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Sergio Contreras, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, is pictured at the podium at an advanced manufacturing summit hosted by Congressman Filemon Vela and held at UT-Rio Grande Valley's Brownsville campus. The panelists are Dr. Mark Kroll of UTRGV, Chris Wilson of the Mexico Institute, Dr. Alexander Domijan of UTRGV, Gilberto Salinas of Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, Danny Teixeira of Cardone Industries, and Sergio Villarreal of Humanetics Precision Sheet Metal.

BROWNSVILLE, RGV – To improve the skill sets of the region’s workforce, the Rio Grande Valley must unite and develop the labor force in the Valley, Reynosa, and Matamoros, a UT-Rio Grande Valley professor said at an advanced manufacturing summit held Friday.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela held the summit at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville last week to discuss manufacturing in the U.S.-Mexico border, and how to improve the workforce to attract more companies to invest in the Valley.

The summit held a panel with local business owners, economic development and UTRGV officials, along with Chris Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute, part of the Wilson Center, a think-tank based in Washington D.C.

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Mark Kroll, Dean of the Robert C. Vackar College of Business & Entrepreneurship at UTRGV, said he had two “overarching observations” on “developing manufacturing in the Valley,” but the biggest concern he noticed at the summit was developing human capital in the region.

Kroll said in order to improve the skill set of workers in the region, local officials have to address the differences of the labor force in Northern Tamaulipas and the Valley to better human capital as a whole.

“One of the big concerns that have been expressed here today is human capital, the adequacy of our work force, etc., and that’s absolutely true. But when we think about human capital we need to think about looking at the Valley at its totality, both sides of the river,” Kroll said.

“We need to have a plan to develop human capital on both the Mexican side and the U.S. side because when plant location decisions are made, they look at the human capital on both sides of the river. It does us no good to have a highly developed work force if somebody is going to locate a labor-intensive activity here in the Valley. It’s going to have to get done on the other side of the river and those people have to have basic computational skills, reading skills, language art skills, etc. So we need to think about human capital collectively.”

During the panel discussion, the dean considered the suggestion of an international metropolitan statistical area (MSA), combining the Valley and Matamoros-Reynosa area as one geographic region with a high population density, to help the Valley accept and amplify regional unity.

“Keith has suggested and I heartily endorse the notion of creating what would be I suppose a first international MSA that would essentially be made up of the Hidalgo-Cameron County area along with, which are currently individual MSA, with Matamoros and Reynosa area to form one very large metropolitan statistical area that would be, as a I said, the first international designation that I’m aware of,” Kroll said.

Kroll was referring to Keith Patridge, president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation and one of the Valley’s leading proponents for an international MSA.

Another concern at the summit was the long wait times for tractor-trailers to cross the bridges to the U.S. and how it affects local businesses. Kroll said improving wait times at the border alone wouldn’t increase capital to the region, but working to help manufactures transport goods at the border is still important.

“First of all, focusing on getting trucks across the bridges is not a bad thing,” Kroll said. “We certainly want to be as efficient as possible, but for instance, Laredo is the largest land port in North America and yet the per capita income in Laredo is quite low. You are not going to make a great deal of money by clearing trucks from the interior of Mexico and going North. What you need to do is engage in those activities that will help local manufacturers get their goods back and forth across the border as efficiently as possible.”

Kroll also spoke about a new report he and UTRGV have worked on Carlos Marin, president of the Brownsville-based Ambiotec Group, and the Mexico Institute. The report is titled “Backward Integration of Manufacturing Supply Chains in the Brownsville-Matamoros Region.”

“It’s a study that was commissioned by United Brownsville and the Economic Development Administration to really drill down into and understand what’s going on in terms of manufacturing in the Matamoros-Brownsville area and some of the observations I was making earlier in the presentation about the very large percentage of total value coming into the area in the form of purchased items that comes from that study,” Kroll said. “And Congressman Vela will be working on a roll out of that study over the next few weeks.”