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COBIFER was set up seven years ago by 12 local business leaders. It works closely with the state and local government and McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

REYNOSA, Tamaulipas – A wide range of topics were covered at this month’s COBIFER board meeting, including education, border bridges, infrastructure, NAFTA, urban planning and preventing the spread of diseases.

The meeting was held at the Holiday Inn in downtown Reynosa. More than 40 industry, education, healthcare and governmental leaders attended.

Joaquin Spamer, one of the co-founders of COBIFER, said afterwards that a key issue going forward will be ensuring that sufficient infrastructure is provided to keep up with Reynosa’s growth as a manufacturing powerhouse.

“We do think that the main problem in Reynosa is an urban planning issue. IMPLAN is doing an excellent job. I think the authorities need to strengthen IMPLAN. The insecurity issue is something that can be solved in a two-year span of time, but the wrong type of urban planning can generate a 40-year problem,” Spamer said.

IMPLAN stands for Instituto Municipal de Planeación, a governmental body that oversees urban development. IMPLAN’s Gricelda Elizondo spoke about urban development plans for Reynosa at the COBIFER meeting.

COBIFER was started seven years ago by 12 local business leaders. It stands for Consejo Binacional Para El Fomento Economico de Reynosa. Unlike INDEX Reynosa, COBIFER’s area of influence extends beyond manufacturing and maquiladoras. It is international in nature, with McAllen Economic Development Corporation represented on its board. At this month’s meeting, Ralph Garcia, vice president of MEDC, attended.

Juan Rafael Zubiaga Gaytán, administrative director of COBIFER, gave an overview of the group’s work:

“We support companies moving to this area and companies that are already established on both sides of the border. We provide information on the number of students who graduate with certificates every year. We work closely with the state government and the city government. We make commercial trips, to places like Korea and the interior of Mexico, we have been to an expo in Las Vegas. Whereas INDEX is just for manufacturing and maquilas, we represent every sector of the economy: education, media, logistics, customs brokers, medical, agriculture. With our experience and knowledge, we can support any project that might come here from the private sector or from the government.”

Asked about Reynosa’s growth as a manufacturing hub, Zubiaga told the Rio Grande Guardian:

“During the last ten years, we have had more than 220 manufacturing plant expansions. In terms of new companies coming to the area, we have an average of five new companies over the last ten years. The maquila industry is easily the most important industry in the area. Of the 200,000 workers registered with Social Security, 120,000 belong to the manufacturing sector. Another 30 percent might be related to the maquiladora industry, in terms of commerce and services.”

Asked about the top issues discussed at the board meeting, Zubiaga said:

“In order to continue growing as a city, we have to focus on improving education, for the people that are going to work in the maquilas or manufacturing. That was an important topic. We talked about the need to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. We talked about city growth and development. This is a very important topic, we cannot continue to grow if we do not have the right kind of mobility and the right housing for the people who are going to work in the maquilas, which are mainly established outside the city.”

In his interview with Televisa and the Rio Grande Guardian, Spamer discussed new investments coming to the region, security, the impact of the Trump Administration, and workforce training.

“Part of the information shared today is the construction of a million square feet of industrial units in Reynosa. This a very positive information for all of us. On the U.S. side, eight new companies are being established, which will generate 3,000 more jobs in the South Texas area,” Spamer said.

“So, the macroeconomic part of things is not that bad. Actually, it is very positive. And, the Trump Effect hasn’t been too negative on the area. Indeed, we are looking at a very positive year in regard to growth. There’s a demand for new employees in Reynosa. So, we’re fine. We see things in a positive light. Yes, we do have some problems we need to fix, and we do hope our authorities will do so, but if you’re talking about macroeconomic issues, we are in a very good position.”

Violence erupted in Reynosa two weeks ago with different gangs trying to wrestle control of a key drug running corridor. Many residents stayed at home and schools were closed. Asked if the security situation could lead to a reduction in investment, Spamer said:

“To tell you the truth, we felt that we were going to be affected more by the Trump Effect than by insecurity. At the beginning (of the Trump Administration) we felt a delay (in investments), but on the contrary, right now we are looking at an acceleration,” Spamer said.

“We have the perception that those most affected by the Trump Effect will be the Chinese; that more businesses will bring their operations from China to Mexico and the U.S. Certainly, that’s what we have been witnessing in McAllen and Reynosa.”

Asked what McAllen’s opinion of Reynosa is, Spamer said:

“That there’s a lot to solve, but definitely Reynosa/McAllen is still a key strategic location for the manufacture and distribution of products to the United States. Yes, definitely, everybody’s acknowledging the (security) problem, but Reynosa’s growth is still being driven by a market that needs its services and local manufacturing.”

Asked if a shortage of skilled workers might hamper Reynosa’s growth, Spamer said:

“No, I think this will be solved. That’s one thing going on in the market. If the market demands, one way or the other we get the workforce needed. If there’s a demand for the workforce, one way or the other the market will get a solution, and at the end, we will have a solution.”

Editor’s Note: Video Journalist Karen Reyes contributed to this story from Reynosa.