BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Mario Lozoya, governmental relations and external affairs director for Toyota Corporation in San Antonio, is joining the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation as the group’s new executive director.

Lozoya was born in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, and raised in McAllen, Texas. He is a decorated combat veteran of the Iraqi War who served 23 years in active duty for the U.S. Marines. While in the Marines he completed long-term deployments in South Korea, Japan, and the Middle East.

“It is with great, great, honor and with a lot of enthusiasm that I would like to introduce our new director for the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, Mr. Mario Lozoya,” GBIC Chairman César De León told the Rio Grande Guardian, in an exclusive video interview.

GBIC is the economic development arm of the City of Brownsville.

“I’m very excited, very excited for the opportunity. I’ve always looked for an opportunity to come do some good in the Valley and I think this is the opportunity,” Lozoya responded.

“My intention is to come and help not only Brownsville, but to try and set processes and establish processes that we can share across the Valley. It’s going to be very important for us to create allies and relationships across the Valley as we move forward.”

De León said Lozoya’s remit includes bringing more advanced manufacturing to Brownsville. De León predicted Lozoya would be the “disrupter” GBIC has been looking for. He also predicted Lozoya would prove to be the catalyst for approaching economic development in a very different way, not just in Brownsville but across the Rio Grande Valley.

“We know that Mario’s leadership at the state level has influenced a lot in the areas of workforce and advanced manufacturing and we’re now happy to be able to bring his knowledge and know-how, not just to Brownsville, but to the Valley. In this way the Valley can become a leader in advanced manufacturing,” De León said.

The appointment of Lozoya will be the first in a number of new steps for GBIC, its chairman said.

“That first step was finding a leader who would be disruptive,” De León said. “If we go back to the original model of economic development, that model has not worked for us during the last 30 years. We have a new way of doing things. With the re-shoring back to the United States, with the administration focusing on manufacturing, I think we are at a crossroads and this is the right moment to take that ball and carry it over the goal line. And I think I have found the perfect person to do so.”

Statewide appointments

Lozoya was appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to the Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) Grant Program advisory board – a program that allocated ten million dollars each biennium for the development of career and technical education programs across Texas.

Patrick also appointed him to the advisory council for Pathways in Technology and Early College High School. The 13-member board is tasked with promoting education and business partnerships across the state and ensuring that the Texas education system prepares students for 21st century workforce demands.

His workforce development efforts in the advanced manufacturing community via the establishment of the TX-FAME (Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education) project in San Antonio is credited as being instrumental in creating a skilled workforce that spurred economic development in the region.

Texas Secretary of Sate Rolando Pablos is a big fan of Lozoya’s work. In a news release issued by GBIC, Pablos said:

“Adopting a sound policy for regional economic development collaboration amongst all communities in the Rio Grande Valley will be key to achieving sustainable economic prosperity for this dynamic border community.

“Mario has what it takes to convene the region’s stakeholders and lead them into a new era of unbridled and systematic regional cooperation and coordination. Brownsville and there entire RGV are lucky to have him.”

Toyota experience

Lozoya joined Toyota at the start of this decade. His responsibilities included leading the corporation’s workforce development efforts, establishing and nurturing local supply chains, and enhancing the economic transformation of south San Antonio.

Lozoya said his experience in developing the talent pool for the company’s massive truck manufacturing plant on the south side San Antonio will prove invaluable as he gets to work in Brownsville. He pointed out that the south side of San Antonio has a similar demographic profile to the Rio Grande Valley. He called the local population his raw material.

“When you look at the dropout rate, when you look at educational attainment, when you look at the skills gap, and here, all of a sudden you have a high tech manufacturing company come smack in the middle, it is immediate that you see the gaps,” Lozoya said.

He said Toyota had to ask itself what it needed to do to sustain itself in the long term with the local talent available.

“So, my challenge there was to create processes to build the company longterm through education and workforce programs. It took me about a year to listen to current conditions. I would visit the schools, I would visit non-profits, chambers. We needed to work together and understand the gaps. It was a huge challenge.”

