McALLEN, RGV – Not more than five years ago, McAllen Economic Development CEO and President Keith Patridge was having an earnest conversation with Alps Electric chairman Masataka Kataoka.

The talk was one of many Patridge has had with the leader of the multinational corporation, based out of Tokyo, Japan, over the years and it was around the time when Alps was shifting all of their North American manufacturing to Reynosa.

Alps Electric chairman Masataka Kataoka.
Alps Electric chairman Masataka Kataoka.

The company’s corporate headquarters at the time was located in Detroit, but surprisingly was recruiting many engineers out of the University of Texas-Pan American, who were considered among the best in the company, Patridge said.

Patridge said he then asked Kataoka a question in passing, not knowing the enormous impact it would have on the region.

“I asked him (Kataoka) ‘Why do you take engineers up there to Detroit and still bring everything down here to manufacture?’ I was just throwing it out there, but he thought about it and decided to move their North American corporate headquarters here,” Patridge said.

The result has enabled locally trained engineers to do applied research, or what Patridge calls real “make it work-type” engineering. Today, interior electronics for various models are designed by engineers who are born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, and who are products of the local university.

“I just received a letter from the chairman, and he has become a good friend to all of us,” Patridge said. Kataoka was in McAllen recently and attended a dinner with the EDC and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

“He sent a letter to us thanking the mayor, and he said that this has been a phenomenal relationship, and that he sees much more business coming to McAllen and Reynosa,” Patridge said.

Alps Electric Co. Ltd is a multinational corporation, headquartered in Tokyo, producing a variety of electronic devices, including switches, potentiometers, sensors, encoders and touchpads, according to a company profile on Bloomberg.

The company was established in 1948 as Kataoka Electric Co., Ltd. and changed its name to Alps Electric Co., Ltd. in December 1964. Since June 22, 2012, Toshihiro Kuriyama has served as Alps president with Kataoka serving as its Chairman.

The Alps Electric Group includes research and development, production and sales bases located in Japan and around the globe including the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia, Korea and Greater China. Revenues for the company exceed $5 billion, according to company figures.

Since its founding, Alps Electric has supplied around 40,000 types of electronic component to over 2,000 manufacturers of home appliances, mobile devices, automobiles and industrial equipment worldwide, according to Business Wire.

Alps is also well known for its subsidiaries, Alpine brand of car audio and Alcom Electronicos De Mexico, the company’s automotive electronics arm.  Alps Group comprises 84 subsidiary companies, 25 through Alps Electric, 32 through Alpine Electronics and 27 through Alps Logistics.

Keith Patridge
Keith Patridge, CEO of McAllen EDC.

“Every year, he (Kataoka) used to come over and we would meet and we would just talk about global issues for hours in our conferencing. It was just talking about all kinds of things,” Patridge said. “That’s when I laid out the concept of rapid response manufacturing and mass customization to him. Every year we would just sit and talk, pontificate on the global world. So he’s just a good friend.”

Alps employs close to 5,000 workers on 300,000 square feet of production space in Reynosa. Most of those employed include engineers and management positions like purchasing and human resources. Alps currently retains an office in Detroit in order to address the corporate automotive industry in that area.

“Alps is one of the most important corporate members of our corporate family here,” Patridge said.

Editor’s Note: In the main photo accompanying this story, Alps Electric‘s new driver assistance system is featured. The system lets motorists control their car’s heads-up display with a glance and lock or unlock the doors with the mere wag of a finger.

Editor’s Note: The above article is the third and final part of a series focusing on the work of McAllen EDC. Click here to read Part One and here to read Part Two.