have to explore ways to expand its area of influence.
“We have got to find our niche and work together with the other communities. I think Brownsville, Cameron County, everyone can benefit if we just coordinate our efforts,” Herrera said.
“Promoting economic development as a region would be good. Some of the smaller cities in Cameron County often times do not have a lot of funds. We have some ideas to put together a (regional) plan. We will present it to the board and share it with you. Hopefully we can move on that.”
Asked if BEDC would have to change its name, should it become a regional entity, Herrera said: “That would be up to the board but the name does not necessarily have to be Brownsville. But, right now we are still Brownsville. We still have an obligation to the GBIC.”
Asked if BEDC will comply with GBIC’s request of an audit, Herrera said that cannot happen until the end of September. He said he does not want BEDC, going forward, to duplicate the efforts of GBIC. “We are definitely not looking to duplicate efforts. There is no need to spend money in the same areas twice, that’s for sure. We have a good relationship with GBIC. I communicate with Mr. Salinas at least twice a week. Going forward, there is going to be communication with GBIC and the other communities around the area.”
It is thought Jerry Briones, BEDC’s director of global outreach and development, might stay with Herrera to develop a revamped BEDC.
Cameron County Commissioner Alex Dominguez is an ex-officio member of BEDC. Dominguez participated in a BEDC board meeting last Wednesday where a discussion on where the economic development group goes from here was discussed. “The spirit in the room was positive. We want to create more jobs in the Brownsville area,” Dominguez said.
In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Dominguez said there is “a lot of goodwill by the businesses in the Brownsville area.” He said he does not want to see it dissipate. Dominguez said he would be pleased to explore ways in which BEDC could expand its geographic reach.
“If we want to continue as an EDC, it no longer needs to be limited to just to the city of Brownsville. Now, conceivably, it could be a regional EDC for the whole of Cameron County. When we met this week were pitching ideas, thinking outside of the box. At the county, we really don’t have an EDC but we do have communities that communicate with us. There has been talk, since Commissioner Dan Sanchez was on the Commissioner’s Court, about developing a framework for an EDC,” Dominguez said.
“At the moment, we really only have the Brownsville EDC, which will no longer be funded by the City of Brownsville, and Harlingen EDC. There are cities like Los Fresnos and perhaps Port Isabel and maybe even San Benito that could be interested. They may not be able to afford to start one on their own. Maybe we could offer EDC services to those communities as well.”
Asked what the next step should be, Dominguez said: “We will sit down next week to see if we could work together, to see how aligned we could be and after that try to find funding. It is early on in the process. The board will have to vote on what the future of the EDC would be. Are they going to continue to exist? Where would they serve? The important thing for me is we do not want to lose the ability to attract companies that can bring good jobs to South Texas.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows cables being assembled in a manufacturing operation. It comes from the Brownsville EDC website.