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HARLINGEN, RGV – A groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Friday for a much-anticipated cold room inspection facility at the Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios.

The new $500,000 cold storage facility will hold both fresh and frozen produce for shippers as it awaits federal inspection by US Customs and Border Protection officers. The facility will be located within the CBP and General Services Administration installations.

Among the VIPs expected to attend the groundbreaking ceremony are Cameron County Eddie Treviño, Jr., and Cameron county commissioners, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell and Harlingen city commissioners, San Benito Mayor Celeste Sanchez and San Benito city commissioners, and leaders from the Los Indios community.

Raudel Garza

The event takes place at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, March 24. The address is 100 Los Indios Boulevard, Los Indios, Texas. Refreshments will be served after the ceremony.

The Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios is owned by Cameron County, the City of Harlingen and the City of San Benito. Cameron County owns 50 percent, while Harlingen and San Benito own 25 percent each. The facility will be built mirroring the current revenue split, according to officials.

Harlingen Economic Development Corporation CEO Raudel Garza explained the importance of the cold room inspection facility.

“For several years, Cameron County Judges and their staff have been working with the City of Harlingen, and the City of San Benito along with their respective economic development corporations and the Port of Brownsville to promote the use of the Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios,” Garza said.

“Under the auspices of the Cameron County Logistics Alliance, the group has traveled to several produce shows, visited with Mexican officials in Mazatlán and have worked with other strategic partners to raise awareness of the asset that is the Free Trade Bridge. Some of the shortest wait times at any crossing can be found at this bridge.”

The significance of visiting Mazatlán, in Sinaloa, is that this is the region that produces much of the fruit and vegetables Mexico exports to the United States. Currently, a lot of that produce is transported into the U.S. via the Pharr International Bridge. Cameron County leaders believe they can capture some of that business by improving infrastructure at the Los Indios bridge.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell is pictured in Austin during the recent Harlingen-San Benito Day at the state Capitol.

“One of the ideas for promoting the bridge was that we needed to accommodate the needs of the growing produce shipping business,” Garza said. “Without any refrigerated space at the Customs inspection dock, it was highly unlikely that a refrigerated truck would want to expose its cargo to the open air, especially in our South Texas summer weather. So, in discussion amongst the group and with federal authorities, the idea to construct refrigerated space at the existing inspection dock was born. On March 24, 2017, that idea begins its journey to reality.”

Garza makes the point that border bridge wait times at Los Indios is much shorter than other bridges in the Rio Grande Valley that handle 18-wheelers.

“Not only will there be two cold rooms with different temperatures to handle the different products, the Los Indios bridge also has USDA inspectors and entomologists on site. This will make it conducive to speed up the inspection process for any truck carrying produce into the United States with probably the shortest wait times along the entire border,” Garza said.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell mentioned the cold room inspection facility in his recent State of the City address. Boswell said:

“The Harlingen Economic Development Corporation and the City of Harlingen also continue to strengthen their partnership with the City of San Benito and Cameron County by developing a cold storage inspection facility at the Los Indios Free Trade Bridge.

“This joint project with the stakeholders in the Bridge is being developed to fulfill a need to inspect produce in a climate-controlled environment. Without such a facility, there is no way to encourage and attract trucks carrying produce to cross at the Los Indios Free Trade Bridge.

“We know this is a significant part of the truck traffic market as we have seen at other Ports of Entry in the Valley. As we break ground on the facility, we hope that soon the cold storage inspection facility will enable our partners here in Cameron County to realize more fully the potential of the Los Indios Free Trade Bridge. It also helps us capitalize on new truck traffic being generated by the Mazatlán to Matamoros superhighway.”

Freeport Tax Exemption

Building a cold room inspection facility at Los Indios is not the only way Cameron County leaders plan to lure truck business from Mexico. Another means is by providing an exemption from taxes on goods that have been acquired in or been imported into Texas to be forwarded out of the state within 175 days. The exemption is slated to start in January 2018.

In his State of the County Address, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño said the measure is aimed at boosting economic development in his county.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.

“Cameron County has opted to not exercise its authority to impose the freeport tax. In doing so, we have created an economic development tool,” Treviño said.

A news release issued by Cameron County provided examples of the savings for companies. In Harlingen, about $107 million in warehoused inventory would qualify for the tax exemption resulting in a savings for companies up to $417,000 annually. Brownsville companies qualifying for freeport goods tax exemptions have almost $250 million in inventory. This could represent up to $975,000 in savings for Brownsville-based industries. San Benito and Los Indios based companies could qualify for up to $500,000 in savings based on their 2016 inventory levels.

“In the past, we’ve seen companies located in “triple-freeport” communities expand their operations and hire more people because of the savings in taxes,” Trevino said. “We have also seen how these communities are much more competitive in attracting new investment and we are confident that this will happen in Cameron County. This exemption, coupled with a low tax rate among Texas counties, places Cameron County at a very competitive advantage in attracting industry.”

Mayor Boswell referenced the Freeport Tax exemption in his State of the City Address.

“Our partnership with the County is critical to our future success. And this past year, after working in partnership with our county administration, the Cameron County Commissioner’s Court unanimously approved the adoption of a Freeport Tax Exemption which becomes effective in January, 2018. It is aimed at boosting economic development throughout the county.

“The county now joins most cities and school districts in Cameron County in allowing an exemption of taxes on goods that have been acquired or imported into Texas to be forwarded out of the state within 175 days. In Harlingen alone, about $107 million dollars in warehouse inventory would quality for the tax exemption resulting in a savings for companies up to $417,000. Brownsville, San Benito and Los Indios all have businesses that will qualify for savings.

“Hidalgo County has long had this county tax exemption and has benefited by the development of warehouses at their ports of entry. This important milestone levels the playing field for Cameron County and thus ushers in a new era for the entire county to take advantage of recruiting more manufacturing and warehousing facilities. New businesses can now take advantage of this triple freeport tax exemption that Bexar, Travis, Tarrant and Hidalgo counties have all enjoyed. I thank and congratulate County Judge Eddie Treviño and (County) Commissioners (David) Garza and (Gustavo) Ruiz for their leadership in adopting this tax exemption.”