BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The newly-appointed chairman of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority says the Rio Grande Valley would have grown even faster over the past decade had there not been drug cartel-related violence just across the border in Tamaulipas.
Frank Parker, Jr., believes that but for safety concerns, cities like Matamoros and Reynosa would have attracted even more maquila plants, perhaps, even, an auto assembly plant. Instead, he said, some manufacturing plants have been built in the interior of Mexico, where there is generally less violence.
“Unfortunately, the border region is suffering from the violence so we have not seen the development of new companies. Hopefully, Tamaulipas officials can get control of it so we can start seeing a lot more development again on the border. Some plants have been going down into the interior. Those tend to run through the Laredo market. Some run through our market but not many,” Parker said.
Parker made his comments in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian immediately after being sworn in as chairman of CCRMA by Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos at the CCRMA offices. Parker, whose company, Parker & Company, focuses on international trade, was chosen to lead CCRMA by Governor Greg Abbott. His term of office runs until February 1, 2018.
Asked what he thought about Parker’s contention that violence in Mexico has negatively affected growth in the Valley, Cascos said: “I think Mexico continues to work on those issues. He is probably right but we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. We just move forward and do the best we can on this side and hopefully continue the dialogue with our Mexican counterparts. There is no doubt Mexico is Texas’ largest trading partner. In spite of the violence, in spite of the issues Mexico has, we cannot look the other way when it comes to economic trade. It is a $195 billion market for Texas. It is an important partner. It creates jobs in Texas. So, we continue nurturing that relationship and hopefully things will work out.”
Parker is a board member of the South Texas Manufacturing Association and a member of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, the McAllen and Brownsville Chambers of Commerce, and the National Association of Customs Broker Forwarders. He is also a past member of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority board of directors and the Brownsville Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“My main business is international trade. I represent importers and exporters going to and from Mexico and around the world. We operate a transportation company and do international transportation. Customs clearance warehousing, distribution, from here all the way to Laredo. So that gives me a perspective on transportation. I am going to Long Beach for a conference on trans-Pacific trade just to hone up on that, maybe find some more customers in that area,” Parker said.
Parker was Cascos’ pick for the CCRMA board of directors when Cascos was Cameron County Judge. Parker said that during his time on the CCRMA the big project was State Highway 550, which runs from I-69 Central at Olmito to the Port of Brownsville. He said he is now looking forward to working on other big projects.
“One of the projects we worked on was 550 and now it is operational. I look forward to building the East Loop, to take some pressure off of International Boulevard. The Causeway (to South Padre Island) is a project for the whole Valley, giving us a north loop, taking some of the load off of Expressway 83 and getting some of our Hidalgo County visitors to the beach a little faster and safer. I am looking forward to working with the state officials on this.”
While swearing in Parker, Cascos spoke about the “planets being aligned” for transportation in the Valley. Asked if he agreed with Cascos, Parker said: “I think there has been a lot of good development in transportation. The takeover of the Port of Brownsville by OmniTRAX has been good. They are focused on developing the port. There was an article in the paper yesterday about a mini refinery exporting oil, with 120 rail cars a day coming in. There are going to be jobs. The LNG plants, the transportation for this is underground with no extra load on the highways. That also means jobs. We know the Upper Valley has been developing pretty well. I look forward to helping with the development of the Valley.”
Parker said he knows he has big shoes to fill, having taken over as chair of CCRMA from veteran real estate developer David Allex. “David is a legend. He is a good friend of mine. I have known him since I started my own business in the early 1980s. He has been around. He was around when I was head of the Chamber in Brownsville. He always been a good ally for the whole Valley,” Parker said.
Asked about his upcoming visit to a conference in California about trans-Pacific trade, Parker said: “It is called the Trans Pacific Maritime conference and runs Sunday through Thursday, in Long Beach, California. A lot of my customers were concerned back when the strike happened at Los Angeles/Long Beach. I want to see what developments are happening in the Mexican transportation market. I am hearing there are some container moves coming off the Mexican west coast going into Houston. That could help out my customers.”
Asked if there was anything else he would like to tell the people of Cameron County, Parker said: “I am just grateful to the Governor and to Carlos for supporting me. Also, Senator Eddie Lucio for supporting me. I want to thank everybody.”
The Rio Grande Guardian also interviewed Secretary Cascos. Asked why he thought the “planets are aligned” for transportation in the Valley, Cascos said: “The planets have been aligned for a little while now. I think the fact that the Governor supports the border and the Valley is important. He recognizes that we need infrastructure. It is an area that has been long overlooked. We have the right governor in office looking at the Valley and the border. We have the right leadership in some of these positions.”
Cascos said he was pleased with Parker’s appointment. “Frank has been on the RMA board before. In fact, he was my appointment when I was on the commission. He is hopefully going to continue the good work the RMA has been doing. This is probably the most successful, or one of the most successful, RMAs in the state. The chairman of TxDOT was here last week. He was very impressed with the area. He sees the economic potential, the continuing growth of South Texas and the resulting infrastructure we are working on.”
Despite increased funding for transportation at the state level, Cascos said Texas’ highway infrastructure needs are much greater than the availability of resources.
“It is going to take a lot of strategic partnerships. It is going to take communities working together. It is going to take leadership working together. I am hoping the Valley does come together and continues with the regional approach. That is the way I think we can be somewhat more successful. But, we are still dealing with competitive dollars. These monies are sought after by many areas that have traffic choke points, areas that are also congested, that feel the need for infrastructure investment.”
So what does the Valley have to do, Cascos was asked. “The Valley has to continue getting its message out. We need infrastructure in a lot of places. Texas has nine out of the 25 traffic chokepoints in the U.S. So, obviously we need a lot of investment in our infrastructure, leading from and to our Gulf points of entry and our border ports of entry. So, we just need to continue working together to maximize the use of our tax dollars.”
Asked about Governor Abbott’s recent meeting with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto in Houston, Cascos said: “They continue the dialogue they had in Mexico City in early September. Part of the alignment of the planets is the Governor’s recognition of the importance of the area. I have not seen this much attention in my political lifetime, in terms of a governor taking such an active role in recognizing the importance of the border. The border is part of the state’s economic juggernaut. Texas is the economic juggernaut of the nation. We have got some good people in leadership positions. We need to continue moving forward.”
Interim Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda, Jr., was also at the swearing-in ceremony for Parker. Asked about Cascos’ remarks about the planets being aligned for transportation in the Valley, Sepulveda said: “They are aligned not just for Cameron County but for the entire Rio Grande Valley. A lot of the projects the individual EDCs are working on are projects that have a significance to the whole Rio Grande Valley, the whole of South Texas. We are one big metropolitan area now. That is going to put us in a position to be able to compete for state and federal dollars on some of our projects here in the future.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Frank Parker, Jr., the new chairman of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, and Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos.