BROWNSVILLE, RGV – While a company that sends rockets into space is probably going to grab more headlines, a foundry making parts for caterpillar machines in Mexico could make a bigger economic impact.

This is the view of Pat Hobbs, executive director of Workforce Solutions Cameron. Hobbs discussed the pending announcement of a major manufacturing and foundry operation coming to Brownsville after speaking at a recent Governor’s Small Business Forum held in Harlingen.

“The Brownsville foundry project is absolutely a game-changer for our region, as much or even more than SpaceX because it is an actual manufacturing, machining operation building large foundry parts that are going to be exported to Mexico,” Hobbs told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“The foundry is going to employ a lot more people than SpaceX is and the skills sets required are probably going to be a better fit for our population of workers. SpaceX is going to use a lot of high-level engineering employees. This manufacturing operation is going to use technicians and that is what we are going to train for and that is what our population is going be learning. We are very excited about it. It has been on the books for a long time.”

Brownsville Economic Development Corporation and the Governor’s Office are expected to announce soon that a collaboration between a company from Italy and a company from Finland will result in the creation of a manufacturing plant foundry in Brownsville. The new entity will build parts for Caterpillar and other heavy-duty equipment. According to Brownsville EDC the project will likely mean an additional 4,000 well-paid full-time jobs over a ten-year period.

Hobbs said Workforce Solutions Cameron will be “heavily involved” in making sure the region produces enough skilled technicians for the foundry and manufacturing plant.

“Also, keep in mind that when a big company comes here and locates it has a lot of sub-contractors that come along with it. It becomes a mushrooming effect for manufacturing. Once one big company comes in, others are likely to come so we can become a hub. When you add in the Port of Brownsville and everything else that we have going for us, it could be a real game-changer,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs said just as SpaceX will employ highly paid engineers for its rocket launching operation at Boca Chica, the foundry project in Brownsville will also hire well-paid technicians. “SpaceX just started hiring experienced welders at $25 to $37 an hour. I know SpaceX is going to average $55,000. The majority of employees at this manufacturing plant will be highly specialized machinists and foundry workers. Employees with those skills are few and far between. They are going to command a good salary.”

Asked what role Workforce Solutions Cameron will play, Hobbs said: “We expect the company will give us a listing of all of the jobs and the jobs skills that they are going to require and the timeline for hiring them. So what Workforce Solutions will do is go into our database of unemployed workers and see if we can find enough people that match the requirements to fill those jobs. If not we will go to the community college, either Texas Southmost or TSTC-Harlingen, and ask them to develop training programs so that by the time the employees are needed for that company they will available and trained appropriately. We do expect also that the company itself will tell us what curriculum we should include in those training programs so that we produce exactly the employees that they need.”

Asked who will pay for the training of the foundry workers, Hobbs said: “It would probably be a joint effort. It is ultimately the community college’s responsibility to fund their programs because they will recoup that investment over time through tuition fees. In a lot of cases, if it is important to the company, the company will provide instructors, they will loan the college equipment because they have special equipment they use. It is kind of a collaboration. We will probably access our Skills Development Fund to train those workers that they need. It is a collaboration of effort on several parts. We will be heavily involved.”

Hobbs was provost at TSTC-Harlingen for 20 years before joining Workforce Solutions Cameron. He said the Brownsville manufacturing and foundry project is as good an investment for the Rio Grande Valley as he has seen. “I am starting my fifth year at Workforce Solutions and this is the biggest operation we have seen since I have been here. Trico was a pretty big plant and SpaceX will be a big operation but this is a whole sector of manufacturing that we have not had before. It is going to be tremendous.”

Asked who deserves credit for landing the manufacturing and foundry operation, Hobbs said: “I think it is combination. A lot of credit needs to go to the Brownsville EDC. They do a really outstanding job. The community itself deserves credit. The State of Texas, kicking in with monies through its Skills Development Fund, deserves credit. To draw a company like this that is going to make a billion-dollar investment for a 100-year period is a once in a lifetime event, a great collaboration.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Pat Hobbs, executive director of Workforce Solutions Cameron, speaking at the Governor’s Small Business Forum held at the Casa de Amistad in Harlingen.