BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Asked about the quality of the three-day 2023 Valley Legislative Tour, Texas Association of Business President Glenn Hamer said he was not so much impressed as “blown away.” 

In an exclusive interview with The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, Hamer described the Rio Grande Valley as “vibrant.” And he applauded the vision shown by Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation (BCIC) and UTRGV’s Department of Entrepreneurship & Commercialization in forging new alliances in Mexico.

Following some of those presentations, Hamer could be seen in excited conversation about the future of the Valley with Brownsville City Manager Helen Ramirez, Brownsville City Commissioner Nurith Galonsky Pizana, BCIC Director of Business Development Nathan Burkhart and UTRGV Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Commercialization Director Linda Ufland Romo.

Hamer was interviewed at BCIC/UTRGV’s much-heralded eBridge Center for Business and Commercialization on the last evening of the tour, which was hosted by the RGV Partnership.

“The RGV area is vitally important to the success of the entire Texas economy. And what’s really very interesting about this (eBridge) center here, that is focused on entrepreneurship, is the proximity to Mexico and the relationships that have already been established with our friends south of the border,” Hamer said. “It could make this the entry point for entrepreneurship coming from Mexico into Texas and into the United States.”

It was pointed out to Hamer that UTRGV and BCIC have signed multiple Memorandum of Understanding agreements with higher education institutions in Mexico, particularly in and around Monterrey.

“That’s going to benefit the entire region, because the stronger our friend, neighbor and ally Mexico is, the stronger the RGV region and the entire state of Texas will be. And this focus on entrepreneurship, specifically with respect to the RGV region, including going south of the border, is going to be a big boost for this region’s economy.”

Hamer said the partnerships are “particularly exciting” because new sectors in the economy are emerging.  

“Like all the things surrounding SpaceX and all of the activity surrounding the Port of Brownsville, which, I believe, is by itself a $3 billion dollar contributor to the state’s economy. Plus, all the things going on in health care. So, I just applaud the RGV Partnership for putting together this visit of lawmakers and policymakers from across the state of Texas to gain a better understanding of the vibrancy of this region.”

Asked if he was impressed by what he had seen on the visit, Hamer said: “I have been blown away. It is very impressive what’s going on here, at UTRGV. It’s also very impressive what’s going on in the community college (TSC) right next door. As was pointed out, 93% of Career Technical Education certificates come from our community college system.”

Hamer said: “So, the bottom line for us as an advocacy group, at the Texas Association of Business, is we are gaining additional facts that will be very helpful for us to carry out our mission to keep Texas on top as the most competitive place in the country to do business.”

Hamer also gave a shoutout to the Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Salazar was not on the RGVP trip.

“The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, has made it a goal of his to increase by a factor of ten the number of Mexican students studying in higher education institutions in the United States. Right now, there’s only 15,000 Mexican students studying in American colleges and universities. That compares to 330,000 students from China. Ambassador Salazar wants to increase it by a factor of ten over a period of years to make the United States more competitive when it comes to all the things we want to do in terms of near-shoring and having control over our supply chain. And that’s why what’s going on here in the RGV is very, very important to that goal.”

How the eBridge Center is building partnerships in Mexico and Latin America

The eBridge Center for Business & Commercialization seeks to be the “entrepreneurial bridge” for startups and legacy businesses to scale and commercialize their product or service on a massive scale.

The center, which is due to officially open soon, has been developed through a partnership between the UTRGV Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation, the City of Brownsville, Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Economic Development Council, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Just before interviewing Hamer, the Guardian spoke with Burkhart and Ufland Romo. Both had participated in a Q&A as part of the RGV Partnership tour. However, unfortunately, they were not asked much about the eBridge Center’s connections to Latin America in general and Mexico in particular. The Guardian tried to put that right through the interview.

“We have some MOUs underway with the municipal government of Nuevo León. Linda and her team are also working with Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León. BCIC is also working on an MOU with the city of Escobedo, which is kind of the manufacturing hub in Monterrey. We are speaking a lot about Monterrey but we also are working on an MOU with Guadalajara and hopefully we’ll have one with Mexico City before the end of the year too,” Burkhart said.

“No pun intended but we want to create bridges for our own entrepreneurs to expand into those markets and also promote the soft landing that we have with the designation to the university to allow those visitors to enter the U.S. market through Brownsville, through eBridge.”

Soft landing facilities like the eBridge Center can play a big role in helping Mexican entrepreneurs make it in the United States, Burkhart explained.

“The United States is the holy grail of market penetration. If you can penetrate the market, even get one percent of the market, you can go really far. So the ability to enter the U.S. market is difficult, it’s hard, when you’re trying to open up in New York or LA, or tier two cities like Denver, Austin, San Antonio, those are equally as hard, with the cost of living,” Burkhart said.

“Brownsville and our partnership here with the university and being within eBridge, we can offer those exact same resources and incentives and programs, a lower cost of living, better quality of life, or just as good, if you will. And our workforce is comparable to a lot of those cities.”

Burkhart said Brownsville offers the “perfect mix” to attract budding entrepreneurs. 

“We’ve got beaches, we’ve got bike trails, we have SpaceX, so it is the Valley’s time to shine and companies in Mexico are looking at that. And with that soft landing designation we have here, it is the perfect recipe or calculus, if you will, to move in.”

Asked if there is interest in Mexico for the services the eBridge Center has to offer, Burkhart responded: “We have nine soft landings from Mexico already moving in here. There’s a big announcement coming through and what I love about what we’re doing here in Brownsville is this pipeline of businesses coming in through eBridge at the beginning, with BCIC and UTRGV helping them, and then kind of exiting the pipeline but then GBIC stepping in and working with UTRGV again to help them.”

Burkhart added: “The university being the glue; the two EDCs partnering together, there’s some excitement there. I cannot say what just yet but in about two weeks there is a big announcement with Launch BTX and the university as well.”

Ufland Romo was also asked to explain the collaborations her department is forging in Mexico.

“Well, the collaborations were are forming with Mexico right now… it is not just to bring into the Valley the opportunities, by bringing businesses and entrepreneurs that want to land their businesses in the United States. We are trying to pitch to them the importance of this region to the rest of the country,” Ufland Romo said.

“We have great assets, we have a port, we have a border, we have international lines, but we also have the education factor and we have the entrepreneurial mindset here. We are supporting emerging industries so these collaborations with Mexico, Central America and South America have really been focused to attract that foreign direct investment into the region, because they are great job creators as well.”

Ufland Romo added: “For job creation, scalability of businesses, bringing these types of companies here to the United States, into the Rio Grande Valley, is extremely important for the economy. As well as fostering exporting opportunities for our local entrepreneurs to also take the chance with this collaboration, have those international bridges formed. So we’re building international bridges not just entrepreneurial bridges.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is one in a series about the recent Rio Grande Valley Partnership 2023 Valley Legislative Tour.

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