HARLINGEN, RGV – State Rep. Eddie Lucio gave an overview of the 84th legislative session in speeches to two local chambers of commerce recently, winning praise at one and making news at another.

At a breakfast event sponsored by the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce, the San Benito Democrat was given high marks by Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell for helping the city achieve most of what it wanted during the legislative session in Austin.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell
Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell

At a luncheon event sponsored by the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, Lucio gave more details about Project Sizzle, what appears to be a successful effort to land a major heavy manufacturing firm and good paying jobs for Brownsville.

“On behalf of the City, I would like to thank Representative Lucio,” said Boswell. “We had a good session. The things that we were interested in, such as the overweight corridor, the hospital district, money for the medical school and other things, we were very successful. Our representative represented us very well – great leadership on his part – and great leadership on the part of Senator Lucio, also. We really need to recognize him and thank them. It is a tough job. They cram two years of legislating into four months. I think that is a good thing but for the people that are in the process of doing it, it is hard on them and it is hard on their families. So, we need to thank the representative and his staff for the great job that they did.”

The overweight corridor legislation Boswell referred to allows for bigger trucks from Mexico to cross the Free Trade International Bridge and proceed on a dedicated corridor to the Port of Brownsville. The bridge runs between Los Indios, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico. It is about ten miles south of Harlingen and is owned by Cameron County and the cities of Harlingen, and San Benito. Cold storage facilities are being planned near the bridge to capture more of the fresh produce coming into the Rio Grande Valley from Sinaloa via the new Mazatlán-Matamoros trans-oceanic superhighway.

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez
Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez

The hospital district legislation Boswell referred to gives Cameron County voters the opportunity to vote to set up such an entity. It would help fund the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and pay for healthcare for the county’s indigent population. The money for the medical school Boswell referred to was a successful effort to add $30 million of state funds to the UT System budget to help establish the UTRGV School of Medicine.  The medical school is being established in Harlingen and Edinburg.

In his speech at the Brownsville Chamber event, Rep. Lucio spoke about his involvement in Project Sizzle. A heavy manufacturing firm from Italy was torn between establishing a foundry in Brownsville and Monterrey, Mexico. The Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation and the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation asked Lucio during the legislative session to help in their efforts to secure state funding for incentives to entice the company to choose Brownsville. About 450 high paying jobs were on the line. In the end, the State of Texas pumped about $6 million into the project.

“We were excited to work with Jason Hilts and his crew to successfully fund state investment in Project Sizzle, which will bring a foundry plant to make John Deere products that will then go into Mexico. At its peak within the next five to seven years it will be ramped up and employ over 600 employees in Brownsville, Texas. That is amazing,” Lucio said in his speech.

Jason Hilts is president and CEO of the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation.

“It was an interesting name, Project Sizzle. But that is all I heard, day after day after day for four weeks. It seemed like I was calling the Governor’s office on a daily basis. I was like, why do we call it Project Sizzle? That was the name and we got it funded. So, that was exciting,” Lucio said in his speech.

The Rio Grande Guardian spoke to Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez and Brownsville City Manager Charlie Cabler about Project Sizzle at a Brownsville-Matamoros Sister City event on Tuesday.

“We have one more “T” to cross and one more “I” to dot and that should be done in the next couple of days. God willing, if it comes, the company will be manufacturing John Deere and Caterpillar parts in Brownsville. I am not sure where they will distribute to. As you know, they are worldwide,” Martinez said.

Cabler said he and the Brownsville City Commission are excited about the project for various reasons. Not just will the Valley land a major heavy manufacturing company, Cabler said, but there will be a supply chain of subcontractors developing to service the foundry.

“The company will be relocated on our industrial park on Paredes Line Road. It seems like they will need subcontractors and other companies to work with so we feel more companies will be interested in coming down and joining the project,” Cabler said.

Cabler paid tribute to Congressman Filemon Vela, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, state Reps. René Oliveira and Eddie Lucio, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, and Brownsville Economic Development Corporation for their “united effort” to land the heavy manufacturing plant.

“We are excited. The project is bringing growth and high-paying job opportunities to the people in our community. We are looking forward to them getting her and then, obviously, promoting our companies to join them,” Cabler said.

Another aspect to the foundry project is that a skilled workforce will need to be developed, which will mean more training programs at local colleges. “Once we get the criteria of what the training needs to be we can work with our educational institutions, whether it is TSC or UTRGV or others. Great things are happening in Brownsville. The efforts to get industry, commercial and retail developments for our city all seems to be bonded into one. We see the importance of all. It is a win-win for the city,” Cabler said.