MCALLEN, Texas – Dr. Carlos Marin is president of Brownsville-based Ambiotec Civil Engineering Group, Inc. He is also a founding member of the Rio Grande Valley Angel Investors Network and a former chair of the Tropical Texas Emerging Technology Fund Regional Center for Innovation and Commercialization.

Dr. Marin attended a recent news conference held at South Texas College in McAllen where Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and STC President Ricardo Solis announced plans for an engineering academy involving the two higher education institutions.

Businessman Mike Hernandez, like Marin a Brownsville native, was also present. Hernandez serves as a regent for Texas A&M. He and Marin have worked together to boost advanced manufacturing in the Rio Grande Valley.

At the conclusion of the news conference, the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service secured an exclusive interview with Marin about his work with Texas A&M. Here is the Q&A:

Q) Dr. Marin, please tell us about your involvement in advanced manufacturing with Texas A&M University:

A) Yes, I’ve been working on an advanced manufacturing program for Texas A&M. And so I thought (South Texas College President) Ricardo (Solis) at STC would be a great part of that program. 

Q) Tell us what is going on with advanced manufacturing in our region?

A) Well, I think we’re poised in many ways and I can send you a document that explains all the details. There are lot of reasons why advanced manufacturing and manufacturing is coming back from Asia and reshoring back to Mexico. And we’ve seen an acceleration of that because of COVID. And then (we have) the global conflicts, and now the positioning of China and United States on opposing ends. 

And so, over the last few years, that reshoring has accelerated significantly. I will send you a couple of articles on that, about the Chinese companies and other Asian companies who are settling on the Mexican side for a number of reasons. Primarily, they’ll be able to sell their goods straight to the United States under the USMCA with no tariffs. So, the free trade agreement, that is major. We’ve seen the growth. But now, there’s very little land available that’s freely available on the Mexican side. But there’s tremendous opportunities on this side. 

So far, the strategic plan for the Valley has been primarily for warehousing and the manufacturing being done over there (in Mexico). But, because of the demand and some missteps, unforced errors on the Mexican side, particularly with violating some of the agreements within USMCA with respect to energy and not pushing renewables, along with a serious water scarcity in Mexico… if we develop a strategic plan that incorporates R&D support for advanced manufacturing, with workforce development focused on advanced manufacturing… that’s exactly what we’re talking about here. 

Then there is the element of infrastructure, water, power. If we provide those elements, along with the educational component, I think we’re going have a very competitive advantage relative to Mexico and be able to attract some of those near-shoring companies to the Valley. 

The one advantage we have here is land and, as was mentioned by the Chancellor, demographics. We have the fastest growing population rate in Texas, and particularly the cohorts of 18 to 24 year olds. So it’s all about a broader strategy and that is going to play a big part. Mike (Hernandez) has been instrumental and making it happen. And we’re really excited about that.

Q) Tell us about the advanced manufacturing training program Texas A&M is spearheading at the Port of Brownsville:

A) Well, there’s already a program for training in R&D support with the Port of Brownsville. Steve Guerra, the chairman of the port, is helping with that. That’s the first phase. The next phase is to develop a building and a program specifically for advanced manufacturing, and have R&D support much more heavily in the program. Because, that’s one of the competitive elements we have relative to Mexico. We’re not going to focus just on manufacturing, but advanced manufacturing, which brings artificial intelligence and robotics into the equation. It’s very hard for other companies to do that; you’re seeing now that the advantage of low cost labor is being eliminated by AI and advanced manufacturing, robotics. (By way of example) let’s look at at textiles. South Carolina, North Carolina, that was the king area for textiles, a lot of manual labor. Then they went to Texas. They came to Harlingen about 15 to 20 years ago. Then, from there they went to Matamoros, Mexico, and then they went to China, always looking for cheaper and cheaper labor. There are no robots that will do the same cut and sew operations as that labor, but you can’t just pay a person $1 a day or $1 a month. You have got to put millions of dollars in, in terms of infrastructure. You need effective power, utilities. But, more importantly, you need that trained tier of technicians that we’re talking about, that will come out of this (engineering academy). So that’s a competitive advantage. 

Q) But why South Texas? What is to stop this happening in middle of America? 

A) Well, first of all, we’re looking at the retrenchment of globalization. People are saying globalization is going to go away. It will never go away. It’s coming back for a number of reasons, right? But… we’re going to have regional economies instead of global economies. The largest regional economy in the world is NAFTA, USMCA. And, you know who the biggest trading partners are in NAFTA, USMCA? Texas and Mexico. And the Valley is right at the epicenter of that relationship. Plus, we’re seeing the acceleration, as I said before, of the reshoring back to Mexico, especially the border area. Monterey is just booming. But, there is no more space. As I mentioned, there has (in Mexico) been some unforced errors in terms of infrastructure, there’s a water shortage, and staying with fossil fuels instead of looking at renewables and with monopolies internally that are going to, in the long run, cause problems. 

If you’re trying to create, for example, metal for automotive industries and you are trying to export it to Europe, they’re going to require that that product be made of 100% renewables. So, we have an opportunity. Plus, we are still an emerging market, we still have lower land prices, energy, the infrastructure and the educational infrastructure. Texas A&M is going to provide the training infrastructure, plus (we have) water and wastewater, power. All of that is going to give us a competitive advantage. Plus, we have first world legal and financial systems. So, put all those factors together and bringing this kind of leadership (Texas A&M) down, it really provides us with a competitive element relative to Mexico and other places. 

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above Q&A features Carlos Marin and South Texas College President Ricardo Solis.

Editor’s Note: The above new story is the fourth in a four-part series on the Texas A&M University-South Texas College partnership to create an Engineering Academy. Click here to watch Part One, which features the analysis of Mike Willis, executive director of South Texas Manufacturers Association. Click here to watch Part Two, which features the analysis of John E. Hurtado, interim vice chancellor and dean of engineering at Texas A&M University, STC President Ricardo Solis, and Texas A&M University System Regent Mike Hernandez. Click here to read Part Three, which features the analysis of Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp.

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