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Elected officials, economic development leaders and SATA USA co-owners line up for a group photo after the Brownsville EDC/SATA USA news conference.

BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Patience, perseverance and tenacity were some of the words used to describe the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation team on the day it was announced that a $114 million investment was being made in a manufacturing facility in the city.

Gilberto Salinas
Gilberto Salinas

The Italian-based SATA Group is making the investment to establish a machining operation that will create over 300 jobs over a ten-year period. SATA is a 100-year-old, four-generation family-owned mechanical machining company that supplies machined parts for industrial giants such as Caterpillar, John Deere, and Fiat-Chrysler Automotive. Headquartered in Valperga, Italy, the company has machining operations in India, China, Argentina and Brazil.

Over the ten years that SATA USA will fully develop its machining plant, four other inter-related manufacturing projects are slated to launch at the new 350-acre North Brownsville Manufacturing Campus. They involve aluminum die cast, plastic injection molding, forging, and a foundry. All told, the development has the potential to create 4,000 jobs over a ten-year period.

A news conference was held at the BEDC offices on Wednesday to announce the SATA Group project. BEDC President Jason Hilts kicked off the event and introduced an array of speakers. They included state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, Brownsville Mayor Tony Garza, Cameron County Commissioner Alex Dominguez, SATA USA co-owner Pietro Cinotto, and Arun Kumar, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce. Carlo Cinotto, another co-owner of SATA USA, was also present at the news conference but did not speak publicly.

North Brownsville Heavy Manufacturing Campus Facts:
•    350-acre development next to newly designated Interstate 169
•    Will integrate industry via private enterprise, the public sector, UT-Rio Grande Valley, community college and technical training facilities within the campus
•    Will house a vertically-integrated machining-foundry-forging operation by 2020
•    Plans to include an aluminum die cast operation, large plastic injection molding operation, distribution center and apprenticeship training center with an emphasis on machinists
•    Development has potential to create 4,000 jobs over a ten-year period.

A Plan for Diversification

After the news conference was over, the Rio Grande Guardian sat down with Gilberto Salinas, vice president of BEDC, to ask how the project came about.

“We started this model in 2011, during the economic downturn. We asked ourselves what can we do to make Brownsville more diversified, economically. That way, when the economy tanks, whether it is on the U.S. side or the Mexican side, we can sustain our community,” Salinas said.

“We developed a plan whereby we would go after foreign direct investment, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Once you start developing the supply chain, those suppliers in the area, you make it very hard for the big companies to leave.”

Salinas said BEDC stuck to the plan.

“It was tough at first. People did not see it. They wanted a quick return on investment and all we said was, be patient. We have stuck to the plan. It has been slow to get off the ground but here we are, five or six years later, having success with that blueprint. Now, doors are opening for us because of what we set out to do during the economic downturn. It takes a while. You have to be patient. But, when it hits it hits. And today it hit.”

Asked how the BEDC team felt, Salinas said: “Very similar to the feeling we had when we announced SpaceX a year and a half ago. There is a certain vibe here in the city and people feel it. There is a level of confidence in the city now that things can get done. We are playing with the big boys and we are closing deals. We are closing the big projects.

“It is like a Super Bowl. You celebrate for a few days and then you get back to work because you want that next Super Bowl ring. This is another Super Bowl for us. And we want another one. It is pretty encouraging. We have a good feeling. We have a great team. I think we are going to have much success here in the near future.”

Salinas pointed out that a lot of effort can be put into a project like the SATA USA one but there is no guarantee that effort will bear fruit.

“For every 20 projects you touch you might only land one. You treat them all the same, all equally. This was a project of significance, in scope, size and magnitude. It definitely deserved reaching out to the Governor’s Office and Select USA. Those two entities have been outstanding, empowering the local community.”

The Governor’s Office pumped $1.8 million into the project through the Texas Enterprise Fund. Select USA, housed within the U.S. Department of Commerce, engaged with the SATA Group in Italy, under the direction of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Ambassador to Italy John Phillips.

Asked about the overarching ten-year program for the North Brownsville Heavy Manufacturing Campus, Salinas said: “I would say every two years we are going to be landing a project very similar to this, in terms of the size and magnitude and impact. All of the projects will fit into our North Brownsville Heavy Manufacturing Campus. We are now working with the foundry and forging operation. One of those two should come to our area in the next two years. And then the next component will come in, probably two years after that. The beauty of that is that it gives us some breathing room to work these huge, huge projects that, for a community of 200,000… I mean, who would have thought and here we are.”

In total, there will be five components to the ten-year project, Salinas said, with all five being developed by three European firms, including SATA. “There are five components. Aluminum die cast, plastics injection molding, forging, a foundry and the machining operation. They are all vertically integrated and each one will require its own suppliers, small companies that will get drawn into the area. We think local entrepreneurs will start supplying them as well. We can’t wait to see what this place looks like ten years from now. It will be transformed.”

Cultivating Friendships

Interviewed after the news conference, Mayor Martinez predicted the SATA USA/North Brownsville Heavy Manufacturing Campus development would be the story of the year for the Rio Grande Valley.

“The cumulative effect of what it is we are doing in Brownsville, with the synergy of the aerospace industry and manufacturing, is incredible. It is like Nelson Mandela said, it is impossible until it gets done. I am very, very proud of this group. You have to convince a lot of folks that these things are possible. As Jason Hilts said, it is an emotional moment. I am very pleased.”

Asked to comment on the perseverance of the BEDC team, especially when it looked as though the project would lose out on Texas Enterprise Funds due to a changeover in the Governor’s Office in Austin, Martinez said: “The perseverance and the tenacity of this group is beyond question. When you start out you do not know if you are going to successful or not. You have to do a lot of research, put in a lot of elbow grease, a lot of time and develop those friendships. I know these guys (the Cinotto family). I know the whole family. It is endearing to me that these kinds of values, this friendship, will continue in this community.”

Martinez echoed Salinas’ remarks about the North Brownsville Heavy Manufacturing Campus transforming Brownsville. “You just watch. What we have going here is truly a treat. I am hoping this engenders that feeling of success because that begets success.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on the North Brownsville Heavy Manufacturing Campus. Part Two, featuring the analysis of Brownsville EDC President Jason Hilts, will be published on Monday, May 9, 2016.