BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – Hiring 5,000 construction workers to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal at the Port of Brownsville will lead to increased wage rates across the lower Rio Grande Valley.
That is the view of Pat Hobbs, executive director of Workforce Solutions Cameron.
In a wide-ranging interview that also included news of big developments at SpaceX, Hobbs said he expects a decision from NextDecade on their Rio Grande LNG terminal to “pop” any day now.
“We’re expecting the LNG to pop any day… for NextDecade to make their final investment decision. And when they do I think that’s going to be the start of a large scale change in the wage rates for the Valley region, which is long overdue.”
So, wage rates are going to go up, Hobbs was asked.
“Rates are gonna go up, I predict. I won’t believe it until I see it but all the signs say that the skilled workforce in the Brownsville, Harlingen, (lower) Valley area is going to increase. The value of their services is going to increase on par with the rest of the state. So, our workers our skilled workers won’t have to leave the Valley in order to make a decent living.”
Asked how many extra jobs NextDecade’s Rio Grande LNG facility will create, Hobbs said:
“During the construction phase they estimate 5,000 skilled trades jobs. After the facility is built, at least the first three trains, probably 300 or so to actually run the facility. Those will be highly specialized operator jobs and so forth. Which again, we’re going to try and train up for and use local talent to take those good jobs.”
Hobbs was asked to respond to critics who say that the Valley will not be able to train enough skilled workers quickly enough, and that, therefore, the jobs will go to outsiders.
“The LNGs have built these plants up and down the Gulf Coast for years and internationally. So they do have a certain number of skilled, experienced workers that do what they do,” Hobbs responded.
“Particularly Bechtel, which is the construction company (NextDecade will use). They have a certain set of workers that specialize in building the plants.”
But, said Hobbs, the Valley should not despair.
“There’s a vast array of workers that they’re going to need and they’re going to supply me with that list. Their HR matrix, you know, 500 welders and 300 electricians and all kinds of riggers and concrete people. And all of those jobs, totaling probably 5,000 over the course of construction are going to be local jobs,” Hobbs said.
“They may pull 2,000 of those jobs from other facilities up and down the Gulf Coast, for the people that came from Brownsville and came from Los Fresnos and are now travelers working that industry. They’ll come back to this plant for probably five or six years while it’s being built. And that will be good for the economy and good for the people of the Valley.
A spur for other big companies
Hobbs also argued that other big companies will arrive in the Valley as a result of NextDecade’s investment.
“Once we see the construction going on, I think that’s going to be a big draw for other industries for the area. We’ve already had talks with hydrogen refueling facilities and things like that which we don’t have right now at the Port (of Brownsville). But, it’s coming, it’s coming,” Hobbs said.
“And each new addition of a new industry attracts another ancillary industry with it. So we’re just going to continue to see over, the next 20 years, continuous growth for this area, because we have the young, talented, trainable workforce that these companies need for the long haul. We’re enthusiastic about the future.”
Hobbs was asked it anyone has crunched the numbers on the economic impact LNG will have.
He responded: “Well, it’s not my area of expertise, but I know that the investment that’s being made by just NextDecade for the first three trains of their facility is around $6 billion. It cost them a billion dollars just to get their permits. So you take that $6 billion over six or seven years and turn it seven times every year. That’s a huge, huge investment for the Valley.”
Asked if the Valley has ever seen that size investment before, Hobbs said:
“I don’t think so other than maybe the Union Carbide plant 30, 40, 50 years ago. This is this is gonna be really big, especially if those other companies come in and build the same thing and duplicate it. That’s just, you know, more and more of the same thing. You know, they’re deepening the (ship channel at the) port. They’re (NextDecade) paying for that. It’s just tremendous… I don’t think we could put a dollar amount yet on the just the value of deepening the port. Because bigger ships, more goods and services,, more people to offload and on-load. It’s going be fun to watch.”
Hobbs was asked if Workforce Solutions Cameron has enough staff to cope. He responded: “Probably not just yet. We were constantly adding staff as we have large grants and large activities.”
Hobbs said his organization was just given a half-billion dollar grant from the the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to bring all the stakeholders together in the region. He said Region One Education Service Center got a similar grant.
“So, I need to talk to Dr. King about collaborating so we don’t step on each other. But that’s going to be a big deal. In that leadership group that I’ll call together, we’ll develop the strategic plan for the future workforce, taking all these things into consideration that we know about,” Hobbs said.
Dr. Daniel P. King is executive director of Region One.
“From the EDCs, and involving the schools, the ISDS, through the colleges, through TSTC, so that we’re prepared for what we think is coming. We may never know all of it, but we have a pretty good idea of what kinds of jobs we need to gear up for, for our population.”
Hobbs said the half billion dollar grant was not specifically related to the Valley securing an LNG plant that will need 5,000 new workers. He said it was just good timing.
“Statewide, this LNG facility is the largest investment in Texas right now. The governor said so. It’s the largest economic development project in the state of Texas. So we’re just waiting for that final investment decision. When that happens, everything pops. It’s going to be great.”
And there’s no question it is definitely coming, Hobbs was asked.
“Oh, yeah, it’s coming. It got delayed because of the COVID. Everything did. But, now it’s coming back gangbusters. So we’ll see what happens.”
Asked in the interview if there was anything else he would like to add, Hobbs made a big prediction about SpaceX. The interview took place at an event DHR Health was hosting at their new hospital in Brownsville.
“I just appreciate your coverage of what goes on in the area of workforce for the Valley. You know, it’s a well kept secret in some cases, what we do and the impact that it has. Even this hospital here, we awarded DHR $1.7 million to up-skill their workforce, up and down the Valley from Brownsville to Edinburg. Which is needed for the Valley. And that’s the biggest skills development funding grant in the state. That $1.7 million, plus we gave SpaceX $1.4 million. Actually, no, $1.9 million in two different grants (to SpaceX).
Hobbs then elaborated on developments at SpaceX
“We thought their workforce was about 400. It’s 1,700 now, maybe 1,900. That’s a closely held secret out there, but it’s very big. We were sending monitors out to make sure they were doing the training that we were paying them for and it’s a massive structure.
“They tell me that they’re going to build… right now they’re building those rockets in silos. They’re going to roll all those down and build a production line just like Tesla in Austin. That is so frigging big.”
In a wrap-up remark, Hobbs said:
“We’re looking for big things. We’re anxious to see it happen and anxious to help make it happen. I think it’s just gonna build on itself and snowball. It’s gotta be good.”
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