The “Toyota Way,” Lozoya said, is to go and see what the potential talent pool was like.

“At that time, when I started engaging the south side of San Antonio, which was in 2010, the local high school, which was adjacent to the Toyota plant, in the same district, was 89 percent financially disadvantaged. We measured that through free lunch. Today, it is at 80 percent,” Lozoya said.

“So, when we start looking at where we were and where we are today and why, it is because of the workforce programs we put together and the cooperation. We have created some social mobility. You can see the trend now. You can see where it is going to be in the future. Those are the practices I would like to bring to Brownsville, understanding what the gaps are and how we can work together to mitigate those gaps through effective processes.”

Is the Valley ready?

Lozoya made a splash earlier this year when he suggested the Valley was not ready for advanced manufacturing because it did not have a sufficiently skilled workforce. There was some pushback against that observation. Asked about those comments as he was unveiled as executive director of GBIC, Lozoya said:

“This region is strong and has all the assets. I alluded to the fact that I see the people and the students as raw material and I think that maybe what we have done is – and we made the same mistakes in San Antonio when we started – we did not understand the raw material and how do we build it and make it into a tier two system.

“You have young demographics here, not only in Brownsville but across the Valley. I believe the average is between 26 and 27 years old. You look at the growth of that demographic. There is huge opportunity. So, your raw material is ready to be molded for the next level. We need to do it the right way.”

(Click here and here to read the Rio Grande Guardian’s previous coverage of the conversation about advanced manufacturing in the RGV.)

Maquila study

Lozoya said he is very much aware of the importance of the maquiladora industry on the Valley’s economy. One of the things he thinks needs to happen is the creation of an inventory of “the whole maquiladora footprint” from Brownsville to El Paso.

“What does it look like? Is it in technology or technical components? Is it heavy in motor manufacturing?It is heavy in medical components? What is it? Once we understand that and start leveraging that and putting the right weight in the right zone, then we can start understanding, how can we start migrating some of that (maquiladora activity) this way and start working together from a binational sense and start creating the data behind the value to create partnerships.”

Once the inventory has been completed, Lozoya said, the data needs to be shared with state leaders and agencies such as the workforce commission, the secretary of state, the lieutenant governor. “How can we work together to help you as a state create opportunity here?”

Pass-Thru economy

Unfortunately, much of the business activity taking place in the Valley, and along the Texas-Mexico border generally, is pass-thru activity, Lozoya explained.

“There is a lot of (manufacturing) activity on the Mexican side. We move products through here and out of here but there really is no value left behind. So, how can we figure out a way to create value while there is a path of activity. It is a long process but there is definitely opportunity for the border region,” he said.

Lozoya also acknowledged that these are uncertain times for the border economy.

“You are seeing with the change in administration that a lot of the big companies are hesitant to invest. We do not know what is going to happen with NAFTA. We do not know what is going to happen with the new tariffs. At the end of the day a company is going to move somewhere because they are going to make money. If we cannot offer a company an opportunity to make money, why would they come here? It starts with education and workforce development. So, if a company is going to come to your community, what is your education and workforce strategy for long-term sustainability to help that company? If we do not have that available they are not going to look at us.”

Lozoya added that he wants to take a look at product availability around the region to help manufacturing companies build at a more cost-effective rate.

“If we do not understand all those conditions as a community, we cannot help court that company to come to our community. That requires a lot of collaboration with the schools, with elected leadership, associations, chambers, you name it. If we can get collaboration, buy-in, from the people to understand that, if we do this right we will create social mobility. And if we create social mobility we all win. The companies win, the families win, and the whole region wins.”

Family information

Mario’s parents Hilda and Miguel Lozoya emigrated from Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas in 1968 and reside in McAllen Texas. He has three children. Michelle is a teacher and has a Masters degree from the University of Southern California. His sons Anthony and Michael are students at the University of Texas in San Antonio.

A press conference and welcome reception is scheduled at the Young House in Brownsville on July 18, at 1:30 p.m.

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian will have a podcast of its interview with Mario Lozoya and César De León in the coming days, along with more video segments of the interview.